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The Psychology of WealthUnderstand Your Relationship with Money and Achieve Prosperity
By Charles Richards
McGraw-HillCopyright © 2012 A Story That Must Be Told, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHow Do We Define Wealth?
Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
—Harold Thurman Whitman
It was yet another beautiful day in the barrio of San Antonio, Texas, where Leticia San Miguel grew up. Her Mexican American family had lived here for 200 years, and her roots ran deep. The family had been on this land when it was part of Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Southern Confederacy, and now the United States. The name of the area had changed, but the people had not. The culture was old and rich, if not wealthy. Leticia's family and friends all lived within a few blocks of one another. Cousins were like brothers and sisters. Family, church, and community—these were the essence of the barrio. Yet somehow Leticia acquired a mindset of wealth—an uncommon strength and drive. She was to reveal a powerful belief in her own intrinsic value and her capacity to achieve.
Politics had never been Leticia's goal. She had wanted to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather, who had been a pharmacist. After her marriage, as a young adult, she took a chance and bought her own pharmacy. "It was my dream, but it was risky. We used everything we had saved for buying a new home. I grew that pharmacy into a medical center in a very underserved area of San Antonio." At the same time, Leticia was building her family. She laughs, "I had six children in ten years. We were running two businesses. I would take my baby to work with me. My patients would sit in the rocking chair and rock her."
A psychology of wealth can be learned in childhood through the values we are taught—not just from the size of our home or the neighborhood we live in. These values are about achievement, inner strength, and belief in oneself. Leticia recounts pivotal lessons that she learned from her dad. "When I was introduced to adults and they would say, 'What a pretty little girl,' my dad would respond, 'She's the first in her class.' It gave me the message: it's not how you look; it's what's in your brain. My father knew the power of words. I did not have a Barbie doll figure. My dad turned that into a strength by encouraging me to participate in track. He taught me that it's not how you look; it's how strong you are."
Leticia speaks proudly of her mother, too. "From my mother came a different perspective. There was never a question of whether I would go to college. My parents were the first in their families to do so; they broke that barrier. My mom always said you have to have your degree and a career, so you can live a life of dignity, both for yourself and for your children. She said I would be defined by that.
"My grandmother was also important in my life. She taught me a lesson through her actions. She created a little business that we called the Ice House. People bought ice there, but also tacos and drinks, and on the weekends there was music and dancing under the trees by the picnic tables. She used a loan to get her business started and later to build an addition on her house. I would go with her into town to pay the bill. We'd go to Eagle Loan to pay her monthly installment payment and then to the soda fountain. It was an adventure, but I understood the lesson: 'You pay your debts, and you are responsible.' Doing that with her every month helped me establish a good relationship with money."
Then Leticia asks, "Now, why did she need to borrow money to expand her home? Some would have said that, at her advanced age, it was impractical. But when she later became ill, that addition allowed her to be at home and keep her dignity. Somehow she knew what was right for her."
You're a Girl
A defining incident in Leticia's life occurred when she was in the eighth grade. "The boys were trying to decide who should run for student council offices. I was a member of the council, and I said, 'Well, I could run.' The boys said, 'No, you can't run.' I asked, 'Why not?' They answered, 'Because you're a girl.' That was the first time anyone had ever said I couldn't do something because I was a girl, and it strengthened my resolve. I said, 'Watch me. I can do this.' It was the first time I was assertive. No girl had ever been student council president. I campaigned and took a chance on myself." And Leticia won.
"When I grew up," she says, "I was plenty busy as a small business owner and a mother of six. But I was very active in my community. When a seat in the Texas House of Representatives became available, I realized that no candidates were discussing what I thought were the important issues. My husband said, 'Why don't you run for state rep?' I answered, 'Because I couldn't win.' At the time there were 150 state legislators, but only about a dozen of them were women. He said, 'No, baby, you'll win.' So we had a family meeting. We wanted to see what the kids thought about the possibility that I would be away part of the time. The little one asked, 'Why does Mommy want to be a state 'epsenative?' My 10-year-old daughter answered, 'Because there are not enough mommies there.' My husband and I looked at each other in shock. We both knew I had to do this."
Again, Leticia won. After five terms as a state representative, today Leticia is known as Senator Van de Putte and is serving her fifth term in the Texas Senate. She is a political and moral force to be reckoned with, representing the 880,000 people in her district, more constituents than in a federal congressional district.
Leticia explains: "Representing the people of my district is one of the most intensely satisfying things I've ever done. And I've encouraged leadership in my kids and grandkids: to be decision makers and become involved. I am very optimistic. I am not a doom-and-gloom person. What jazzes me is that this generation of kids may be the greatest generation ever. We just have to keep things together enough so this generation has the opportunity to become leaders."
What allowed Leticia to achieve such remarkable success in a career dominated by men? Like many of the successful people I have known and worked with in my practice as a psychotherapist, Leticia was willing to bet on herself. Just as important, she believed that through her efforts and focus, she could reach her goal. She had grown up knowing that she could accomplish what she set out to do. And with each achievement, her sense of confidence, prosperity, and self-worth expanded.
None of her success was built on a foundation of financial wealth. It was Leticia's sense of her own intrinsic worth that propelled her to achieve her goals. If she had accepted other people's expectations, she wouldn't have even tried to run for president of the student council or for the Texas legislature. Instead, she had the psychology of someone who belonged in a position of responsibility and power. She stretched, and she won the bet. She invested in herself, and it paid off. She was taught, "Try hard, no matter what. Not trying is the failure."
When asked how she defines wealth, Leticia is philosophical: "At the end of my time here, I want to have lived a life of significance, to know that I was not a taker, that my life has meant something to my family and my community. Have I done something to improve the lives of others? How I answer that question is what defines a rich and rewarding life for me."
An Inherent Worth
Luckily for most of us, being wealthy is not a requirement for developing either a sense of self-worth or a psychology of wealth. What Leticia's story teaches us is that success does not require a great deal of money; what it requires is a belief in one's inherent worth and a willingness to make a conscious investment in oneself—even if that means taking a certain amount of risk. To achieve anything worthwhile requires that we take some chances and be willing to move out of our comfort zone. This doesn't mean betting the farm; not every risk will pan out. But I've learned that people who achieve true prosperity let neither risk nor setbacks stop them. They don't give in or give up on themselves. If one approach doesn't work, they will try another. They know that if they are to be the hero of their own lives, they must be willing to take whatever steps will move them toward their dreams and their goals.
How We Learn a Wealth Psychology
Just as a computer has an operating system, every family operates according to a set of spoken and unspoken rules. I call this the family operating system. This system greatly influences an individual's thinking and behavior. In the never-finished "nature vs. nurture" debate, research shows that nature, as expressed in each person's genotype, has the upper hand in defining one's biological uniqueness. However, in the formation of a personal psychology, the ways in which one is—or isn't—nurtured are powerful factors in molding what nature has provided. As a result, the family operating system may strongly influence how an individual thinks and behaves.
Your family operating system effectively helps to program your beliefs, attitudes, skills, anxieties, and expectations, both conscious and unconscious. In addition to the programming you receive from your family, your mindset is also colored by your early schooling and the general environment in which you were raised. This operating system specifically affects your attitudes and beliefs about money, wealth, and financial success. The programming you receive can greatly condition—for better or worse—the degree of monetary gain or financial wealth that you are likely to achieve. Examining your background and the family operating system that you were exposed to is an important step in making constructive changes in your subconscious programming about money, wealth, and prosperity.
But if you didn't learn a psychology of wealth from your family, can you still learn it? Can you gain the attitude and habits that drive success? Most certainly. That's a simple answer, yet indeed many people can and do prosper financially despite being raised with meager resources or a lack of family support. And, of course, the converse is true: many people who were raised in wealth fail miserably with every opportunity; even with encouragement and resources, they do not seem to achieve their greatest potential. A psychology that includes balanced and empowered attitudes about money and self can be learned in a family with either vast or very modest means—or it can be learned on one's own.
Indeed, Leticia's story is one of many that tell about people from humble beginnings who have achieved a rich and rewarding life. Like Leticia, they seem to carry within them a sense of abundance that manifests itself in success, regardless of their financial origins. A story that is now familiar to many of us begins with an idealistic young father who nonetheless abandoned his wife and his baby son, forcing them to live with relatives in very modest circumstances. When the boy was six, his mother remarried, effectively uprooting the family again—this time moving to a distant and unfamiliar country. Within several years, that marriage also failed, and the mother, the boy, and now a baby sister retreated to their relatives' home again. When the boy was in his teens, his mother again left the United States, this time alone, to pursue her career. By now you may recognize this boy as Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States.
In spite of coming from a broken home with little stability and meager financial resources, young Obama had a mother who doted on him and loved him dearly. She and his grandparents instilled in him a belief in his own abilities, laying the foundation for him to reach his full potential. His mother expected great things of him. And she helped him become responsible for his own progress in life, awakening him before dawn every day to home-school him before his regular school day began. Barack Obama's story is one of many that illustrate the concept that a true psychology of wealth is not based solely on one's financial status, circumstances, or resources. Personal values regarding success, motivation, and self-confidence can be the building blocks for a psychology of wealth.
Unfortunately, the principles of a learned psychology of wealth, which include self-worth and one's relationship with money, can also work to one's detriment. If you are born into a family whose mindset is that of financial failure or victimhood, then a healthy sense of self-worth and a sound psychology of wealth can be much harder to come by.
I Won the Lottery!
Some curious examples of how this lack of a psychology of wealth can allow even the rich to fail are found in stories of people who win the lottery. All too often, their lives unravel when the money floods in. They quickly lose not only their bearings, but often their millions. It's a short trip from "I won the lottery!" to failure. The problem is not only that the sudden winners are unschooled in how to handle money; often their very identities crumble as the expectations and attitudes of their friends, family members, and others shift suddenly and dramatically.
That situation is exactly the one that Shefik Tallmadge found himself in at the age of 29. In 1988, Tallmadge won what at that time was the largest jackpot ever in the Arizona lottery: $6.7 million, or $335,000 each year for 20 years. Eventually he lost every penny. Tallmadge later acknowledged, "They gave me enough money to get into trouble, but not enough money to make me rich. I made some mistakes—very, very expensive mistakes." Unfortunately, having more money most likely would not have helped him. When people lack a healthy psychology of wealth, the decisions that cause them to lose $6.7 million are the same kinds of decisions that will cause them to founder no matter what amount of money is involved.
According to Shanna Hogan of Times Publications, when Tallmadge walked into a convenience store to pick up a bite to eat and check his weekly lottery ticket, he had just a few dollars left to see him through the next two weeks until his next paycheck. She described the scene: "The clerk routinely inserts the ticket into the machine to see if it's a winner. The machine immediately begins playing a happy tune. 'You can't cash this here. You have to go to Phoenix,' the clerk tells him as he hands back the ticket. 'All the numbers match.' 'What?' Tallmadge says in disbelief, examining the ticket."
Tallmadge was a winner, but not for long. He wasted no time starting to spend. Upon receiving his first check, he quit working. Next, he went shopping and bought a new Porsche 911 Carrera convertible and a Rolex. Then he took his immediate family on a trip around the world. Afterward, Tallmadge enrolled in Northern Arizona University, where he met his wife.
Sometime after graduation, he and his wife moved to California, where they bought several houses, including one on the beach. Tallmadge's first problems involved California income taxes, so he and his wife moved to Florida, which has no state income tax. There they bought two more beach houses. Tallmadge had also experienced one of the common drawbacks of suddenly coming into a large amount of money—a deluge of people asking for help. For Tallmadge, the requests from friends, family members, and even total strangers had started within hours. In addition, he was the prey of companies that were constantly pressuring him to exchange his annual lottery payments for a lump-sum payment at 40 cents on the dollar. He eventually gave in and took one of these lump-sum payments. With that money, he invested in several gas stations, which soon failed.
In 2005, while battling with the IRS over back taxes, Tallmadge filed for bankruptcy. The Arizona Republic quoted him as saying, "I entered into the big shark pool, and I was the little minnow. The lottery did change my life. What I did with it afterward was the problem." His wife is now the main breadwinner in the Tallmadge family, and he is a stay-at-home dad.
Excerpted from The Psychology of Wealth by Charles Richards Copyright © 2012 by A Story That Must Be Told, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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