Life Is More Than Just a Number on the Balance Sheet

Spencer Sherman was working at a financial investment firm in Philadelphia, putting in 60 hours a week and focused on making money. “I’d work overnight and leave at 10 in the morning . . . And I felt proud of that.”

Then there was a fire. Sherman panicked. “Something that was even more important than my own life was in that building. . . . I convinced the fire marshal to let me in [after the fire]. . . .  What I thought was so important was my computer,” even though all the information was backed up. It was a “wake-up call.”

So he decided to go on a 10-day silent meditation retreat. “I’m a sucker for a challenge,” he said. What he learned on that retreat was that he could feel satisfied without work or possessions and he felt a sense of abundance.

“The money itself was not providing happiness. . . . I felt more energy and alive than I ever felt in my life.” It was the beginning of redefining net worth to include more than just numbers on the balance sheet.

After that wake-up call, Sherman decided to start his own business, so he could have more balance in his life, with time for self-care and other activities besides work. He started one of the first fee-based financial planning businesses to help people with their money. He’s also the author of The Cure for Money Madness and is on the faculty of the Inner MBA program at New York University. In 2002, he joined with a friend to create Abacus Wealth Partners, a values-driven financial firm.

How We Learn About Money  

Sherman explained that how we grow up with money shapes how we think about it when we are older, and it affects how we relate to the work we do. Growing up in Queens, New York, Spencer learned that you had to work hard to see results, but also that there was never enough money, that  “more money is definitely better… that you can’t have enough of it.”

Our relationship with money is also influenced by messages passed down through generations as well as the historical moment in which we live. Sherman explained that those who come of age during economic downturns have different ways of relating to money than those who come of age during growth and prosperity.

These lessons and observations, and his own practice of meditation and mindfulness,  has led Sherman to expanding his services to include courses and trainings. His online course, “Fearless Finance” helps people transform their relationship with money.

The Money Breath

We can cultivate healthier relationships with money through mindful practices. Sherman uses the “money breath,” when he realizes he needs to stop and check in with himself because he is experiencing anxiety about money.

When we have anxiety about money, we are usually responding out of old patterns and beliefs. For Sherman, it has meant challenging the belief he grew up with that there’s never enough.

“I know I can afford it, and yet I have all this anxiety about it,” Sherman said. The value of this practice is that it helps us to stop and check in with ourselves. Sherman also advised waiting three days for any large purchases. “Anything you can do to slow yourself down,” he said.

Another attitude to cultivate is the belief that there is enough, and that you have enough. When we continually are in a state of wanting, of grasping, we will never be satisfied with what we have. “It doesn’t feel good to us… when we’re in this wanting mode, when we can’t ever feel this sense of sufficiency with who we are and what we have.”

Self Worth

Sherman encourages people to look at their lives and their sense of their worth and success as more than just a number on the balance sheet. “We equate self-worth with net worth,” he said.

Instead, we need to recognize that the quality of life needs to be about more than just work and money. Our work lives and our money need to help support our wellness in body and mind. He also pointed out that if someone is working 60 hours or more a week, then they are likely not doing much else; they are likely not taking care of their health, nurturing relationships, finding time for fun and relaxation, or sleeping enough. All these aspects should be considered on our balance sheets. Additionally, it’s “not efficient,” because our ability to work suffers and impacts our productivity and creativity.

This is not to say that Sherman believes you need to give up possessions to live a better life or that we don’t need money to live. We just need to strive to achieve balance, to see a good life has more than just how much money we make. Paradoxically, “when we’re no longer grasping for the money, it often flows more easily to us,” Sherman said.

Money and Risk 

Sherman said that investing is the only area “where beginners are better,” explaining that people who think they know more will take more risks and therefore are more apt to lose money, whereas a beginner will be more conservative. “Women are better investors,” he noted, because they are usually more risk-averse and conservative when it comes to money. Similarly, patience and resilience with being uncomfortable can help you ride out ups and downs of market forces instead of reacting in the moment.

As a way to prevent yourself from reacting with fear when it comes to money, he recommends finding data and evidence to break out of emotionally driven responses. For example, he has not invested in crypto because he doesn’t see any evidence for getting returns. However, he also notes that some people are more comfortable with risk, and as long as they know the possible consequences and it doesn’t disrupt their lives too much, it’s fine to take financial risks.

Sherman also recommends having a gratitude practice as a way to have more comfort and ease around money. “Gratitude puts us in the present moment but also helps us become aware of all that we have,” he explained. “”That place of enoughness is powerful, it’s liberating. . . .I love the word equanimity, a place where you’re ok with things as they are. . . then you can have everything.”

The conversation with Spencer Sherman continues on the Leading with Genuine Care podcast, where we talk more about building healthier relationships with money. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne. Check out my website or some of my other work here.