Much Ado About Money

July 7, 2023
Brett probes Joe about his history with money, from avoiding it entirely at first to recognizing the role it played as a surrogate for his father's love. They discuss how our projections of money can be traced back to their emotional roots.

Episode Intro: Welcome back to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. I am Brett Kistler here today with my co-host, Joe Hudson. Early on we did a couple of episodes on money, and we have gotten a lot of questions since then, people wanting to go deeper on that topic. The other day you were telling some people about your story with money, and there were a lot of components to that that I found really fascinating. I would really love to just go deeper into that on this episode.

Joe: That sounds awesome.

Brett: Tell me about your experience with money.

Joe: I am just going to go sequentially, and if you remember anything or if you have any questions, drop them in. The first thing that happened was I was raised in a family where money was really important, status and having the right car. As a lot of people do, my dad grew up without  enough. His mom grew up in the Depression, and he was born during the Depression. Having money was really an important thing, and so he cared about money. As a kid, it always felt like he cared more about money than he did about me. I saw the deep urge for the Cadillac and making sure that the house was this way and that he had the Rolex watch. Somehow my brain interpreted that as money is more important than me. In my brain, what happened was money became bad. Money was the thing that took my dad's love away from me and took people out of presence and being there with their kids. Money was this thing that was to be chased after, and I remember thinking I am right here, what do you need to chase after. That was the emotional experience for me as a kid around money.

Brett: Before you move on there, how much did you also paradoxically take on the belief, the water you were swimming in that you didn't have enough money and money was important?

03:15 Joe: That's a great point. Both were taken on. There was a part of me that wanted money and wanted to have enough of it, and there was a part of me that money was bad and I rejected it. It was absolutely a push and pull thing. I didn't really want the money when I was younger, but that desire for the money kicked in for sure by the time I was in my 20s. Money being bad, that kicked in at 13. That's what I was in touch with by 13 years old. Money was bad. Anyone with money was bad. Really rich people were bad. The guy in the Porsche was a prick. That was my experience. Money was something that took you away from anything that was important in life and you were vapid if you had money. That's really how I was walking through life in my teens and in my 20s.

Brett: What did that do to your development? WIth that lens coloring your experience, what journey did that take you on?

Joe: It kept money away from me. It kept it away in two ways. One of the ways it kept it away from me was because I would naturally get a lot of money thrown at me. I remember I graduated from college, and then I worked in a fishery in Alaska and I taught in Head Start. Then I thought let's make some money. I found a job in investment banking and within 16 months or something like that I was making enormous amounts of money. I decided it was bad and I quit.

Brett: Yet you were attracted to investment banking, so the other side of that paradox was active.

Joe: Exactly. There was a push pull in my system. I found my head wanting the money and thinking the money was freedom. If I had enough money, I could be free. I had that whole thought process happening, which would become illuminated later. At the same time, I thought money was bad and all of these people in investment banking care about is making more money. I was in a situation where I was pushing and pulling against myself. I was constantly finding proof it was bad. I went into investment banking, and I thought it was horrible and all bad. Then I chased art, and it was 7 years later that I realized they were the same thing. This amazing recognition that everything I saw was just shaded by money is bad. Anything that I saw that was bad that related to money, money was the cause of it. If there was a rich person who was acting like an ass, I didn't think they were an asshole who happens to be rich. I thought money made that person act like an asshole. I was constantly finding the proof of it.

Brett: What did that to you emotionally? To continuously find more proof money was bad, what did that protect you from feeling, for example?

Joe: Part of it was that I was bad for wanting money, and I wanted money. There was that constant fight that more than anything prevented me from my joy and ease in life.

Brett: It was a way of proving that you were bad and proving that the aspect of you that wanted money was bad.

Joe: Absolutely. In my 20s, I was constantly self abusive. It wasn't until 24 or 25 that I realized that I had a critical voice in the head that was abusing me. Everything that I had was a fight, and this was probably one of the biggest fights I would say with myself.

Brett: As we talked about in your story, you started to recognize around that time that you had this voice in your head. How did spiritually and your self exploration journey play into this?

Joe: Any spiritual teacher or development teacher that had anything to do with money was corrupt and crappy. My first thing to do was attend a meditation retreat. I only went because the person told me I couldn't pay. This is donated to you. You have to assume it is a gift. If you want to donate afterwards, fine, but you can't pay for this. I accepted that as real spirituality.

Brett: The irony is that it is very much about money to tell you that you cannot pay.

Joe: Exactly, but in my head I thought they were not doing it for the money. Therefore, they can be trusted. I remember somebody who became one of my really favorite teachers. I was looking at their book, and in the back of the book there was a picture of them. I thought they were trying to get notoriety and they are into money, and so they can't be a good teacher because there is a picture on the back of the book. It got that deep in my system. I couldn't conceive of the fact that their picture was on the book because they wanted people to be able to connect or their picture was on the book because they wanted to present themselves as a real human and not as some fantasy people could project on. They had a picture. Therefore, they must be interested in fame and money, and therefore, I couldn't trust them as a teacher.

Brett: There is a link with fame, too.

Joe: Power, fame, any kind of cache, notoriety, status. Anything around status. To me, my father's quest for money was all about status, so any version of that. Money was the representation of anything I projected onto it, so spirituality was the opposite of it. I had this idea of what spirituality was, which was interesting to find out later that the beginning of [unclear] my spirituality was all about status. It was all about being perfect in some way.

Brett: How much were you creating a hierarchy of status of which teachers were the least status-y?

Joe: Exactly. I couldn't see any of that at the time. I don't remember where this came, but somewhere along the line I was more and more in touch with the fact that I wanted money. I think that happened because I lived without it for close to a decade. I went into debt so I could sit and meditate, but I would worry about money but wouldn't do anything for money or I would work for a week every month to have enough money to pay the bills but still going into debt. As the money thing got tighter and tighter, I wanted it more and more. It became more and more this thing that was supposed to give me freedom. Somehow or another I started to practice having gratitude for money. I was doing a gratitude practice every day for 10 minutes a day, and I did it with Tara.

11:00 Brett: What did that look like?

Joe: It was literally being grateful for what I did have. I can't remember if I did this on my own, but the concept was that I am constantly thinking about what I don't have and what happens if I constantly think about what I do have. How would that change things? If I stop thinking about the lack and I start thinking about all that I do have, how does that change the way I look at everything? I was looking at everything like there wasn't enough. Every day, 10 minutes a day, we would just sit and be thankful. We have a working car. We had food today, whatever it was. It was always around stuff that resources and money could get us. We just did it. It was literally six months later there was a ton of money in our world or what I thought was a ton of money at the time.

In that gratitude practice, I started seeing all of the opportunities and what was right and how to grow it instead of what was wrong and how to fix it. I could see all of these opportunities that came. I could see that they were everywhere. I remember in that process at some point I could look out and just see somebody made money on everything I was looking at. I was living in LA at the time. That concrete, 20 people made money on that concrete. That road light, the electricity that goes to the road light, the paint on the road light, everywhere I looked, there were ways people were making money. Money was so available. It was all over. It was endless. I had never seen that before. I thought there was a shortage of it. I believed that there was not enough of it and you had to fight for it instead of seeing it as walking through a jungle of money and finances. You just have to reach up and pick something off. That gratitude really helped with that experience.

That's when money started to flow into my life, just comfortable and easily. I think it was six or eight months from starting that practice to being completely out of debt, making a living doing art, happy. We decided to have a kid because I wasn't worried about money. That practice was a really big life changer for me.

Brett: One thing I am noticing here is you went from all that debt through this gratitude practice and perhaps that was dismantled there was this idea that status and money were going to get you love.

Joe: It wasn't so much that money in order to be loved. I hadn't figured that out yet. What I figured out was that money was something you could be grateful for, so it could be good. It could be something you appreciate, and I figured out there was a ton of it, a holy crap ton of money out there. It is like walking through a jungle of money, and all you have to do is just pick off the trees. Those were the two things that that practice really helped me with. That's when the money doors started opening up for me.

Brett: It is fascinating for me that you didn't go back to investment banking where you had been making before. You went into the arts.

Joe: At that point, I had been focusing on trying to make money as an artist for an extended period of time. I had that moment of recognition that the thing I was running towards in art was the same thing I was running away from in investment banking. It was the same crap as far as soul killing for the kind of art I wanted to do. Then all of a sudden this new form of art just appeared. I started appreciating all of a sudden opportunities and I started doing large scale video art installations. It just happened, and I just loved it. It just started occurring. Money just became this thing. I also started educating myself on money at that point. It was the first time I was so fascinated about this thing I was completely not attuned to at all and that I had rejected in so many ways from friends and family. I had rejected money in so many ways. I asked what this thing was I had rejected, and then I started educating myself on it.

Brett: I am hearing you dropped into VIEW around the topic of money and started to have the wonder and curiosity to learn more about it.

Joe: That's exactly right. That's what happened. The next thing that happened is in that world I ended up running across two or three billionaires at the time. Both of them had inherited their wealth, and I met both of them through art and my passion for the environment. The next big experience I had was I remember driving my car and thinking about how I didn't have enough. At that moment, I thought of the two billionaires and that they were also thinking they don't have enough because I knew them and I knew even if they logically would have said they had enough money, their minds were constantly going to what they didn't have. I thought oh, I am a fucking billionaire. If you are one of the poorest people in America, you are in the top 1% in the world. There are people on Earth asking how that dude can be unhappy and think he doesn't have enough when he can go to a restaurant and buy a pupusa. What is going on? I just saw the whole thing, this shackle of thinking that I didn't have enough. In that, I realized I was the same as a billionaire. There is no difference. Perhaps they can rent a jet or buy a jet, and I can't, but my reality is either I have a ton or I have nothing or I don't have enough. It doesn't matter how much you actually have within a level of if you can feed yourself or put yourself in a safe environment.

That was amazing, and in that recognition came another recognition, which was that it is really expensive to be poor. I was really good at being poor. I figured out a way to do a whole bunch of things with no money. I found my way down the Grand Canyon on a 14 day trip, and I found a way to buy musical equipment when I wanted to do that. I found ways to do stuff, but it took a lot of time. I realized I was spending a lot of time to be poor. It was an interesting recognition at that time that it is expensive to be poor if you are fighting against abundance, which is what I was doing. That was another really big moment for me.

18:50 Brett: Let's drill in on that a little bit more. What I heard there was because you had closed off a lot of your potential reality of ways you might actually make money and pay for the thing, instead you would go through a more energetic and time expensive process in order to save the money or do the thing while still being able to push money away. You are describing that as being expensive.

Joe: Instead of doing shit I really love to make money so that I can buy other stuff I really want to do, I would do a whole bunch of shit to cajole my way into a situation, none of which I wanted to do and none of which was creating the reality I wanted to see on earth, so that I could get down the Grand Canyon. That's what I mean by expensive. It meant that by avoiding money  I was spending my energy in a way that wasn't fully aligned with who I was. That's what I mean by expensive. That started to hit home when I read the book The Soul of Money, and I remember it wasn't written in a great way. There were some issues. I was annoyed reading it, but the ideas were really quite priceless. I ended up meeting the woman later in life. Her name was Lynn Twist.

The main thesis behind the book was that money is a neutral thing that can be aligned with who you are or not aligned with who you are. If you can use money to be an expression of who you are and what you want in the world, then money is a wonderful thing. If you are controlled or ruled by money, then it is a whole different thing. She had some really great stories in that book. I remember one of the stories that hit me really hard at the time but it didn't really hit until later. It was a story near the end of the book. It was an Amazon tribe, and they said if you are here to help us, no thank you, but if we are here to work together for our mutual freedom, let's get to work. That stuck with me. That was a seed that planted that didn't sprout until much later around money, but the thing that sprouted right away was I don't work for money. Money works for me. My job is to make sure that money is an expression of what I want to see in the world. That was the first big crack in how I saw money. I no longer saw money as something that was solid. I saw money as the thing that I projected onto it.

Brett: I could see that also applying to the periphery around money, the status, the fame, social capital, which is a really great term relating to money, capital. That's another thing that you can build or use within or out of alignment with yourself, and that's what a lot of the work comes down to, how aligned whatever you are relating to is with the expression of yourself.

Joe: That was the first time I got to see it as projection, which means it was at that moment I could see I projected it was bad, and so it was bad. I could project it as anything, and what I noticed is everybody had a different projection around money. It is not related to money at all. It was just the way we would project our past traumas on our current lovers or our mom and dad on our lovers. All of a sudden I saw money is just this thing, like an authority figure or anything. A famous person is just there to catch our projections. It is going to give us freedom. It is not. You can project it. It is going to give me safety or whatever. I just saw all of the projections on it. Money is what you make it to be. That's what really hit me at that moment for me.

Brett: If you were to trace some of those projections back, the way we deal with projections as something we are not owning in ourselves, what does that do for this part of your journey?

Joe: For me, my personal level of projection, what I found out as I presented a bit earlier was the beginning of the recognition I was presenting the same thing into spirituality. At this point in my spirituality, I was chasing enlightenment. I was trying to have that moment of awakening. I realized I am projecting onto money and onto that at the same time. If I am good enough, eat the right thing, have a calm enough thing, then I can have money and be enlightened. I had this idea that it took confidence to be rich. I have now met a lot of rich people, and I can tell you a shit ton of them aren't confident.

This stuff isn't earned. Money is not always earned. It can be earned. Awakening is not always earned either. It can also be a gift. It doesn't work the way we are told that it works. It doesn't mean you don't have to be conscious. I don't mean to say that hard work is bad or earning something is bad or it is not necessary. What I mean to say is I had set up hurdle after hurdle after hurdle that was required, some level of competence or some perfection that I had to do so I could get what I wanted. Those were all my projections. When that fell apart, it became really clear. All of those hurdles I made for myself so I can become wealthy, awakened, and happy, it is all bull shit. Whatever I want to find can be found right now in this moment. Whatever I think money can give me I can find right now in this moment, all of the really important stuff.

Brett: It speaks to a common cultural belief system that it wasn't really worth it unless I worked hard for it. If awakening or money can just come to me or if I can just have enough or feel enough right now, then that's worthless. I can push that aside and then get to the hard work of getting the thing that's really the gold.

Joe: Exactly. In awakening circles, they will talk about it as you have always been awake. There is nothing you have to do for it. You think shut up, I am going to meditate some more. You don't say that out loud because that would be very non spiritual of you, but that's what is happening. Your mind says yeah, yeah, I got that, so how do I get there? That whole thing, and it was the same with money. I saw that those two projections were really the same projection. Both of them were going to be avenues, both money and awakening, to my happiness, and that there was no avenue to my happiness, to my peace, or to my joy. It was right here.

Brett: Or making your happiness, peace or joy contingent on those things, which makes it conditional and sets it up so you don't get to have it.

Joe: Exactly. When that recognition happened, all of a sudden the fear that came with money went away. What if I don't have a job? What if I go homeless? All of that just dissipated.

Brett: How much was the fear of money a fear of getting what you want or a fear of letting yourself have the joy and the enough-ness?

Joe: It was all that. That's what it was. The fear of joy. Pleasure, anxiety, lots of words for it. That's what it was. The other thing that happened at this moment was that I saw money less as something that had to be earned, less material, and it was more energetic. It was more like a person. You walk into a bar, and you are trying to pick up somebody. It is less about how you look, and it is more about the attitude you are carrying with you. If you walk into a sales thing, it is less about what you are selling and more about how you hold yourself when you sell. It was the same thing. All of a sudden I saw money as that. My relationship with money was with how I reacted with it. The way that I treated money was going to determine how money was going to treat me. I saw it more as an energetic exchange, and then it just builds on itself.

It is the same thing with food. My relationship with food is going to be how my food treats me or exercise or body. It is the same thought process. It just becomes more of an energetic exchange at that point.

28:35 Brett: There are a lot of points we have hit in this conversation. For example, the abundance mindset, the gratitude around money, and the energetic exchange that I sometimes see described or used in ways that can be bypass-y. Imagine I am running a business and people are buying cell phones, and they go to the store and we say it is an energetic exchange. It is not about paying money for your cell phone plan. It is an energetic exchange. There is a reality to that. I don't want to pile on anybody who might use that term here in that work, and I think there is something really beautiful about recognizing what it is. I am also curious to dig into some of these recognitions you had and where you see them going to the other side of the pendulum and what experience you have with grounding that.

Joe: I think you describe it well, which if you are trying to use that as a way to bypass an emotional fear or any emotional complexity, then you are fooling yourself. When I say energetic exchange, I think the most perfect example of this was the time when I started working as a philanthropist and giving away millions of dollars for this family. It is when I realized giving away money is destructive. There has to be an exchange. This is actually where that thing came in. If you are here to help me, no thank you, but if you are here for us to work together for our mutual freedom, let's get to work. That's what I mean by energetic exchange. What I mean to say is a good relationship has to require that both people are giving and receiving. There is an exchange happening. It is not all one way. All one way creates toxicity. That's what I saw. This thing needs flow, movement and to go in both directions. Otherwise, it is a build up one way or another. It either becomes toxic because you have so much of it in the wrong way, or it becomes toxic because you don't have enough of it. That's what I mean by it.

Brett: One of the things that comes up for me there is that money is really something that represents the energetic exchange in society, and if you just pour a bunch of money on something, sometimes it will totally wash out the signal of what was being exchanged and what structures existed. Sometimes those structures were unfair and out of balance, but also sometimes you just totally wipe out a structure. You are starting from no man's land or something or some lost territory and you have to rebuild the structure, which can be good and also can be destructive, depending on the time scale.

Joe: It was about this time when this person told me if you pay off somebody else's credit card debt without them asking, you will incur their debt but you won't relieve it. It wasn't about money in particular. If you go in and try to help somebody without them asking for the help and without them participating in it, you are going to take on that burden but you are not going to relieve them of that burden. That's the same thing with money.

Brett: What do you mean by not relieve that burden?

Joe: They still have the debt. They still have it.

Brett: The belief systems around it, the feeling of not having dignity or something. Is that what you are pointing to?

Joe: Most people who won the lottery two years later have no money and wish they had never won the lottery. That's the typical thing. There has to be an energetic exchange for there to be transformation that lasts. Trillions of dollars have gone to help people that have gone completely to waste, and typically what I saw in the non profit land was because it was out of guilt and it was not an exchange. We are here to help you so that we can feel good about ourselves. You are here to help us. No thank you. If we are here to work together for our mutual freedom…

Brett: Which is a starting point of disconnection. If you are doing something to change your own internal state, then you are not in connection with where the money is going or what you are doing with it.

Joe: That's why when I say if you are using any of these thought processes as an emotional bypass, for me, my journey with money has always been going into the pain and the discomfort. All of this stuff that I learned was by going into the discomfort of money. It wasn't trying to escape it.

34:35 Brett: In the spirit of not escaping it, I would love to go back to where this initial relationship with money was imprinted and a lot of it coming from your dad. How does this journey then relate to or how has it revealed your relationship with your dad?

Joe: That's literally the next thing that happened. I was doing venture at this point and this is where it came together, all that I had learned. I am in El Salvador for Spring Break, and my wife and daughter have to leave because somebody died. I am sitting there in a hammock, and I read this news of WhatsApp, which was basically this venture capitalist trying to get their venture team to invest in WhatsApp. They wouldn't, so they invested their own money, half a million or a million dollars. The guy worked at Sequoia. A year later he was a billionaire. It was one of those massive success stories really quickly. When I read it, it felt like someone punched me in the gut. I had a visceral somatic reaction. For whatever reason, through grace, immediately I wanted to know what that feeling was. When did I feel that feeling for the first time? I closed my eyes, went into my body, and didn't think about it. I let my body trace it back to the very first time. I realized it was me trying to get my dad's love. It was at that moment I realized my entire relationship with money has been a projection of me trying to get my dad's love, the whole thing. It was bad. I wanted it, but I didn't want it at the same time. There wasn't enough of it. I just bawled. I just sat in this hammock and awkwardly bawled in this semi public pool for a while. My whole body and system had changed.

All of a sudden money was a tool for the first time. It was just something that I could use. It was the first time I fully felt like money works for me. I don't work for money. It was fully embodied. From that point, money has always come incredibly easy. Shortly after that, I decided to coach folks because I didn't need to be a venture capitalist. I remember two of the first four people who wanted coaching were incredibly wealthy folks. They were people who I had come into contact with somewhat recently. If they weren't billionaires, they were really close. I would go through this process with each of them, and I called it the happy money game. What we would do was I would say I would coach them for one session and they would have to reciprocate in some way. I didn't care if they gave me a millionaire dollars, put a millionaire dollars into my kid's college fund, or gave a dollar to a homeless person. I didn't care. I just wanted them to reciprocate in a way that felt right for them. Then if they wanted to work with me and I wanted to work with them, we would play the happy money game, which was an exchange of proposals. The person who had a proposal that worked for both people won. I think I should pay you $500 dollars an hour, and my response would be $500 dollars an hour doesn't guarantee you are going to show up and do the work. I am not interested in $500 dollars an hour, so I propose $10,000 dollars an hour. That would be the exchange that went back and forth.

With one of those two people, our financial agreement was I will not take any money from you. I refused to take any money because that person's particular situation was that they bought anything. They had had money for so long they could buy anything, so the only way the relationship could have trust for me was that he couldn't buy me. I worked with this person for quite a long time for no money. With the other person, the problem was he had a hard time dedicating himself to things. He was very scattered, super brilliant but very scattered. It was you are going to pay me some enormous amount of money or at least what I thought was enormous at the time, and then if you do not do the work, then you are going to pay me twice the money. You are going to, if I recall correctly, send me a five minute recording every day for 30 days telling me that you love yourself. If you don't do that, you are going to pay me triple the money. That was the relationship. Money just became this tool of how I use money as one more tool to help people in their transformation, which is what I cared about. It was in alignment with me. I could not do that until that moment of seeing through money and what it was and what I had made out of it, the ultimate projection for me around money.

Brett: In the first case you described, this person in the pattern of buying everything always had a reason to believe it wasn't real and they didn't deserve it. They always had a reason to separate themselves from it because they had bought it, especially if it is something personal like coaching. Then the second one, around the commitment was you are going to win either way because either you are going to stay and be committed to the coaching or the agreement is you are going to go through your joy anxiety of giving yourself love or at least experiencing your resistance to doing so.

Joe: I was playing against this particular person's thing about winning. He was incredibly smart and loved winning. I set up a situation where the only way he could win was to do the work.

Brett: I see it as winning the other way. He was winning in a different way because it was set up to bring him through the work.

Joe: For him, because of being an entrepreneur, the way he saw winning and losing was through money. Him creating a multi billion dollar company wasn't about making money. It was about winning. He would be the person tracking that he had sold his company with 37% ownership and this person sold their company at 35% ownership, so I won. It was just the scorecard. I was just building a game for him through the money, and that was when I saw money as this thing that is just one more tool towards awakening because that's what I am interested in. That was the thing.

The only thing that has really happened since then that is interesting is now I don't play happy money game with clients. There is some aspect where that creates some sadness because the game I am playing now for transformation is so much bigger. How do I use money in different masterclasses and clients so that I can make it so that people who want it have it available at least in some way? If you look at the way our business runs right now, there is more and more revenue every year but not more net. It is more gross because we are taking all of the money we make and putting it into ways of supporting the community or growing the capacity for people to find it. I am still interested in the transformation, but it has become less about helping one person transform with money. It has turned into how I can use money as a tool for doing this with as many people as possible as long as that just stays in joy. Scale isn't the most important thing by any stretch for me, but when it comes to money, that's the game I am playing with it. That's been really interesting too. There is this weird way in which money has become even less personal. It is less about an individual thing, and it is more about a systemic thing. That's been really interesting for me as well. I am sure it will continue to change.

Brett: That comes back to the alignment piece for me. As I have been going through my journey with money and this work, I find as you described that money gets easier and also one of the ways it gets easier is I am holding myself to fewer money standards about what would be successful for me. Money becomes easier because the concept and the experience of it are more in alignment with what I want to be doing with my time and my life and how I want to be experiencing it. A lot of projection of money being the thing that will feel the void falls away.

Joe: Or it can supply anything you might think fills the void. That was really fun.

Brett: I enjoyed it.

Joe: Thanks for making that happen.

Brett: Thank you everybody for listening. Tune in in a couple of weeks for our next episode. We don't know what it is on yet, but we will find out. If you had any epiphanies or questions, hit us up on Twitter at artofaccomp and you can also reach out to us via email or contact form at See you next time.

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