Listening to Reese Witherspoon, a highly accomplished (and multi-award winning) actor, producer, and businesswoman, with an estimated net worth of $240m (Forbes, 2019), rhetorically ask “when is it going to be enough?” got me to really thinking about this whole idea of money as a measure of success.
You see, Reese was talking to Jameela Jamil about how, in corporate meetings with production companies, she’s still left feeling “this” big (and by “this” big, she meant really, really small).
Because the men (who are the majority of the power players in those rooms) don’t take her seriously. Because her media production company is only making a tenth of what their companies are making. Because she had the audacity to step out of her “own lane”.
So when, in frustrated tears, she cried, “When do (we) women who’ve been put in this marginalised place... get to emerge as the leaders that we are”, it occurred to me that she was missing a key piece of the puzzle that would allow her to answer that question for herself.
You see, right now, in every industry (other than things like nursing, caring, domestic roles, and maybe teaching - where we are deemed to “belong”) she’s absolutely right.
Women - on the whole - are not taken seriously.
But it’s not because the men are making more money than us (or think us frivolous, foolish, or delusional).
It’s because we are allowing our income level (in relation to theirs) to determine how we feel about ourselves.
Because we perceive that the size of our money pile defines us.
And so, sticking with Reese (I hope she won’t mind me using her to illustrate my point), this is a woman who is doing seriously meaningful work in her industry.
She’s getting women’s powerful stories out into the mainstream.
She’s bringing inspiring, thoughtful, disruptive women-led drama to a global audience.
She’s using storytelling to help (in the best way she can) to level the playing field for women everywhere.
Meanwhile, the men (who’ve left her feeling small in those meetings) are really just looking to make the most money possible while taking the least risks; without giving a flying-you-know-what about progress, nor about making a positive impact in the world - in fact, they’re diligently working to maintain the status quo of their own superiority.
And yet we’ve somehow decided that they are the successful ones.
Because we’ve allowed the amount of money we’re making (in comparison to them) to dictate how we feel about ourselves.
We’ve allowed them to control the narrative that money equals success. And thus the smallness that we feel in their presence has become our reality.
The truth, of course, is that money - in and of itself - is entirely worthless.Neither powerful nor impactful, unless it is wielded by empowered people for the advancement, the lifting up, of themselves and society.
And so the idea that accumulating piles and piles of the stuff makes you successful, is nothing short of ludicrous.
A patriarchal construct.
An outright lie.
A bit like the lie that if you’re thin, or beautiful, or well-educated, or white, or straight, or cis, you are somehow more valuable than your fat, or plain, or under-educated, or black, or gay, or trans counterparts (also old, pale, and stale constructs, in case you hadn’t figured that out already).
You see, Ms Witherspoon, in my (not so) humble opinion, is already much, much more successful than the men in those rooms.
Because she’s doing something that actually matters.
And so, finally, I arrive at what I really wanted to talk to you about.
Not what a famous celebrity is doing or feeling - valuable though it (and she) is.
But what we are doing and feeling, every single day in our businesses.
Because, as a mentor, I’ve spent the last 6 years working with women business owners who, without exception, have come to me feeling like they needed to be making more money; even when they already had piles of it in the bank, and piles more coming in every single month, and had absolutely no idea what that additional money might be utilised for (other than accumulating more stuff).
And every single day my social media feeds are filled with entrepreneurial women (and men, actually) chasing their first (or next) $100k, their first million, their first beach house, their first... (you know where I’m going with this, right?) and convincing others to pay them so that they can learn how to do the same.
Selling whatever they can to whomever they can under the guise of living their purpose (if indeed it is anyone’s purpose to help folks pursue a moneyed lifestyle that feels curiously empty once you get there).
But what they’re all failing to realise is that an extra 6 or 7 figures (or even a 40ft yacht) won’t make a fig of difference to how big (or small) the “men” in the room (and by men, I mean anyone - male, female, or otherwise - who is earning more than them) will be able to leave them feeling; without even trying.
Because money doesn’t prove that you are a successful, intelligent, evolving, contributing human.
It merely proves that you have a talent for convincing folks to part with their money.
Which is precisely why I’m advocating for a re-writing of the rules, in a way that actually works for us.
For ditching money (entirely) as a measure of our success.Which is not to say that we shouldn’t make (and want to make) lots of it. Simply that we don’t define our success by it.
I know, it’s a radical (or maybe just plain crazy) idea.
And I understand that, in the early days of our businesses, money is of huge significance... because life costs (and I am in no way diminishing the fight for equal pay, which is extremely important in an equitable society).
But, for those of us running businesses, who are already making more than enough to live a really comfortable life, let’s be honest shall we?
Once you’ve made your first few hundred thousand - and bought the house and the car and the fancy shoes - money becomes seriously insignificant; a thing we chase more and more of simply because that’s how we’ve been taught to operate by the men who’ve been fiercely defending the rule-book (and their own place at the head of the table) for more years than we can count.
A thing that leaves us feeling frustratingly empty, and not enough, even when the pile we’ve accumulated is two hundred and forty million dollars high.
And so you can see why that’s no way to judge our success. To judge anyone’s success.
But then what is?
Well, it’s certainly less easy to measure - isn’t that true of almost all things on the more feminine end of the spectrum? - but how about we start defining our success on how meaningful our work is? How well we understand ourselves and others? How much compassion we can find for even the people we vehemently disagree with? How transformative our ideas are? How much we’ve grown? How much we positively impact the lives of the folks who work with us?
Oh, I know, the (old school) fellas will hate it.
They’ll deem it ludicrous, frivolous, ridiculously naive.And they’d be right.
They’d tell us that no one will ever recognise our measure of success, no one will ever invest in our work, no one will ever back us.
And they’d be (at least partially) right about that too.
Because the old school certainly wouldn’t agree to measuring success this way.
And even the women, who’ve diligently followed the patriarchal rules for as long as they can remember, would likely find it a step too far.
For they would all turn to survey the empires that they’ve built, the luxuries surrounding them, and the piles of money in their bank accounts, and realise that - based on the measures proposed here - they’ve been immediately toppled from their place at the top of the success pyramid.
But here’s a question for you:
Would it even matter if they refused to recognise our measure of success?
Would it matter, really?Or would it be enough to shift our own perception of ourselves (since this is the real issue here), and thus their perception of us - from frivolous to brilliant, from small to enormous - that we know, when we stand in those rooms (real or Zoom), surrounded by folks who’ve made ten (or a hundred) times more money than us, that we are the ones who are truly successful?
And that they are the unbelievably fortunate ones to have the opportunity to work with women as successful as us?