It’s Not About the Money

Brent Kessel’s guide to understanding the psychological forces that challenge your financial integrity.

Not About Money

If you’ve ever struggled with integrating your spiritual and financial life like I have, I’m here to tell you that author Brent Kessel (“financial planner by day, yogi by dawn”) is your ally. His excellent book It’s Not About the Money (HarperOne, 2009) takes on the unconscious forces that knock us out of financial integrity. Here are some of my favorite Big Ideas from his book.

Beyond Wanting

Legend has it that when billionaire John D. Rockefeller was asked how much money would be enough for him, he replied, “Just a little bit more.”

Kessel uses Rockefeller’s quote to illustrate “the Wanting Mind,” that part of us that can never quite be satisfied with how things are. “The Wanting Mind insists that things need to change in order for us to be happy,” he explains, “and money is one of its favorite objects to focus on.”

Most of us can identify with the feeling that we’ll finally be happy when [fill in the blank] happens or we have a bank balance of [X amount]. Kessel sees this as part of the human condition.

“I am not saying that it is wrong to have these desires,” he writes. “But can you see how each of these thoughts, with its underlying foundation in ‘not enough,’ actually undermines our life right now, just as it is? Every single one of these thoughts presumes that we’d be happier or more secure if something were to change. And there would be no problem with this strategy . . . if we actually ended up happier after fulfilling our wants. But we don’t. We usually just end up wanting more.”

How does the Wanting Mind leave its mark on our financial lives? It often produces significant debt and insignificant savings, or a big pile of money protected by a stingy, ungenerous attitude.

One important antidote to the Wanting Mind is  Heartfelt Goals. According to Kessel, the Wanting Mind’s desires are characterized by a childlike urgency for personal benefit, often with a sense of petty competitiveness. Heartfelt Goals, on the other hand, are driven by our deepest values. They serve something bigger than ourselves, and are usually accompanied by a feeling of patience and a deeper sense of meaning.

Core Story

Kessel says that when we get knocked off course from our most deeply held financial goals, it is often because our financial decisions are being dictated by a Core Story.

“A 4-year-old runs your financial life,” Kessel writes.  “Until you can identify and examine your Core Story, your outer financial life will be a mirror of your unconscious expectations.”

To get a sense of your own Core Story, Kessel recommends answering some intriguing questions. (To complete the full exercise, see the book.):

  • What is your most painful memory related to money?
  • What is your biggest fear about money?
  • What were you taught was important about money?
  • When have you been most positively or negatively moved by money?

As you gain a deeper understanding of how past conditioning affects current behavior, Kessel says it’s important to “identify and retain the healthiest parts of [the] story’s message, while at the same time letting go of the extreme and unhealthy behaviors and attitude it has engendered.”

Type Casting

According to Kessel, each of us has certain characteristic spending and saving habits consistent with one or more of what he identifies as eight financial archetypes.

“Archetypes can be thought of as energies within us. They are not personal but more like collective patterns that are manifested within us and recognizable in others,” he explains. “By bringing conscious awareness to what is unconscious, we can attain balance and a sense of control over our financial destiny.”

Here’s a quick snapshot of the eight archetypes:

  • The Guardian is always alert and careful.
  • The Pleasure Seeker prioritizes pleasure and enjoyment in the here and now.
  • The Idealist places value on creativity, social justice or spiritual growth.
  • The Saver seeks security and abundance by accumulating financial assets.
  • The Star spends, invests or gives money away to be recognized, feel classy and increase self-esteem.
  • The Innocent avoids putting attention on money and hopes that life will work out for the best.
  • The Caretaker gives money to express compassion and generosity.
  • The Empire Builder thrives on power and wants to create something of enduring value.

None of these archetypes is inherently good or bad, and most of us demonstrate characteristics consistent with a few of them. The goal is to be able to take advantage of the strengths of each one (the wisdom of the Saver, the wardrobe of the Star) without getting trapped in their weaknesses (the Saver who becomes stingy; the Star who bankrupts himself on the latest trends).

“In my opinion, the optimal human being would be balanced among all eight of these archetypes,” Kessel writes. “Who wouldn’t want to be the person whose financial life was experienced as secure and abundant, pleasure-filled and joyous, powerful and creative, self-sufficient, significant and worthy, relaxed, generous, and compassionate?”

(See the book to take Kessel’s quiz for identifying your financial archetype.)

Abundant at Heart

While a great deal of popular financial advice revolves around a scrimp-and-save approach, Kessel suggests that a generous, other-focused attitude is actually central to a healthy financial life — and a healthy life, period.

True freedom comes from being secure and confident enough in our resources, and clear enough about our real needs, that we feel we have plenty to share, Kessel says. “We are free when we move from a focus on getting love, abundance, peace and freedom to being love, abundance, peace and freedom.”

Finding financial peace, he asserts, comes not from a magic number on a bank statement, but from cultivating a healthy sense of “enough” in the here and now.


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is the Philosopher and CEO of en*theos (, a company that creates cool stuff to help people optimize their lives, including the en*theos Academy for Optimal Living, Philosophers­Notes and Blissitations. He is the author of A Philosopher’s Notes (en*theos Enterprises, 2010) and is featured in the documentary Finding Joe.

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