Being a Good Debtor

debt burdenPart of being in business is that clients owe me money. And part of being an accountant is acting for clients when they owe money.  So I regularly get to play on both sides of the debt equation: being both Creditor (they owe me) and Debtor (I owe them).  This piece is about how to manage  things well as a debtor – how to be a Good Debtor.

For most people being in debt is incredibly stressful. Our culture sees debt as bad: we talk about the ‘debt burden’, and the ‘debt trap’. Having a mortgage is seen as a kind of moral negation: signing the mortgage is to “sign one’s life away”.  Understandably in this cultural context, not being able to pay your bills brings up feelings of shame, anxiety, embarrassment and fear.  These emotions can make it really hard to act simply with self-compassion and clear communication. Continue reading Being a Good Debtor

Tax coaching: how it works

Anwar-218x300My guiding theme with clients is empowerment: supporting the client to move beyond negative and even crippling stories about money, and come into a positive relationship with managing their money where they feel they are steering things from a place of confidence and pride.

Often people are prompted to come to an accountant for their tax.  But more and more of my clients don’t want me just to do it for them. Many people for whom their business is their spiritual path recognise that their growth requires them to address their difficulties with money.  One area which is often difficult for people is tax returns. Continue reading Tax coaching: how it works

Greece vs. the EU: recreating democracy and openness

Last week’s shocking interview with Yanis Varoufakis about the reality of the Eurozone’s core management structures has awoken me to the fragility inherent in democracy.  Varoufakis reports that the meeting of Eurozone finance ministers absolutely refused to discuss finance or economics. The main power-brokers centring on Germany’s Wolfgang Schauble did not need to discuss anything of substance or engage in order to find common ground.  Instead they went ahead and bulldozed the Greek team.

To have very powerful figures look at you in the eye and say “You’re right in what you’re saying, but we’re going to crunch you anyway.” … there was point blank refusal to engage in economic arguments. Point blank. …

As an Australian brought up on the anglophone view that political deliberation means adversarial competition between two simplistically opposing views, the Europe project has long fascinated me with its admirable struggle to find ways of living together on the basis of accepting difference.

The continent’s terrible history has awoken Europeans to the obvious fact that we are all here together, and we have to find ways of living co-operatively with each other.  We might not like our neighbours; indeed, we might hate their guts, and that might have been mutual for generations. But if we start fighting, we all know where that leads – and definitely none of us want to go there. So we’ve got to find a way to do it without fighting. Which, over the last 60 years has meant engagement and discussion and, above all, respect for differing views and the differences in situations.

Sure, the current EU as it currently stands is incredibly messy.  Sure, many people do still feel excluded. Obviously the project is not finished.  It took Europe several hundred years to start a democratic process – and it is not quite there yet.

Indeed Varoufakis reports that one of the EU’s core governance functions – management of the Euro – has no connection with democratic values or democratic processes at all. Varoufakis found that the Eurogroup, the Euro currency’s governing body, is

… a non-existent group that has the greatest power to determine the lives of Europeans. It’s not answerable to anyone, given it doesn’t exist in law; no minutes are kept; and it’s confidential. So no citizen ever knows what is said within. … These are decisions of almost life and death, and no member has to answer to anybody.

It often happens in new situations that new processes and governance systems simply emerge. At one level this is legitimate since newness is, by definition, unknown and so it’s not possible to plan every little detail of something that is not yet fully in existence.  A new system created on the fly can work out well when it stays close to the project’s original values, remains transparent, and is soon formalised once its shape becomes clear.

Clearly this has not occurred with Eurogroup governance. What was a democratic space has become closed out and replaced by a static and opaque power structure.

Varoufakis’ revelations alert me to a core quality of democracy, and in fact of any spaces in which respect, openness, transparency and acceptance are core values:  democracy and openness must be actively created and, once created, must be actively recreated against attempts to silence, to obscure, and to close down the space.

Doing nothing allows the forces of closure, injustice and domination to fill up and choke our communal space, our relating-space.  As Edmund Burke said in 1795:  “All it takes for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.”

So we must do something – but what might that be?  It is common to claim that democracy must be fought for.  This perhaps has been true – maybe.  But I am increasingly of the mind that, as they said in the 70s, fighting for democracy (or peace, or openness) is like fucking for virginity. Indeed, I would argue that fighting is precisely the thing which Europe has collectively learned actually doesn’t work.

What’s the difference between fighting and active recreation? Fighting is driven by anger, which is a reaction to forces of closure.  It’s a very natural, sensible and at one level wholly rational reaction to closure.  It’s a necessary reaction too, since anger is an energizing emotion which moves us to break free of restraints.

But when we engage by bringing anger we are also bound to the source of our anger, since without that source our energy evaporates. So we are reliant on the closure or tyranny continuing.  This is why so many protest movements eventually evaporate:  their driving energy actually comes from the existence of a specific situation. Once that situation changes the protest movement has no cohering focus. So protest movements do not continue for long enough to shape new realities or bring new forms into being.

Anger in response to tyranny or closure is natural and inevitable. But rather than use our anger as our driving force, we can use it as a very reliable telltale that something else needs to happen. We can rely on our anger to alert us to the need for affirmations of values, affirmations of goals, affirmations that democracy, openness, transparency are possible and are more important to us than the present forces of closure.  In this way we actively recreate what is of value to us, and actively recreate the future we want in the present.

It is very sad that Varoufakis resigned.  He has a richly elaborated vision of what is possible and a considerable skillset to enact that vision.  Despite the support of millions of people both in Greece and in many other countries, he was undermined by the large group of people who are cowed by the forces of closure and who would rather accommodate the pain of tyranny than affirm the possibilities of openness and democracy.

I’m so successful, my business is disappearing!

As my third tax season in London kicks off, I’ve just had a run of established clients emailing me saying “I’ve done my 2014-15 figures; can you just have a look over them?”

Success!

I’ve been working with these clients for 2 or 3 years doing Tax Coaching – working with them around their records, bookkeeping and tax.  And, hey – they’re really getting it together!  It usually takes 2-3 cycles of doing something to really learn it, and so it makes sense that my more established clients are building competencies and starting to stand on their own feet. Continue reading I’m so successful, my business is disappearing!

On “Closing the Sale”

01-pushy-salesmanRecently I was on the receiving end of the sales technique known as “closing the sale”.  This is where a seller elicits several “yes” responses from you and then keeps narrowing the conversation to the point where you say “yes” to whatever they are selling.

Ironically, they were trying to sell a program of coaching around business development, marketing and – yes! – selling.  At the start of the conversation I was very open to their program and what they had to offer.  By the end I was fuming!

You might say this conversation was simply an example of a poor salesperson.  But what else is “closing the sale” than an attempt to shift a potential buyer from “maybe” to “yes”?  This is of course a quite legitimate shift to make – but one that needs to be made by the buyer and not the seller!

But more interestingly, is what the technique of “closing the sale” says about the seller’s attitude to their product and to their clients.  All or only some of these may be true side by side:

  • a deep ambivalence on the seller’s part about the value of what they are selling.  They believe that the value is not apparent, or perhaps not really there at all. Closing down the conversational space reduces the buyer’s scrutiny of  the product.
  • overriding anxiety about issues internal to their business: meeting sales targets, or keeping busy, or pleasing a supervisor, or simply paying the bills.  These things are not the buyer’s business.  They could be very real for the seller, and the seller could potentially share them simply as a human being – but not by smuggling them in to the buyer/seller conversation!
  • the seller views the potential buyer as not fully capable.  The seller often sees their role in the sales conversation of “assisting” the buyer to make the key shift to “yes”.  In other words the seller believes the buyer is not capable of making this shift unaided, not able to make a clear decision for themself – an incredibly insulting belief.
  • the seller views the potential buyer as an object.  The seller really has no interest at all in the buyer as a real person, and simply wants the buyer to comply with the seller’s agenda.

Of course “closing the sale” works fine when you are just selling widgets, or a one-off experience – like a fairground sideshow for example.  You take the buyer’s money, they get the goods, and you never have to see each other again.  The value of what is sold is only momentary anyway, and who cares if the transaction is interpersonally messy?

“closing the sale” is closing off the path to real connection, and thus shutting down an opportunity

But I am selling an intimate service.  Although accounting is not generally seen as intimate, in practice it involves the client disclosing things that sometimes they don’t even tell their spouse, and on occasion have never told anyone.

As with lawyers, doctors, and the sacred professions*, my service works best when the client feels safe to be entirely authentic.  This safety is generated partly by me being appropriately open and boundaried in the interaction myself, and partly by according the client the respect that they are fully capable, that their process of living is fully legitimate as it is, and that their decisions are entirely right for them in the moment.

Of course I don’t always measure up in practice to this standard I set for myself – I, like everyone, am on the path of growth.  But it is my intention to move towards appropriateness and respect with clients at all times.  It would be impossible for me to commence working with a client on anything less than that basis.

“Closing the sale” is the antithesis of what works in my business. Were I to pursue it I would feel obliged to continue my distant, disrespectful or inappropriate stance with my client, because that is what they signed up for.  Or I would need to put a lot of effort into cleaning up the mess left by ‘closing the sale’ – apologizing, and establishing a new basis to proceed. Either path involves an enormous amount of energy which needn’t be spent if one simply doesn’t use the “closing the sale” technique.

What DOES work is simply having a chat.  In that conversation it becomes clear what is the quality of connection between me and the potential client. And then if the connection supports it, we sort out what we can go forward with, and how to do that.

In contrast, “closing the sale” is closing off the path to real connection, and thus shutting down an opportunity for me to help empower others around money and thus to contribute to my community’s social capital.

* The Sacred Professions are “… professions in which the value delivered is something
intangible.  Musicians, artists, prostitutes, healers, counselors, and teachers…” Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics, p203

Money: some other possibilities

It’s very clear that money is entirely a cultural construct – it’s something that is created by society, it has no material reality in itself, and no natural or external force caused its existence.

There is an incredible freedom in this. It means we don’t have to be run by our culture’s familiar emotions of fear, greed, shame and anxiety – these are just emotions attached to cultural stories, which don’t give us useful or accurate information about money itself.

money-yin-yang-300x240Instead, we can create our own relationship with money.  Rather than simply be constrained in the tight space generated by those familiar cultural emotions, we can come to find meanings of money which resonate with us at a deep level and which help us become more and more aligned with our authenticity and our spiritual path.

The range of possible meanings is endless. All meanings are valid – though the most useful are those which bring us into a constructive and enlivening relationship with money.  As a start to this process of creative refreshment, here’s some images or archetypes that I am working with and find stimulating.

Being a bridge

A previous post talks about this in more detail, but the essence is this: Many people who bring a gift to the world are bringing something new – something which the world is calling for because it does not yet exist.  Because our gift does not yet exist it is often hard to tell people what we offer.  In such a situation it is helpful to see ourselves as a bridge – between what we know is good but is not yet manifest, and the current reality of social life.

A bridge has the extraordinary property of being anchored in 2 places at once. In our case our strong connection with our gift usually means one end of the bridge is firmly anchored in what we know is possible.  It is often very challenging, though, to get the other end of the bridge as solidly anchored in current social life – it’s hard to clearly say what our gift is and to connect with the people who want it.

But when we are able to make that solid connection to current social reality then people can easily hear and see what we offer, and they can readily feel whether it is for them or not.  And as a result energy can flow both ways: we get to offer our gift regularly and often. It is well received.  And money can flow easily.

In this scenario, then, money is a litmus test of how good a job we are doing of being that bridge – how solidly we are anchored both in the current world and in what is possible.

Standing on one’s own feet

Our fears about money tempt us to look outside ourselves for solutions: need to get a job, generate more clients, find a patron, work more hours, win that contract, be more focused.  All are action-oriented. So what if we turn that around and ask about not-doing?  What if I grabbed the emotional energy motivating those actions and brought it inwards?  What would that look like?

It might look like standing very still but very solid.  Solidly anchored in one’s own space, one’s body. Feeling the connection through feet to the ground, and from the ground up one’s legs and suffusing throughout one’s body.  Feeling the move and sway of Earth energy, like the sinuous movement of a giant beanstalk, or the elastic wind-swept movements of the branches of the trees.  Feeling one’s energy coalescing absolutely at one’s centre, deep in the belly, allowing firm rootedness to the Earth below and at the same time fluid adaptive movements in my pelvis and all my limbs as I respond to Life’s events.

In this image money flows along energy pathways from the ground, like a force field that keeps our feet glued solid to the Earth and then flows up our energy meridians and across our whole being.  This solidness then enables almost a complete opposite…

Debt as an act of faith

Debt mostly gets a bad rap in our society : being in debt is seen as bad, as a burden, being ‘trapped’ by debt, a constant source of anxiety. Credit cards are frequently seen as actively dangerous and credit providers as malevolent. Government deficits are seen as irresponsible.

At one level all these things can be true. But we don’t have to relate to debt in that way. Especially if we are borrowing money to fund a business which expresses our life path, we can see that act of borrowing as an expression of faith in our gift and in our path.  If we did not believe that our gift is needed and that we have the capacity to give it, then what are we doing in business?  Come to that, what are we doing at all?

This doesn’t mean we should just gaily launch out into debt willy-nilly.  We are a bridge between what we know is possible and what is currently happening in our society.  So it’s crucial that we are wise and sure-footed about bringing our gift to the world as-it-is: we need plans grounded in the realities of the world and in what our own capacities are and what they are not.

But such plans do not have to be gloomy or restrictive.  Nor does borrowing have to be a constant and unrelieved burden.  Rather, we can see borrowing money as a very tangible expression of our faith in our gift:  that our gift is true, that the time is right for it, that we can offer it well, and that we are willing to serve our gift in whatever way it needs, including taking risks.


These three suggestions are just a start – a stimulus for creativity around our relationship with money.  What works for you?

Photo credit – http://inspiringsuccess.com/blog/2013/09/balance-with-your-archetypes-creates-financial-ease/ Thanks Rosemary Cunningham  http://www.rosemarycunningham.co.uk/

Money: tales of disruption

bankruptcy-1Most of us in the West are socialised into a permanently conflict-ridden relationship with money, in which we often feel trapped by our conflicting emotions.

But beyond that narrow space limited by our habitual emotions is a whole world where other things happen.

Here’s just three examples.

Not paying your debts

The fear of not being able to pay our debts looms large in the Western psyche.  The English-speaking world has its legacy of slums, debtors prisons and workhouses horrifyingly described by Dickens and others.  But late nineteenth century liberal responses to these horrors changed bankruptcy from a very public shaming for moral turpitude to a benign legal and administrative device to forgive debts and allow the debtor a fresh start.

Like no-fault divorce, the attitude behind bankruptcy legislation is that things don’t always work out well despite people’s best intentions, and the wisest attitude is simply to set people free with no blame to start again.

Certainly most people who go bankrupt feel a great deal of shame, guilt, remorse and fear.  And credit agencies, friends, colleagues and family often subtly reinforce these feelings in subsequent years. Bankruptcy is not a small step.  But the point is that there is life beyond “going bankrupt”. It’s not the end of the world.  It’s simply the end of one phase of life and the start of another phase of life, another type of life, another style of life.

Two friends who have been through bankruptcy, both men, say that going through the process forced them to confront and dismantle their unconscious attachment to being a breadwinner, a ‘successful businessman’ and indeed their attachment to a narrow form of masculinity.  At the emotional/psychic level, for each of them their bankruptcy was an ordeal by fire – as we would expect given our tortuously conflicting emotions about money.  But each is now more free, with a richer and more autonomous sense of self. And – they are free of debt.

Being Homeless

Nichole Gracely became homeless after she left her shockingly bad job in an Amazon warehouse and was not able to find another one.  She started begging on the streets: “I did not simply perish when I lost all sources of income and could no longer afford to pay the bills. A survival instinct that I didn’t even know I possessed manifested itself. I learned to live without money and without a home.”

It isn’t easy: she’s “…learned that it’s best to keep moving. It’s not easy to start up anywhere with absolutely nothing. … It takes tremendous strength to get through a day.” But “There’s more respect for a homeless woman out on the streets than there is in a warehouse for Amazon workers.”

Gracely shows us that beyond what most of us consider to be a total catastrophe, the end of “life as we know it”, is a whole world – certainly a very different life, but still a life.

Being homeless is not necessarily a desirable goal, or necessarily an easy way of life. But the point is that there is life beyond our fear or shame about not having a home.  And especially that there can be more dignity in being homeless than staying in an immoral or soul-destroying situation.

 Throwing money around

The above two stories of disruption seem to support the cultural story that there is not enough money to go around – that we have to battle to make ends meet .

But despite our culture of fear and tightness around money (or because of it?), there is a very well-established pattern of people having money – huge amounts of money – thrown at them.

The apocryphal example is JK Rowling. Here is a single mum telling bedtime stories to her kids, and people start throwing hundreds of millions of pounds at her – all for telling stories that apparently hit the spot for millions of people.

The phenomenon of celebrity is based in this:  people can become famous, with the associated wealth, simply because they hold something on behalf of millions of people – often something quite ephemeral like a personality trait or a story line.

JK Rowling’s experience disrupts the story there is not enough money, or that it’s hard to come by. This makes it clear “not enough and work hard” is just a story – actually, one of our culture’s foundational stories about money.

Believe any of our culture’s money stories are true and you can find support for them everywhere.  This is how culture works.

And also, like all our stories about money, there is a whole world beyond it.