“You have to work so hard—twice as hard—to get half of that wealth.” – an African-American aphorism, interpreted by my family members
In the past, I have always worked on “survival mode.” Someone could argue that my entire life has been on survival mode. I remember many nights when my mom would be up worrying about money and whether or not she would be able to make ends meet. As a result, I grew up with a lot of anxiety about money.
Due to that anxiety, I always strived for financial wealth to care for myself and my family. This desire was further fueled by different family members, like my grandmother and my uncles, whose voices I can still hear saying, “You have to work so hard—twice as hard—to get a piece of that wealth."
But what does that mean? Why do I have to sacrifice so much to achieve wealth?
Wealth has always been something that I have strived for but never felt I was fully in the means to attain. I have considered it a necessary goal, but also still out of reach. In some ways, my complicated relationship with wealth is a product of my upbringing, but it is also a consequence of my experiences as a Black woman in America, specifically with employment and entrepreneurship.
Unfortunately, my story is one many other Black women may also find familiar. For many of us, financial wealth is not just an aspiration, but a matter of survival. According to Erika Stallings, financial wealth provides security and stability in an uncertain world and can be used to build generational wealth. Over the years, discussions about the wealth gap between Black and white Americans have increased, as the median net worth of white households is nearly ten times that of Black families. However, the specific issue between Black women and wealth is often overlooked. This is partly due to the systems of capitalism, misogynoir, and lack of financial education that make it difficult for Black women to achieve wealth.
Before entering the workforce, I was under the impression that making as much money as possible was the key to a good life. Since I witnessed firsthand how difficult it could be to make ends meet without a stable income, my family values and upbringing were able to instill in me the importance of financial security. Marginalization only cemented that lesson. Thus, I had naturally set my sights on finding a well-paying job after completing graduate school. However, as I embarked on that journey, simultaneously growing older, I saw that pursuing wealth can sometimes become unhealthy, especially for Black women. We are often expected to overperform and prove our worth to advance in our careers, which can lead to burnout and other health complications in the long run.
Pursuing wealth is not wrong, but it is essential to do so in a way that prioritizes your health and well-being. Otherwise, you risk sacrificing your mental and physical health to pursue an elusive goal. For these reasons, I have come to modify my vision of wealth. I use these three things as parts of my new definition of wealth:
Being able to balance my work, health, and social/family life in a healthy way
Being able to pursue my passions without worrying about daily expenses
Being able to generate (active and passive) income streams to lead a comfortable life
In my definition, the word “balance” is crucial. Why is that?
Wealth is often a complex pursuit, requiring much sacrifice and dedication, especially from Black women. I feel that I should not have to sacrifice my mental and physical health to achieve the concept of ‘wealth’ but—with the matters of capitalism, misogynoir, potential lack of financial literacy, and more—society makes it difficult for women like me not to have to do so. However, Akilah Cadet states, “Health is wealth, wealth is health, and Black people deserve both,” a sentiment I have chosen to embody in my new pursuit of wealth. According to the Black Women’s Health Imperative, there is an unmistakable connection between wealth and mental/physical health. There's no denying that wealth requires hard work, but it’s also important to remember that health is another vital part of the equation. After all, what good is wealth if you’re not around or well enough to enjoy it?
Changing my mindset overall enabled me to alter my definition of pursuing wealth to involve my self-care and mental health rather than just the financial aspect. Now, I only devote a certain number of hours a week to work while using the rest of my time to take care of myself, so as to maintain that crucial balance I mentioned before. I do as much as possible to keep myself physically and mentally healthy, so that I’m properly able to aim for my own unique goals of wealth.
The term “wealth” is often used to refer to material possessions, but it can also refer to physical health, mental health, and relationships—at least for me. In the pursuit of wealth, it is crucial to maintain a balanced approach and not neglect any aspect of life. While striving for financial or social success, we cannot ignore our physical and mental health. When all aspects of life are balanced, we can pursue our (financial) goals with confidence and energy, knowing we have the support we need to succeed. And while I haven’t reached my financial goals yet, I’m at least happier and healthier in my efforts to pursue them.
Akilah Cadet. Black Health Matters: Wealth Is Health.
Black Women’s Health Imperative. What Healthy Black Women Can Teach Us About Health.
Chrissy King. The Pressure of Being a Black Female Breadwinner.
Kriston McIntosh, Emily Moss, and Jay Shambaugh. Examining the Black-White Wealth Gap.
Laura Morgan Roberts, Anthony J. Mayo, Robin J. Ely, and David A. Thomas. Beating the Odds.