Dena [00:00:03] The word expansiveness keeps coming to me as I think about what’s the opposite of perfectionism. And expansiveness includes so much bigness and being out there and risk and reward and connection.
Linzy [00:00:28] Welcome to the Money Skills For Therapists podcast, where we answer this question: How can therapists and health practitioners go from money shame and confusion, to feeling calm and confident about their finances and get money really working for them in both their private practice and their lives? I’m your host Linzy Bonham, therapist turned money coach and creator of the course, Money Skills For Therapists. Hello and welcome back to the podcast. So today’s podcast guest is a returning guest and Money Skills grad, Dena Omar. Dena is a therapist who focuses on working with marginalized folks. They are a clinical supervisor and they are the creator of a brand new course for therapists called The Anti Oppressive Therapist. Today, Dena and I dig into perfectionism in money. We talk about what that looks like, what that has looked like for Dena specifically, and looking at hyper independence and fear as part of perfectionism, Dena gets into how perfectionism is an extension of white supremacy and also shares about how a cancer diagnosis shifted their relationship with both perfectionism and money and vulnerability. We get into alternatives to perfectionism, talking about what that can look like, both in money and in business and in life. And really, we ended up having a lot of discussion about vulnerability and connection, and about how vulnerability and letting go of perfectionism a bit. This kind of visual of loosening our hold on needing to have control and be super independent actually leads to more connection in our personal and our professional lives. Here’s my conversation with Dena. Right, Dena. Welcome back to the podcast.
Dena [00:02:21] Thanks. Linzy, I’m really happy to be here.
Linzy [00:02:23] I’m so happy to have you here. I’ve had really great feedback from folks about our previous conversation about private practice finances, corruption, and money, and now we get the chance to talk about something different today. I think we could probably talk about like 12 different things. I think we’ve got at least twelve episodes in us. But today, we’re going to take some time to talk about perfectionism. So, Dena, I know from having worked with you in Money Skills For Therapists a couple of years ago now, that perfectionism has something that you have grappled with with money, and I have as well. And so I’m really curious to get us started, how did you notice that showing up for you in your relationship with money?
Dena [00:03:08] Yeah, that’s a great question. So perfectionism for me manifested as fear, and that fear manifested as I need to do all the things all the time without breaking, without slowing down. So I was – I’ve said this to you before – I was over-systemed. I was using all the tracking methods. I had QuickBooks and Excel and YNAB and probably one other one. But I can’t even remember right now because I was so scared of not doing it right, whatever right was. I knew that if I had all these things, I would do it right and I would be perfect and nothing would ever fall between the cracks or fail.
Linzy [00:03:46] So yeah, because I think with the fear, like there’s kind of two ways that I think that can manifest in the extreme right. The one that I see a lot and that I think is probably maybe a little more common is avoiding. Right? You’re afraid, so it’s like don’t want to know, can’t even handle it. But what I’m hearing is for you, like that fear manifested in this like looking all the time, like always tracking, always, you know. Were you a checker? Did you check a lot?
Dena [00:04:11] Oh, yeah. Yeah. First thing in the morning, I’d wake up, grab my phone and check my bank account. Like that was my habit. It was a lot.
Linzy [00:04:18] Yes. And for you, on an emotional level, what was that experience like of like waking up, grabbing your phone, looking at numbers?
Dena [00:04:25] Oh, Linzy, it was exhausting. It was just exhausting. And I never had time off because I was always worried about the business and that worry and that fear. It just sneaks up on you everywhere. There’s no time to enjoy. You don’t get joy when you’re steeped in worry and fear. I think the other thing that fear, worry, perfectionism connects with white supremacy culture, which is the thing that I’m all in right now, doing research and doing my Ph.D. program and all the things that I’m doing. And one of the things that that does is it disconnects us from others, and it really pushes us away from talking to people about the places where we feel vulnerable, where we feel scared, getting help in ways that we really need it. So that was one of the biggest hurdles for my joining the Money Skills was. Oh, I have to ask for help and recognizing that that was a big deal and that I needed to do that and connecting with others around it. Yeah. Changed everything, really.
Linzy [00:05:25] Yeah. Like, I’m curious. Well, just to stop. I’m so glad it did, Dena. I’m so glad it did. And I love all the things you’ve done since then, which we’ll talk about later. But I am curious if you could unpack a little bit more about this piece of perfectionism and white supremacy. If you have like an elevator pitch version of that, like, tell me how these things are connected, because I think a lot of folks probably don’t think about it that way.
Dena [00:05:46] So white supremacy culture – and I’m going to pull on a lot of the work that Tema Okun has done. She’s pretty amazing. She wrote a White Supremacy Culture article back in 1999 that’s been pretty defining in the world of what is white supremacy culture kind of thing. So it refers to the ways that elite or ruling class culture took over every other culture that it encounters. We talk about decolonizing. I don’t know if you heard that podcast Decolonizing Social Work, but we talk about decolonizing. The work that we do really means kicking out the ways that European influences came into this culture and settled here and made the only way that we could be the right way, which was the white way.
Linzy [00:06:36] So there’s one right way which is like superior, like in that too, I would hear that there’s like a superior or an inferior. You have to be on the right side. You have to be doing it right.
Dena [00:06:45] And yes. And those things include being focused on the written word rather than the spoken word. And so when we look at our practices and we all have to write notes, that’s one of the ways that white supremacy culture comes into therapy practice, because we get in trouble if we don’t write notes. I can’t just tell you what happened. That’s not right. I can write an email to somebody. That’s a legitimate way of communicating. But, you know, they can say, Oh, I didn’t get your phone call. And that might not be legitimate. So there’s ways that it impacts us in ways that we don’t even think of.
Linzy [00:07:18] Oh, sure. Yeah, of course. Right. So this kind of, like, rigid, right. You know, that is steeped all throughout our culture that, like, you could do things either the right way or the wrong way. I mean, obviously, you can show up in so many ways in our lives. And in terms of money, like for you, it shouldn’t be like over systems checking. Fear of doing it wrong. Right. Like needing to have that. It sounds like to me – I’m making these motions that nobody can see because this is a podcast, but I’m like, clenching my hands tight, like you need to have rein on it, you need to have control.
Dena [00:07:51] Tight. Yes.
Linzy [00:07:52] Yeah. So I’m curious for you Dena, like you had mentioned that money skills was part of your unwinding of that. But I’m curious, what have been your your turning points in starting to let go of that perfectionism in your relationship with money?
Dena [00:08:06] Yeah. So I think after doing money skills and getting some actual skills for doing money in a different way, the fear, the fear decreased quite a bit. And I was able to say, okay, I can do this without magical thinking. I can do this by asking for help and having other people involved in my business. I went on to some other coaching and then life happened and last September I was diagnosed with breast cancer and things just sort of were out of my control. And I finally just had to say, I’m not in charge here as much as I want to be, and that’s okay. How do I be okay with rolling with things as they come, having a looser – you’re doing the tightening grip – and I’m like, how do I have a looser grip on the things and still be motivated and moving forward and doing good work and all of those things and have a looser grip on it because I’m really not in control. I’m not in charge here. So it was a quite a journey of coming to that realization. It’s okay. I can be okay and not be perfect.
Linzy [00:09:13] Yeah. And I mean, I think that in some ways that’s the ultimate wake up call when we’re faced with our own mortality. Because I certainly know for myself, like I’ve seen other folks go through experiences that, you know, like I try to remember it and inform, but it’s so different to have an embodied experience of like coming up against your own mortality and like, I’m hearing for you, this like loosening, like control is kind of an illusion.
Dena [00:09:36] So much an illusion.
Linzy [00:09:37] And you know, at the same time balancing with not being, like, powerless and like it’s happening – everything’s happening to you. And I’m curious, like, for you, is there like an image? You’re like, how do you understand kind of where you’ve come to rest with that loosening or letting go? How do you think about that?
Dena [00:09:55] Yeah, I really feel like I’m going to go back to the word connected and disconnected and really say that letting myself be vulnerable in ways that I never expected to, letting go of that perfectionism, of the image of who I wanted to people to see me as, has really let me connect much more deeply with people and let them help me carry things which I never expected either. There’s part of that perfectionism and that toxic independence that we do and that those of us in solo practice we tend to do because that’s why we’re in solo practice, because I don’t work for somebody else, right? So like letting other people in and to see the vulnerability and to realize that people care about you not in spite of your vulnerabilities, but because you’re vulnerable, was a big shift for me.
Linzy [00:10:50] Absolutely. I mean, there is – and I could be like totally misquoting this, but I, I had a client once who told me this story about the Benjamin Franklin effect. I’m going to tell the story now then I’m gonna ask the internet later and we’ll see if it’s real. But it is this idea. It’s kind of like the story, like Benjamin Franklin was this very like respected, learned man, you know, like kind of very accomplished in his community that he lived in. And he had like a little bit of like a nemesis who was the other respected learned in town. Right. And like they weren’t friends. Like, they they did not get along and they probably like, had ego clashes because they each thought of themselves as, you know, extremely distinguished. And Benjamin Franklin had this incredible library. And this other man also had an incredible library, but this other man had a book that Benjamin Franklin didn’t have. And so he asked the other man if he could borrow this book. Right. Which was this real kind of like having to put a side of these airs and like is a vulnerable act. Ask if he could use something so valuable that this other person had. And the other man lent him the book and ultimately they became friends over that exchange because people want to help you and they want to know you and they want to – like our vulnerabilities are so much closer to the core of who we are than that polished like in parts work you would be talking about managers right then that manager presentation that like perfect put together like armor that we wear. And I think a lot of people are hungry to connect with us as individuals in ways that we don’t let them do when like, I’ve got this under control. I got it. And we’re not letting them connect with us as humans or help us. I think that there’s there’s a lot of beauty that comes from when we do.
Dena [00:12:37] Yeah. Share the vulnerability and it gives people permission to be vulnerable in return. And when we’re aloof and then people shut down, that’s not what we’re trying to do.
Linzy [00:12:47] I’m curious with you then, with the money piece of it. What does it look like now? Like what’s different now that you have gone through this experience of breast cancer diagnosis and you have shared with me before we started recording that you are stable and everything’s…
Dena [00:13:05] Yeah. Seems to be good right now and so that’s that’s been a coming back around. So when I was going through treatment I had radiation and it when everything kicked off, I was working a lot less. And so some of that fear came back and, and it wasn’t an imaginary oh I don’t – scarcity fear. It was actually legit. Do I have enough money here.
Linzy [00:13:28] Where there is a real number.
Dena [00:13:29] Right. Yeah, it’s a real number. So I was able to share that with the people close to me and talk with my wife about it in a way that was very different than I would have. Much more honestly and much more directly than I would have in the past. And get some support around it and recognize that I don’t have to do it alone, that I don’t have to be the only one. So again, that connection and disconnection, I did not go through it alone and that was a huge shift for me. I would have just bottled it up and kept it inside and strong and stoic. And I don’t want to be that.
Linzy [00:14:06] Yeah, it’s exhausting and it’s lonely.
Dena [00:14:08] And lonely. Yeah,.
Linzy [00:14:10] Yeah, yeah. So it sounds like in some ways what I’m hearing is like you, you let go of this being a project that you always have to do well.
Dena [00:14:17] Yeah.
Linzy [00:14:18] Like financial responsibility that you take it on your own shoulders. And what has it been like in your relationship to, at least for that time, having kind of shared that vulnerability and like maybe pooled responsibility more or whatever that.
Dena [00:14:32] Yeah, it’s been really huge and being able to talk openly has been really shifting in how we do a lot of things in our relationship and get through a lot of difficult things. We have intentional conversations, not just conversations about money or about household tasks or things that need to be done. We can be much more direct with each other and I have come to believe that I’m supported and that I don’t have to be out there on my own. And and that’s a big shift for me individually. That’s big change. That I can be helped, that people can help me, and it’s okay.
Linzy [00:15:12] Yeah. And I think that makes you think about how even so often, like in partnership, whether it’s marriage or dating partnership or in, like in families, so often we perfectionism does keep us like alone and separate, even though there are people that like we’ve literally legally combined our situation.
Dena [00:15:29] Yes.
Linzy [00:15:30] How much we can still be alone in that when we are like in that I need to take care of myself in more of that like rigid independence. I’ve got this space now. There’s a missed opportunity for connection. Yeah. Even with that on paper, it would be awesome that we are connected about this. And of course we feel supported by our spouse.
Dena [00:15:49] And I feel like that toxic independance goes right back to the systems of oppression that we face. Yeah, patriarchy, capitalism. Last time we talked, we talked a lot about capitalism. I still haven’t found a workaround for capitalism. I think it’s really hard and white supremacy for those of us who are people of color, like all of this creates a trauma that we respond to and that toxic independence is a trauma response. And when we start to heal that, we realize we don’t have to be so independent. So.
Linzy [00:16:22] I mean, thinking about what the alternative looks like, right? Perfectionism kind of puts us in this like tight little box. Whatever your specific narrative of what perfect is semantically, it just feels very tight, right. And rigid. I’m curious, Dena, from your experience, how do we break out of that box? What does it look like to live differently?
Dena [00:16:44] That’s a really good question. I think we need to have a vision. I always say to clients, we need to have – we need to know where we’re going in order to get there. Otherwise we’re just going somewhere. And I think about the word expansiveness keeps coming to me as I think about what’s the opposite of perfectionism. And expansiveness includes so much bigness and being out there and risk and reward and connection. Another word that comes to me is emergence. As as we emerge, I think about the the most basic therapy metaphor, which is the butterfly in the cocoon. I feel like for the last year I feel like I’ve been in the cocoon, right? I moved from the larva stage and now I’m in the cocoon and it’s messy and gross and icky. And then you emerge and you become another stage, another thing, another vision of yourself and all the time being who you are. So I think about those two words emergence, and it kind of just goes against perfectionism, thinking about getting bigger and taking more space and getting more.
Linzy [00:17:56] And something that comes to mind with me. To me, when you talk about like expansiveness into your space, which are like currently pet topics of mine that I think and talk about a lot because it’s been my own kind of journey and work that I’ve been doing the last couple years. This is also being imperfect in front of people, not having this like polished specific presentation, but almost like trying different stuff and seeing what lands and seeing what, you know, if it’s in your business, then it’s like seeing what attracts the right people to you. Like, what are your people getting excited about? And just like trying a bunch of stuff and seeing like how to call them your people. And that means that a lot of times you do things that don’t land or that you’re like, Wow, that wasn’t it good.
Dena [00:18:38] That wasn’t quite right. Yeah
Linzy [00:18:39] Yeah. And like, I know in my business sometimes it’s like trying something and they’re like, okay, I can see why that works for this other person, but it doesn’t work for me because of this. But I only know that because I’ve tried, right? I’ve only know it because I did it in front of a lot of people. I recently launched a level two mastermind and you and I have masterminded together before and I’ve kind of shifted and added some curriculum and then I launched it. I was like, Okay, let’s go. And I launched it and I called it CFO School and the email went out and my gut was just like, that wasn’t it. So then I pivoted in front of several hundred people and said, Actually, that is not the name of the program. Yeah, this is the new name. It’s Money Boss Mastermind. But it’s like I actually had to say it in front of several hundred people to realize, Oh, that didn’t sound right. And nothing bad happened.
Dena [00:19:26] No. The world didn’t swallow you up.
Linzy [00:19:28] Nobody swallowed me up. Nobody was like, I’m embarrassed and I can’t believe you. Nothing. In fact, it only called in my people more. And I had folks who were thinking about the mastermind saying the fact that I’ve just seen you pivot in front of all these people just makes me even more want to take the mastermind because I was – not consciously but actually like demonstrating being vulnerable and and shifting in front of a whole bunch of people and not pretending that I have it all figured out and it felt fine. Yeah, it was actually not as hard because I think I’m getting used to it.
Dena [00:20:00] Yes, something about exposure.
Linzy [00:20:03] It’s that exposure. And when you have to look and realize, oh, I’ve done this so many times and literally nothing bad has happened, it’s like maybe I’ve gotten a couple of emails from men who were like, you know, not everybody is a woman. And I’m like, Goodbye Sir. Thank you so much, you know, you don’t belong on my email list. But that’s literally the worst thing that’s happened is I’ve upset somebody who is like, What about me? So yeah.
Dena [00:20:28] Which is a sort of patriarchal response. Let’s call that out.
Linzy [00:20:31] 150,000%. And that’s something I’ve even learned about it with my team is like, now we’re very good at spotting that and being like, No, we’re not even remotely going to spend any of our precious human energy on – what would the word be… humoring a conversation we now know we just like shut that right down. No, give it no more of my precious energy and and move along.
Dena [00:20:51] So so here’s the other thing that that’s making me think of is what you’re saying is that there really isn’t a connection between perfectionism and excellence. We think that there is. If I’m perfect, I’ll be excellent. Yeah, but here you demonstrated how to be not perfect and excellent, and you filled your program. And people are going to benefit so much from what you have to give them.
Linzy [00:21:16] And that’s an excellent distinction. Thank you. And I remember actually, like, a would-be therapy exercise that I had working with somebody who had perfectionism talking about that distinction. But I think that’s a really clear illustration of it is it’s like when we are in that tight space with our money or with our businesses and with our branding, we do think that making it perfect makes it excellent. And as you say, that’s absolutely not what it is, because I think excellence is like authenticity. It’s stumbling and letting other people see that you too stumble, right? Like the people who want to work with you want you with all of your humanness, because they’re coming to you in all their humanness. And if you’re asking them to do vulnerable work with you, it’s not fair to do that from this polished like that. That’s not what you call it. But that almost seems like more of an authoritative relationship where I get to the perfect and you have to be messy.
Dena [00:22:06] Exactly. The power dynamic that that sets up is really ugly and really, really goes towards replicating all of the problems that we’re talking about.
Linzy [00:22:19] So I’m curious because you are launching a program yourself.
Dena [00:22:23] I mean, talk about scary.
Linzy [00:22:27] So I’m curious, can you speak to your experiences of like putting yourself out there and like being expansive as someone who’s been more used to being perfectionistic in your life?
Dena [00:22:36] Yeah, it is a big shift. And I said to somebody the other day, I’m like, it’s nerve-citing. So it’s nervous and so exciting both at the same time. Yeah. And you really do. You put yourself out there. And this is a thing that I’ve been working on for a long time and I’ve been planning for for a long time and goes with so much of my personal work, my professional work, and now my academic work that I’m doing. And the fear is, Well, what if people think I’m wrong? What if people think I’m full of it? What if people don’t? What if I am too vulnerable and people don’t see my authority in this? All those questions come up. That question of who am I to do this? And again, going back to the mastermind group that I’m in right now and how those folks have supported me and encouraged and helped me see that perfectionism isn’t going to get me there and that being vulnerable, being authentic. One of the things that’s been really helpful in those groups is identifying things that are going right and reflecting that rather than the things that are going wrong. Hey, you failed in this doesn’t encourage anybody, doesn’t make anybody more expansive or bigger. And connecting really does. And this is key. Yeah, this feels crummy. And look at this great thing you did. This is really helpful.
Linzy [00:23:59] Because I do think that, too, when we have been perfectionistic in nature and certainly has been my story for most of my life, you amplify that thing that didn’t work work. You miss all the amazing things you’ve accomplished, whether it’s, you know, finances. You miss the fact that you’re actually making more money than, like, literally ever before.
Dena [00:24:15] Than you think you are. Yeah.
Linzy [00:24:18] You know, or like you, you’re working less, but you’re making the same, like, whatever those – and this is what I tell my students in Money Skills For Therapists – is sometimes it’s like if you have that tendency, you will find the number on your spreadsheet that’s the one you don’t like because that’s always going to be in the mix somewhere, right? And you’re going to miss the 14 numbers that are telling you an amazing story. And it sounds like what you’re getting in the mastermind. I think the beauty of masterminds and what I’m so excited to be running my mastermind that just started is like you do get that real in-depth support for folks to like really reflect to you like, okay, you know, I’m hearing this, but also I know that the da da da da da. And they do know several months of you like kicking ass that you’ve just overlooked to focus on this, like micro thing that didn’t go how you want it.
Dena [00:25:00] Right and builds that connection. I don’t think we can understate how much how important that is connecting to people.
Linzy [00:25:07] Absolutely. So, Dena, for folks who are curious about your program, can you tell us about your program that you’re launching?
Dena [00:25:16] I’m so excited. I’m calling it The Anti Oppressive Therapist and it’s a six-week introductory course to help – white therapists are my target audience right now – who are struggling with becoming more anti oppressive. So we know that we do, you know, our 3 hours of cultural competency every two years. And we know that that’s just not enough. We know that we’re struggling with racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, all the things. And we don’t know how to do it in our sessions with our clients. We don’t know how to talk to our colleagues and coworkers about it. And we’re scared. We don’t want to get it wrong and we don’t want to hurt people. And we realized that we don’t know. So this is a place where we’re going to do a little bit of education. We’re going to do a whole lot of talking and a whole lot of community making. That’s really part of my big goal is that we do create a community of people who can really talk about hard topics with each other in a safe, nonjudgmental. All the things that we want to find place but really push each other like what’s okay and what’s not and be able to call each other on things that are hard in ways that feel gentle and kind. But we still have the hard conversations, so that’s what I’m hoping to create and I’m really excited about it.
Linzy [00:26:36] I mean, it really does make you think about the statements you made as we’ve been talking today about like vulnerability and connection, it really fosters ways to be vulnerable, which sometimes means getting called in on shit, having things reflected back to you that maybe you don’t want to see, but doing that in community, which allows everybody – everybody’s doing that, right. And everybody is going to be connecting and supporting each other through this. Just learning.
Dena [00:27:00] Yeah, yeah. Yep. That’s the goal. I’m super excited.
Linzy [00:27:03] I’m so excited. I know. I, I feel like I’ve known about this program since it was a little seed.
Dena [00:27:08] You did.
Linzy [00:27:09] I’m excited to see it coming to fruition. So, Dena, for folks who are listening, they might be listening like, you know, soon with your first round, but they also might be listening in the future when you’re on subsequent rounds. So where’s the best place for them to follow you and hear about The Anti Oppressive Therapist when it opens next?
Dena [00:27:25] Probably my website will be the easiest thing: DenaOmar.com. All the information for this round is there and I will keep it updated when I do subsequent rounds for the program and then when I expand, you’ll be able to find info there as things grow.
Linzy [00:27:41] So, DenaOmar.com and we’ll put that in the show notes so it’s easy for folks to click over and get into your world. Thank you so much, Dena, for having this conversation today. It’s so lovely to have you on again and I’m so excited about your program and so excited for the folks who are going to get the privilege of learning from you.
Dena [00:27:58] Thank you, Linzy. I really appreciate being here.
Linzy [00:28:14] I so appreciated Dena’s vulnerability in sharing their experience with having their cancer diagnosis and what that forced them to do in terms of how they were managing money and thinking about money both in their business and in their marriage. And I just so appreciated their insights about connection and vulnerability and how perfection, as much as it makes us feel safe, and especially with numbers, it’s so easy to live in this space of like if I have control, if I understand the numbers, and if you’re someone who who leans this way with your anxiety towards money, you know exactly what I’m talking about of checking the numbers like Dena was talking about, rolling out of bed, checking the numbers, looking at your spreadsheet, checking your numbers again and again, making them line up, trying to be perfect. How that tightness actually blocks us from so many things, including connection and getting to share what’s really happening for us, or share the responsibility with the people in our lives and realize that we’re not actually alone and we don’t have to always do everything by ourselves. Even if financially, you have to make things work by yourself emotionally. You can invite people in to that space with you, and you don’t have to do the emotional work of money all by yourself. So, so appreciate Dena and everything that they brought the table to the table today. If you’re listening to this podcast, when it first comes out, I will say that you do actually have the chance to jump into Dena’s very first cohort of The Anti Oppressive Therapist, and I would definitely recommend that you check it out. The link is going to be in the show notes: DenaOmar.com. You can go take a look and have that opportunity to be in their beta course with them. It’s always such a rich experience being in somebody’s beta course, because they’re really building that course with you as they go. Obviously, they’re an expert and they know what they’re doing, but also you get to really be part of the creation of that course. It’s going to be built for you and with you. So check that out. And if you’re listening to this podcast a little later, you can still check them out and see when The Anti Oppressive Therapist will be offered next. If you are enjoying the podcast, check me out on Instagram. You can follow me there for free practical and emotional content about money and private practice at @moneynutsandbolts. And if you’re enjoying the podcast, head over to Apple Podcasts and please leave me a review. I know you probably hear me say that every time if you listen to the very end of the podcast. But I really am asking you to do that because that really is the best way for other therapists who would benefit from these conversations about money to find me. Thanks for listening today.