Why do so many bright, capable and successful women continue to struggle with under-earning and financial insecurity? After more than 30 years of working with and writing about women and money, the answer to that question has become abundantly clear to me: Women’s difficulties with money have far less to do with the fundamentals of finance than with their fear of, or ambivalence about, power.
To understand better, I once asked psychologist Olivia Mellan during an interview, “Why are women so afraid of power?” She didn’t miss a beat with her answer. “Powerful women have been burned at the stake,” she replied matter-of-factly. Her words sent shivers up my spine. I’m convinced that beneath our dislike of or discomfort with power lurks a deeper, more ominous concern — the dire consequences we might suffer if we became truly powerful. There’s no better way to limit our power than by lowering our earning potential or by mishandling, neglecting or ignoring our money. The problem is we’ve never been taught the secret wisdom of achieving wealth and power, as women.
For centuries, women have come together to trade recipes and remedies, to share tips on catching a man or raising a child. But there is little, if any, collective wisdom among women around wealth and power, success and ambition. That’s what inspired me to write my newest book, “Sacred Success: A Course in Financial Miracles,” which hits shelves on October 7th and reveals the wisdom women need to wield power.
The word “power,” which comes from the Latin word “potere” (to be able), means the “ability to act or produce an effect.” The definition applies to both genders. But a study conducted by Simmons School of Management in 2012 revealed that men and women tend to view power through very different lenses. Men see power as control. For them, power — often synonymous with wealth — is the ultimate goal and the promise of perks, profit and prestige is a powerful incentive.
This is not how women see it. We exercise power through relationships. Power is simply a means to an end. Once a woman becomes financially stable, no longer struggling to put food on the table, she is rarely motivated by money. What really motivates us is the opportunity to help others, reach our potential and make an impact in the world.
Instead of pushing women to pursue wealth and power according to the male model, it’s time we redefine power from a feminine perspective. Once a woman realizes that her viewpoint is equally valid, power takes on a more positive spin. As it relates to women, I much prefer to explain power using the words of psychologist Erich Fromm: “The main task in life is to give birth to our self to become what we actually are.” In that context, I define a powerful woman as someone who knows who she is, knows what she wants and expresses that in the world, unapologetically. When you view power from that perspective, you begin to understand our resistance more clearly. Essentially, our fear of power is our fear of becoming who we really are.
Money does not give us power, but it does give us choices. Our power comes from the choices we make — choices that reflect who we are, not what someone else wants. Essentially, claiming our power is an act of individuation, distinguishing what's true for us from what's been artificially imposed — by our family or society as a whole — and then letting go of what no longer serves us. As Maria Shriver once explained to a reporter, “True power is about being true to yourself and finding your own voice and path in the world.”
Here’s where money and power are inextricably linked. You cannot possibly pursue your passion, express your truth and follow your path if you’re drowning in debt, struggling to make ends meet. Money becomes a source of stress and distraction, instead of a tool for transformation. To become a good steward of your money you must spend less, save more and invest wisely. If you’re in debt, you must stop using credit cards, stick to a repayment plan, spend less than you make, and consistently save, even in small amounts, for emergencies. (A shoe sale is not an emergency!) Nothing will get in the way of pursuing your purpose faster and more thoroughly than financial instability.
I truly believe our hope for the future lies with powerful women: women who know who they are and express that in the world, women who speak up instead of holding their tongue, women who do what they fear instead of staying where it’s safe, women who are financially responsible and economically independent. As the late New York congresswoman Bella Abzug once predicted, “In the 21st century, women will change the nature of power rather than power changing the nature of women.” Which is exactly what “Sacred Success” sets out to do.
Barbara Stanny is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.