An Underearner Tells a New Story

Joanne on benchHi. My name is Joanne and I’m an underearner. You know, someone who “earns less than her potential despite her need or desire to do otherwise” (to quote my wonderful Money Fix mentor Barbara Stanny from her book, Overcoming Underearning).

It wasn’t always this way. I’d been a single mom for a few years before my husband Dick and I got married, and I was proud to be financially self-sufficient, supporting myself and my daughter.

But after the birth of our two sons, it was too much. I did the thing I swore I’d never do: I quit work. Come to find out that Dick loved being the sole breadwinner—and I was so freaked out about our bill-paying challenges (and felt so guilty about not contributing) that I handed over all family financial duties to him.

Over the years I gradually re-entered the workforce, becoming executive director of a national mothers’ organization which eventually moved from part-time to full-time. But even 20 years after quitting that initial full-time job, I still wasn’t earning as much and had no benefits.

I think part of it was that I didn’t want to threaten my husband’s cherished role as primary provider. And I’d definitely lost my own self-confidence in earning—and deserving—a good salary and benefits.

Now we’re facing a new financial crisis. At 63, Dick decided to retire, with no plans or desires for a second career. My organization took a bad turn and I resigned in early 2010, for both my sake and the organization’s.

Right now, I’m working a part-time retail job. And a couple of difficult meetings with a financial planner confirmed that our current monthly income is around $1,300 less than our monthly expenses (we’ve been hitting up our home equity line to pay bills), and we don’t have nearly enough saved for retirement.

Thank God for the Money Fix and the opportunity to work with Barbara Stanny! On our initial phone call, Barbara noted how passionate I am about mothers’ issues—and yet how dismissive I am about my strengths and abilities.

Barbara tells me (and I concur) that in order to find or create that new job where I can continue to follow my passions AND earn what I want, need and deserve, I have some serious inner work to do first. I have to change my story.

We started talking about what motivates a person to make a change that they’ve been resisting—that true change happens when the fear of staying where you are finally overshadows the fear of moving forward.

And she refused to let me speak whenever I started my usual, entertaining “here’s how pathetic I am” speak. She made me re-phrase things positively, including saying an “I can do this” mantra. I didn’t feel or believe a word of what she was pushing me to say. I actually started crying.

What’s happening to me now, honestly, is a real breakthrough. It’s the classic “finally getting the top off the jar” experience. You know, after trying every which way to loosen a lid and failing, you hand someone else the jar and Boom, they unscrew the lid like it’s nothing.

In fact, as I emailed to Barbara recently, I got so excited I actually made up my own exercise: I wrote down various events in my life of personal success or brilliance (which I had either characterized as just dumb luck or coincidence). And then I wrote a “new” interpretation for each, taking personal ownership and pride for each one.

It’s exactly what Barbara said I needed to do. I’m changing my story.

Tell it like it is. How have you changed your story to move in a new direction?