Who has read Fifty Shades of Grey? Perhaps I should ask who hasn’t read the book and its sequels. Until recently, I thought I was the only woman around who hadn’t cracked the cover of that ubiquitous trilogy. I had my hair cut; my stylist raved about it. I played on a sports team; the women chuckled openly about ‘rough play’. I reviewed a business file with a colleague; somehow Christian Grey popped up during a discussion of Beacon scores. So I plunged in, reading the three books back to back. One thousand, six hundred and twenty five pages later a light bulb went on: This series contains a very good lesson for women. And no, it’s not what you think.
Let me say for the record that these are not great works of literature. The writing moves from pedestrian to dreadful and occasionally flits into reasonable. This is not a series that will survive on its literary merits.
Quick question: Who thinks that this book is about a twisted relationship involving a lot of sex (ignoring the obvious issue of the kind of sex involved)? Yes, OK, it is about all of that, and it’s about control, psychological baggage and the way that we are often driven by the influences that shaped us as a child. The love story and the sex doubtless drive the sales. For me however, there is a more interesting message about expectations.
A synopsis of Fifty Shades
In case you haven’t read the series yet, let me summarize it for you (spoiler alert): Boy meets girl. Boy is rich and successful but has big issues. Girl is smart yet inexperienced and naïve. Boy wants control; girl is not so sure she wants a boss as her life partner. They explore each other, often in unconventional ways. She uncovers his ghosts and helps him get past most of them. They marry after a ridiculously short period of time, have kids and live opulently ever after while he, to his great surprise, becomes a great dad.
Once you get past all of those distractions, there is an underlying theme revolving around money. Christian Grey (aka Boy) has built a business empire, surrounding himself with all of the trappings of immense wealth. He expects to make a tonne of money and guess what, he does.
In twenty-eight years, Christian has become totally at ease with money and in response it seems to flow to him steadily. He freely admits that he has worked hard to get where he is but there is a sense that forever more he will attract money and spend it with without any difficulty. In short, this guy has a pretty healthy relationship with money: he views and treats it as the tool that it is and he expects it to work for him.
Anastasia Steele (aka Girl) on the other hand comes from a humble background and has never particularly been interested in money. She is an academic who is entirely focused on pursuing her first love: books. She knows that she wants to become an editor but her aspirations go no further. When we first meet her she dresses poorly in part due to the limitations of a tight budget, but also because her focus is not on possessions. She drives a car whose most distinguishing feature is its age and, according to Christian’s background check, she has roughly $1,600 to her name.
Unlike 99% of the fawning women who are attracted to Christian, Ana finds his wealth overwhelming and off-putting. At one point she tells him flat out that she couldn’t care less what his bank balance is since she has never been motivated by money. That’s admirable, and it serves her well in her quest to break down Christian’s barriers, but one gets the sense that Ana would have struggled with money for years as she worked her way into the kind of job she coveted had Christian not sped things along with a calculated publishing acquisition. Brilliance and ability when coupled with determination are helpful, but they don’t guarantee a quick or easy go of it.
The real lesson
The key moment for me occurs after Christian has proposed and before Ana has given him an answer. Christian tells Ana that if she says yes, she will have to get used to being rich. In other words, she will have to alter her expectations and beliefs about money. Bingo! That’s the crux of the matter not just for Ana but for countless women. In my experience, most women do not expect to be rich nor are they comfortable around money. In fact, most women aren’t even comfortable talking about money.
What is the deal with women and money? In one of my upcoming blog posts I will explore this in greater depth but for the moment I want to concentrate on the underpinnings of our relationship with most things including money: our expectations.
Why should we focus on our expectations? Because they are central to our accomplishments. What we get in life is often determined by our expectations and, by extension, our beliefs. I have experienced this over and over in my own life, and I see it play out all around me.
When I was in middle school I decided to take up cross country racing. From what I could see, it was a way to get sanctioned time off from school, spend more time outside and get impressive-looking trophies and ribbons when you won. Really, the trophies were cheap trinkets but to a 12-year-old they looked quite glamorous. So I ran every day on gravel roads in the country where I lived, and in the fields behind my house. I ran in the rain and on sunny days. Every minute of my runs I would play a movie in my head that looked and sounded a lot like Chariots of Fire with, of course, me winning in a moment of great glory at the end. It was all very cheesy but the bottom line was that I drilled into my brain that I would win and that I expected to win. My expectations were grounded in neither reality nor reason – I knew nothing about running and I had no experience. Instead, they were the result of pure imagination and desire. It worked.
I didn’t accomplish much the first year that I raced but I kept running outside with my internal movie going and soon I started to win. By the third year I won a bunch of races in cross country and track and field. Those experiences taught me a great deal.
Grey vs Steele
Back to the book: Christian Grey expected to be successful in business and indeed he was whereas in matters of the heart he held out little hope. There again his expectations were met until Ana showed up and persisted through all of his bad behaviour and negative expectations.
Ana, on the other hand, was holding out for the right guy to come into her life because she expected something beyond the type of men who had presented themselves to her during university. Conversely, she didn’t expect much financially and true to form, nothing much had developed on that front. She did manage to get herself hired as an assistant to an editor and while that put her on the right intellectual track, it was hardly a big financial win.
Now let’s look closer to home: If you consider your life, what are your expectations regarding money? I hear women talk about wanting to have more money and their goals are often similar: Pay off the mortgage, ensure their kids’ educational future, travel, take more time off, and engage in their passions. These desires are mostly framed in the spirit of longing; there is no real belief that they will actually materialize.
Then there are those who are definitely interested in being wealthy and who are working themselves to the bone to get there. Unfortunately, something always comes up to thwart their best efforts. The results in their life in no way reflect their efforts and goals. What’s going on? Why isn’t the plan working? I would argue that much of it boils down to beliefs and expectations.
Roughly one year after Malcolm died, I began a long process of evaluating the path that I had been on, asking myself uncomfortable questions about where I was and where I wanted to go. Over time I discovered that there are two kinds of expectations: those that you develop consciously that you think are running the show; and those that exist at a deeper, subconscious level that actually call the shots. In order to change your results, you have to look at your unconscious beliefs, the ones that serve to frame your expectations.
You can write down goals and spin off positive affirmations all you like, but that approach typically yields little to no results because it is superficial. You may ask, “How do I get at my unconscious beliefs? How do I know what they are?” The answer that I received years ago to that very question is not likely to please you, which is exactly the effect it had on me at the time: If you want to know what your beliefs are, just take a look at the results in your life.
I spent ten years trying to figure out why some areas of my life had been such a challenge for so long. Eventually, I sorted out my underlying beliefs and I began to change them, one by one. As my beliefs changed, so did my expectations. As the latter changed, so did the results in my life. There was a domino effect.
Here are some of the questions that I was asked years ago:
- What were you told as a child?
- What did you see?
- What did you experience?
- What are your beliefs about money?
- What did your parents say about money?
- Was it a source of stress?
- Are you comfortable talking about it, managing it and growing it?
- Do you feel hopeful and excited about where you’re headed?
- If your beliefs about money were represented by a thermometer, where would yours be set?
What would happen if you cranked up your expectations? What would change in your life if you fully expected to be wealthy, or at least wealthier than you are now? For some, that may mean never having to worry about mortgage payments or bills ever again. For others it may mean being able to be philanthropic, or having the freedom to travel at will. The goal is to figure out what the stumbling blocks might be and to raise your potentially not-so-great expectations to a level that allows you to live more fully.
I can hear the protests now: Money isn’t everything you know! That’s absolutely true, but as a former colleague Trish Schwenkler once said to me, “Money isn’t everything, but it is right up there with oxygen.” You can be happy without money and you can be happy with money. Which would you prefer? If, like most, you are leaning towards abundance, then check out your expectations thermostat. It may be time to heat things up.
I started with a pop culture phenomenon – the Shades of Grey series – and I will end with a quote from another pop culture phenomenon, Oprah Winfrey. I’m not a talk-show person nor have I bought any of Oprah’s magazines, but there is no denying what Oprah has created despite a very difficult start in life. If you’re going to take advice, I suggest you do so from someone with credibility and results to back them up. Oprah’s words are printed on my office wall and they have been guiding me for years:
“Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.”
My next blog post will be another story from one of the remarkable women that I have interviewed. In the meantime, please continue to share your thoughts with me.