I sat down with client and friend Morra Aarons-Mele to discuss the recent publication of her new book Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Guide to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home) and explore the anxiety that many people feel about money.
Aarons-Mele is a successful Internet marketer and host of the popular podcast, Hiding in the Bathroom. She has also been featured in an interview on NPR. Her new book, Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home), is available now in bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. In addition, be sure to listen to Morra’s podcast available via Forbes on PodcastOne to learn more about the issues she tackles in the book.
Scott: One thing I’ve noticed is that people don’t like to talk about money. It seems that we would rather talk about death, sex, or any number of sensitive topics rather than say anything, for example, about our 401(k) account. Why do you think we feel so uncomfortable talking about money?
Morra: I think it’s about what money represents to us, including hard work and success. As Americans, many of the social mores we are raised with are about working hard so that you can earn a lot of money. There is a myth in America that achievement is all about how much you earn. Money is intertwined with success in our minds and serves as a symbol of how good, or worthy, we are.
Scott: Do you think there is anxiety behind the societal taboo of talking about money? If so, where does it come from?
Morra: I think people internalize societal attitudes about what money represents. In addition, our ideas about what money means are shaped by the family, culture, and environment where we grew up, as well as the mood of the times. For example, my father, who grew up during the depression, always limited his kids to one soda at dinner, because he thought that anything beyond that was excessive.
Scott: How do you think being an introvert, or having some introverted personality traits, can impact your approach to personal finance?
Morra: As an introvert, I think it’s sometimes harder for me to ask questions and put myself out there in terms of learning, or even going to events where I might learn or meet people. For example, in college and graduate school, I should have taken more classes, but I didn’t, because I didn’t want to get out of my comfort zone.
But where I think being an introvert can really hurt us is in our earning power. We associate success and power at work with extroverts, particularly when it comes to sales and negotiating. When we imagine a closer, or someone who closes deals, we picture someone who is super confident—not someone who is a bit quiet, or who needs a moment to think.
Introverts are at increased risk of being hurt at the negotiating table or when they’re up for partner. Since these moments contribute to our earning power, introverts can really pay a heavy price.
Scott: How does your book address these types of challenges?
Morra: I wrote Hiding in the Bathroom, because I wanted to give people strategies that actually highlight their strengths. Introverts can be great negotiators and salespeople, because we aren’t mouthing off and bragging all the time. We have a different style that can be really effective, but you have to know how to employ it.
There’s a great quote in my book from a financial therapist named Amanda Clayman. Her philosophy is that your money has to have a job. If you don’t know how to put your money to work, then how can you possibly manage it, and also how can you manage it without anxiety?
Scott: What are some strategies to reduce anxiety over money?
Morra: One of the things I find that can make people really anxious about their money—and I know it’s true for me—is when we refuse to deal with it. If I don’t check my 401(k)’s performance for two years, or if I don’t see how much is being withheld from my paycheck, or how much my credit card balance is, I can pretend that the problem doesn’t exist. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. It doesn’t work. It actually makes you more anxious in the end.
So I think the first thing you need to do is get real. As a small business owner, I’m responsible for paying a lot of bills. When I have a bad moment and start worrying whether there is enough money coming in, the first thing I do is spend an hour logging into every account we have. I get up-to-date with our cash flow, accounts receivable, and accounts payable.
So as an anxious person, I’m here to tell you that actually, the best way to get over your money fears, is to first get in touch with the numbers—the numbers are very reassuring, even if they’re bad—and then make a plan.
Scott: Once you had plan in place, did you feel differently about saving for retirement?
Morra: Being informed always makes me feel more confident. Having a plan for my savings made me stop ignoring things and even unlocked planning and preparing on other financial fronts, such as college savings and spending.
Scott: How can managing expectations help you control anxiety?
Morra: I’m a huge believer in goal setting and having a realistic vision for your life. We are taught to set grandiose goals, and sometimes that can make us feel like we’re always failing and make us anxious.
I think you should be honest about what your expectations are. For example, you might want a job where you can work from home two days a week, and still earn enough money. You might want to start your own business, but still want to sleep and be able to spend a certain amount of time with your family.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t think big. But if you have an honest conversation with yourself about what’s really going to make you content, you can figure out how to put your money and your time to use to help you get there.
Scott: Did you have any epiphanies while writing your book?
Morra: One thing I learned from working on the book is that we need to be smart about our personal finance and think of it as part of our career goals. It’s not separate.
If you are someone who wants to start your own business, go out on your own as a consultant, get a higher a degree, or do something different, you need to get smart about your personal finance first—even before you think about your business.
It’s not necessarily a good idea to start a business if you have children and a mortgage, and you have to take out a second loan on your house. Yet, we read stories in the media every day about that rare gazillionaire who does that, and we think, “Well, maybe that’s my dream.”
Regardless of your goals, I’ve learned that it’s important to integrate personal finance into your broader plans for your career and your life.