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Letting Go Of Shame

{By: Emily McDonald} Female founders’ feelings around shame and money (revenue, salary, expenses!) is something that isn’t talked about enough.  This is something that female founders often think that they are alone in feeling, when in reality the tie between shame and money is greater than you think, especially for those building companies.

As Brene Brown has said, “Shame is the focus on self that tells you that you are not good enough. The only people who don’t experience shame are those who have no compassion or ability to form human connections . . . aka sociopaths.” Shame is inevitable, unless you’re a sociopath. The best way to combat shame is by being vulnerable and talking about it.

As a founder, I have always had shame around money. After a lot of work with my coach, it is getting better, but it is something that has held me back and affected me greatly. Years ago when The Stylist LA was relatively new, my boyfriend at the time (now husband) asked me what our revenue was. I immediately felt a pit in my stomach. That “I’m not good enough” feeling was so extreme that I refused to tell him. Finally, over drinks at a dive bar one night, he asked me for the 20th time and I told him that our yearly revenue then was around 125,000. “Whoa that’s great!” He said. What? Great? It should be so much higher, I thought.

That experience still didn’t change anything for me. As our revenue grew so did my expectations, and spoiler alert, it was never high enough. As we hit revenue goal after revenue goal, I still felt this way. I based my self worth and success as a founder and person on these numbers and it never felt like enough.

As I started to raise money from investors, I had to share all of our company numbers over and over again. I had so many meetings where I felt shame talking about numbers, never feeling good enough. Slowly, and with a lot of practice, I started sharing these numbers more easily and becoming more confident in what we had built. But why did it take so many outside people telling me the revenue was sufficient for me to actually believe it and to believe that I was good enough as a founder? Why was I so unsure of myself and unable to find the confidence within?

It turns out this is very common for women; whether it’s our salary, our company revenue, our rate as a consultant or contractor, we are uncomfortable talking about money. We tie our self worth to these numbers and feel massive amounts of shame surrounding money.

One of the main reasons I started this blog is so that we can have more honest conversations about topics like this. As I was fundraising pre-Covid and our company bank account balance kept getting lower, I felt so alone. I didn’t think I could talk this openly and honestly about money with anyone. I wanted to pretend we were “killing it” and that I had it all together as a founder so that others would think we were doing well. (I’ll save for another time what I think “doing well” even means.)

As things got dark for me and the stress got too much, I started reaching out to founder friends. I realized how common these feelings were and especially how much dwindling funds were an issue for venture backed companies (you are supposed to spend the money that is invested after all.) Now, after a lot of reflection and hitting a low point in March of 2020, I am in the process of changing this relationship between shameful feelings and money. Here are a few things I have done that have helped me let the shame feelings go.

1. Remember, you are not your work and your worth is not defined by your work. Especially as a founder, this is so hard to remember, but you are a human, you most likely have family members who love you, and you have people who look up to you for things that have nothing to do with your work. When you are down, think of the things that have nothing to do with money and work that make you you.

2. Play the worst case scenario game. IF you revenue isn’t high enough, what is the worst that will happen? If your company runs out of money, how bad will it actually be? If you lose a potential client because your rates are too high, what does that mean? You will survive and you will come out stronger on the other side. Yes, losing out on things you want hurts, but it will not actually kill you. There are so many jobs and opportunities out there. If the path you are on right now doesn’t work out, you will have other options.

3. Realize you aren’t alone: Talk to other people/other founders about money. Be honest about your struggles with getting clients, figuring out what to charge, or growing revenue. Connect with other people going through similar challenges and realize you never, ever, are actually alone.

4. Know that you are enough. You are good enough as you are and you do not need high revenue or money to make you successful. If you try your best with your venture or to get new clients that is actually enough. There are so many things you can’t control but the one thing you can control is showing up every day and giving it your all. And that, is enough.

I know I will write more on this topic because this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to say and I know personally I still have a lot of work to do here. But I’m interested to know — do you feel shame around money? How has this affected you? Have you found tools to help work through it?