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Q&A with money guru Manisha Thakor: Self-worth does not equal net worth

Feeling like you never have enough is debilitating. It's a trap for many of us, and, frankly, it's exhausting.

To build a life that's rich financially — and emotionally — you need to give yourself permission to say, "achieve less." That very idea is thrilling, even dangerous. But it might just be your ticket to finding a new code to a rich life, according to Manisha Thakor, a certified financial planner, bestselling author, and founder of MoneyZen.

"No matter how much money I earned, accomplishments I achieved, or praise I received, it was never enough to make me feel whole inside," Thakor said in an interview with Yahoo Finance.

Her disclosure is raw, real, and relatable. Thakor was a high-flying portfolio manager for global investment firm Fayez Sarofim & Co., scooping up gobs of money in earnings and bonuses, and admittedly obsessed with achieving more and more. And it wasn’t enough.

In her new book, "MoneyZen: The Secret to Finding Your 'Enough'", which will be published August 8, she unravels her own story of childhood struggles, which include feeling like she was the odd girl out with a strange name and mixed-race heritage living in Columbus, Indiana. She also endured the collapse of her health — twice — only to return to her hustler ways. Her marriage ended as well.

The answer to her cry for help was the concept of MoneyZen, which she coined about a decade ago to describe a brand of financial well-being that focuses on financial health as a precursor to emotional wealth.

Here's what she had to say about all that and more. Edited excerpts:

Manisha, why this contrarian view of money?

I went on this journey, and it was so transformative that I thought, man, I can help some of my girlfriends with this and maybe other people, and so I put it in the book. I was terrified to share my story. But what struck me was that the research won't mean anything without my story, without admitting. It's necessary.

What changed for you?

I used to define myself by the amount of money I had because society so often views money as a proxy for rewarding skill, intellect, grit, commitment, and loyalty. I associated my net worth with my self-worth because I wanted freedom and flexibility to never be stuck in a position where I felt that I was in a painful situation, that I was in an abusive situation, that I was trapped in a life that was making me miserable.

The cover of Manisha Thakor's new book, "MoneyZen." (Manisha Thakor)

You kick off the book by saying that no matter how much money we make, it's never enough. Can you elaborate on that concept?

The cult of never enough is two different concepts. One, it never feels like it is making you feel whole inside because the finish line keeps moving. It's nefarious because it is socially applauded to keep moving forward. The second piece of it is that you have subconsciously embraced one of society's drum beats... that the answer to almost anything that ails us is more, do more, be more, achieve more.

Writing a gratitude list and meditating are great, but that stuff is kind of a band-aid. The underlying problem that you feel like a human doing, not a human being, is still there. And the reason is that those things that you are trying to get more of — the money, the accomplishments, the praise — those things aren't the things that actually make you as a human being whole.

And that's why I call it the cult of never enough.

What is MoneyZen?

Having calm confidence and clarity with both your knowledge and skill set around handling money and your day-to-day life — and even more having that calm confidence and clarity about the role that money plays in your life. I really thought that if I could help people learn the basics of finance, they would feel calm, they'd feel Zen. And what I realized was that’s not enough. It's encouraging people to want to shift from money being an incredibly stressful thing in their life to actually being a calm and enjoyable tool in their life — no matter what the amount is.

How can someone define enough?

We've been taught in the financial industry that enough is the point at which you can retire. Everything is geared towards achieving that number. But, to me, enough is a feeling where you have a deep sense that you don't need to keep striving yourself to death. It varies for everyone.

How do you define the differentiation between money problems and money worries?

Money problems are issues that can be addressed with tactical, strategic answers. I have a problem. My credit score is too low to get a mortgage at a decent interest rate. I have a problem. I want to send my kids to college, but I'm not sure if I should put savings for them ahead of my retirement. And if I do save for them, do I use a 529 [account] or not? Money worries are emotional, not numerical. I feel strongly that money worries are not discussed nearly enough. Oftentimes in the financial advisory ... community, there's a little bit of nervousness about crossing the line between giving financial advice and being a therapist.

Why are money worries the underlying issue for many people?

We're starved for money wisdom. That's what comes from learning to face your money worries head-on. What I found is you can solve your money problems, but without addressing money worries, you're still going to have some level of anxiety, stress, shame, and overwhelming guilt.

No worries? Author Manisha Thakor
Manisha Thakor (Photo courtesy of author)

You write about joy-based spending. Can you explain?

The second half of my career has been in the wealth management financial advisory wearing my certified financial planner hat. One of the immediate things I noticed was that people hated the word budgeting.

I tried to figure out what the heck I can do to help people see that the purpose of budgeting is to make sure that your money is fulfilling its job as a tool in your life to bring you closer to creating and living that life that you love. When you spend it, you're spending your life's energy. So the process of budgeting is allocating that life energy as optimally as possible to make you happy.

So what can someone do to get back the joy in spending?

Track your spending for a week. Write down everything you spend money on. Don't add it up or judge yourself, just take out a highlighter, and ... highlight anything that did not bring you joy that you spent money on.

One example: You go out with friends and you don't drink, and they drink and they order an expensive bottle of wine, and at the end of the dinner, you split the bill, and you're frustrated because it's way higher than you wanted to spend. You didn't get the same enjoyment out of it. You can cut that expense out.

You're not losing any joy, and you can reallocate that money to something that brings you more joy in terms of spending or to something that can help alleviate some financial problem that's bringing you stress.

I recently bought a paddle board to use when I'm at my cabin in Maine, which was not an inexpensive one, but I'm out on it almost every day. It brings me such joy.

Kerry Hannon is a Senior Reporter and Columnist at Yahoo Finance. She is a workplace futurist, a career and retirement strategist and the author of 14 books, including "In Control at 50+: How to Succeed in The New World of Work" and "Never Too Old To Get Rich." Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.

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