Money stress is real. It is also, for the most part, an unhelpful thing to use as a reference point.
I recently had a new client reach out to me asking for reassurance that the marketing and writing project we’re creating together is going to work. That they would see a return on their investment sooner as opposed to later.
I was quick to offer words of affirmation.
Upon further reflection, however, I think that this is an opportunity to have a clear conversation about where they want to put their money stress.
As someone who has spent most of my professional life anxious—if not completely terrified—about my financial situation, I empathize with their worry. It’s valid to care about where your money is going, especially when the motivation is to have that money make you more money in the future
That being said, there’s a big difference between the healthy pressure and tension of taking a financial risk and the overwhelming financial anxiety that can lead to fear-based decision making.
One asks you to focus on what’s most important—the work—so you can see a return on your investment. The other asks for you to focus on what feels most painful in the moment—the money—and distracts you from doing the work.
You can’t focus on both at the same time.
I have worked on projects that have completely fallen apart when money became the primary focal point. This was before I was able to set clear professional emotional boundaries that allowed me to stop worrying about monkeys that weren’t mine.
I have also worked on projects where money was an intentional and consistent part of the conversations that I was having with my clients. Not surprisingly, these projects performed much better.
In the first instance, my role as a freelance writer included both caring about the work as well as managing the financial stress of my clients. As you can imagine, this did not help me to do better work for them.
In the second instance, my role was simply to care about the work while taking into consideration the clear financial restraints that my clients had. For example, how much money they could allocate towards paid advertising or additional service from me.
In an age of authenticity, it might feel like no big deal to be honest and upfront about your money stress when working with other professionals.
In my experience, it can make or break a project.
Here are some possible places to put your money stress so you don’t risk burning out your projects or people by asking them to hold onto it for you:
Into writing. Every time you feel financial anxiety, write that fear down. Acknowledge it without letting it spin you out. Then put that fear aside and get back to work.
Into movement. When you feel financial anxiety in your body, literally shake it off. Or you can dance or go for a walk. Remind yourself that you’re in no immediate physical danger and then get back to work.
Into a paid professional. If your financial anxiety feels too big to handle on your own, pay someone to help you work through it. Maybe this is a coach or maybe it’s a therapist. Talk it out with someone who is not involved in the project you’re working on and then get back to work.
Into constructive conversations. If your financial anxiety needs to be acknowledged within the project that you’re working on with other people, make it a constructive conversation. Instead of seeking out reassurance, review the success metrics that you’re checking for. Make adjustments to help your people reinvest their enthusiasm into the project and then get back to work.
Into stillness. Learning to sit with your financial anxiety is one of the most useful skills you can develop. Whether through meditation or simply pausing to recognize that The Resistance—a term coined by Seth Godin in Linchpin—has paid you a visit. Stop reacting to those perceived triggers that feed your fear and then get back to work.
Although simple in theory, none of this is easy. And if you take the time to do this work, it will completely transform how you’re able to show up as a creative professional.
So, where can you put your money stress?