Are You an Underearner? [Open Exchange Magazine]

By Jaya Schillinger
Open Exchange Magazine, Summer 2007.

OpenExchange Summer 2007

One of the main topics business owners want me to coach them on is profitability. Holistic business management is the same as any other small business in that one has to figure out how to get the business up & running, and producing enough income to make it all worthwhile. Yet I’ve found that holistic practitioners tend to have more negative beliefs about money and an aversion to things related to commerce than your average entrepreneur who starts up a non-holistic business. Our professions are filled with people who are earning far less than a living wage, and the wealth wounds underneath that pattern run deep.

For the most part, the kind of people I work with don’t have money as the #1 thing on the list of values. It’s important to them of course, but usually they’re more motivated by personal or spiritual values, like making a positive difference in the world. I’m a person like that myself. But as a business coach, I’m also privy to the inner-dialogue, the self-esteem issues, and the confounding defense systems that cause roadblocks to financial solvency. These deep wounds and doubts can sabotage business profitability far better than a failing economy, a poor job market, or a competitive marketplace ever could. Chronic “underearning,” a habitual pattern of an otherwise healthy, bright person who does not earn enough money to pay for life’s basic necessities, is a type of self-sabotage.

The term “underearning” became popularized by the book, Earn What You Deserve by Jerrold Mundis. That book is probably 10 years old by now, but the topic is always relevant, particularly for self- employed people. There’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg quandary when you look at underearning and self- employment. Many underearners unconsciously gravitate towards entrepreneurship because it provides freedom from accountability, therefore allowing an underearner say “no” to success, or “yes” to business activities that don’t make financial sense. But I’ve also seen formerly successful people start their own business and get stuck in a cycle of struggle and poverty that didn’t plague them before. So perhaps an underearning pattern can be developed as a result of starting up a new business as well. It’s so prevalent, that there’s a 12-Step group called Business Owners Debtors Anonymous (BODA) where entrepreneurs who struggle with money gather for support around financial responsibility. There isn’t a BODA national website yet, but you can find a meeting through their parent organization Debtor’s Anonymous.

So what do you do if the word, “Underearner,” sounds true for you? Besides taking a look at Mundis’ book, or checking out a BODA or DA meeting, you can start with self-observation. Be careful not to go into self-judgment. Most underearners feel enough shame already. Simply notice how you act when it’s time to make decisions or take actions that might help you earn money. Do you pull back? Get sick? Find some other distraction to throw yourself into, or work harder at the wrong tasks? Here are a few patterns that I’ve observed over the years.

10 Common Traits of Underearners:

  • Chronic pattern of not earning enough to meet your needs.
  • Being close-minded about work that offers financial stability.
  • Avoiding contact with people that want to hire you.
  • Working for trade, deep discounts, or pro-bono, instead of money.
  • Distracting oneself with romantic intrigue to avoid career issues.
  • Changing jobs/careers after startup, but before income begins.
  • Compulsively saying “yes” to work or clients that don’t pay enough.
  • Compulsively saying “no” or being afraid of opportunities that pay well.
  • When money is abundant, compulsively over-spending or creating debt.
  • Having a core belief system that says you are bad, and/or money is bad.
  • Click here to read more descriptions of underearning symptoms & tools at the Business Owners Debtors Anonymous website.

The good news is that you have a choice as to whether you continue to underearn, or change the dynamic. Every day, you have a choice. You can make those follow up calls to prospects, or not. You can take work that will pay enough for your bills, or you can try to “get by” a little longer. You can say yes to the right clients, and no to situations that are bad for you. You’re innately powerful, but when underearning shows up in your life, some part of you has lost touch with that power. Increasing profitability isn’t just something that you do. Indeed, there are systems and accountability structures that will help you make more money. But sometimes, the biggest breakthroughs happen when you change what you believe.

© 2007 OPEN EXCHANGE P.O. Box 7880, Berkeley, CA 94707  (510) 526-7190

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About the Author

Jaya Savannah - Chief Inspiration Officer. Strategy Coach for Holistic Businesses. Trainer, speaker, and writer. Spiritually aware, yet street smart. Elephant lover.

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