No one would argue that our early family experiences don’t have a lot to do with how we lead our lives, but many of us don’t think about our relationship with work and earning as being connected to those experiences.

Exploring your family history and the messages you absorbed from those early experiences can help you understand your current relationship with work and earning and can also help you examine whether your current work is “working for you.”

Some people have never asked themselves what they want from their work. Some devalue their skills or their capacities and feel they have to accept something less. Others grew up in affluent families, hobbled by the presence of family money.

Sometimes people who grew up with modest means uncover feelings of guilt for wanting a financial life bigger than the one in which they grew up.

Those who have survived abusive, neglectful, or harshly critical family experiences often reveal untended wounds in their relationships with not only spending, but earning too.

Having role models who have a healthy relationship with money can be a big advantage. On the other hand, if money has been an area of struggle for you, it can be valuable to look at the experiences you had and the messages you received in your family concerning work and earning.

Some money and work messages (both positive and negative) we hear in our families are overtly stated, such as the following:

  • You can do whatever you want in life.
  • Don’t get too big for your britches.
  • You can never make a living that way.
  • Security is more important than money.

Some of the messages we absorb from our families are never spoken out loud but might as well be posted on the refrigerator as family announcements.

You might have been shushed when you innocently asked how much money your parents made in their jobs and so, you think there is something wrong with money or that it’s not a subject you should explore.

If you observed your parents or guardians go from boom to bust in their financial lives, you may have learned that money is something you can never rely on.

If your parents or guardians frequently pressured you to consider a certain profession you might conclude that only some choices will be met with family approval.

What lessons did you learn from your family? Did you feel pressured in any way? Asking yourself these kinds of questions can offer insights into not only your relationship with work but your lifelong relationship with money.

Uncovering Family Messages about Work and Earning

When I work with clients, I encourage them to keep a Money Journal, a notebook in which they can record their thoughts, feelings, revelations and family messages regarding work and earning as they explore their changing relationship with money.

You will find it helpful to consider the following questions in your Journal :

  • What family messages about work and earning did you receive? Were they spoken, or unspoken?
  • Were you expected to do chores at home? How did you feel about that? Did you get paid?
  • Did you receive an allowance? If so, how did you feel about your allowance? How did you manage your money? How was the amount determined?
  • Were you paid for things other than doing chores (such as getting good grades, doing well in sports, or even keeping a secret)?
  • What examples of relationships with work and earning were modeled for you?
  • What support, instruction, or encouragement were you given regarding work and earning?
  • Did you feel free to explore professions different from those of your family members?
  • Did you grow up feeling as though being either more or less financially successful would cause you to experience disapproval?
  • Was there family money that you were told would take care of you? How did this affect your thoughts about work?

These questions are designed to take you to the core of your relationship with money and earning, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time, space and compassion as you consider your own history.

Once you’ve begun to see how old messages may be impacting your current financial life, you’ll begin to discover your own definition of meaningful work and begin to create a vision for the lifestyle you desire.

If you want to explore further, please take a look at the Work Inventory available for free: Click here to download.

Warm Regards,


March 12th, 2016 by Karen McCall