217 | MoneyZen: Finding Your Enoughness with Manisha Thakor

Manisha Thakor



Welcome to episode 220 of Love, Your Money! In this episode, I’m joined by author, educator, and women’s financial health expert Manisha Thakor.


After building up an outwardly successful career and financial stability, Manisha found herself empty inside. She went on a two-year journey to find her own cure, eventually sharing her road map in her second book, MoneyZen: The Secret to Finding Your “Enough.”


In today’s episode, you’ll hear more about the major impacts “small t” traumas can have on your life, how to spot red flags for unhealthy habits, and how to break free of deeply ingrained behaviors.

Here’s what you’ll find out in this week’s episode of Love, your Money:

  • The point at which money doesn’t make you happier
  • The Cult of Never Enough
  • The warning signs of a toxic relationship
  • Neglecting physical and mental health for money
  • The 4 buckets to assess in analyzing your life
  • Noticing and adjusting harmful thought patterns
  • How to break the shackles of perfectionism

Inspiring Quotes

“Letting go of perfectionism, workaholism, not feeling enough-ism, part of it is an intellectual understanding of how you got there and part of it is faith that you are enough. And when you let go, you actually will be happier.”

“Life throws stuff at us. And it’s not like you get fixed, but you can learn how to self-correct more quickly and more gently.”

“You have to trust in some ways that there is a net under you that if you fall, it will hurt, but you’ll bounce back up eventually and you’ll learn from it. And we all fall.”

Enjoy the Show?​

Hilary Hendershott: Welcome back to Love Your Money. Today, I’m speaking with author and financial educator, Manisha Thakor, who I first interviewed way back in 2016 for Episode 34 of this show. Manisha’s new book is called MoneyZen: The Secret to Finding Your “Enough.” She’s also the founder of MoneyZen, a financial education consultancy.


In addition to her latest book, Manisha is the coauthor of two additional personal finance books, both focused on women’s financial health. Manisha has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Barron’s, CNN, all the places. She earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and holds a CFA and CFP designations.




Hilary Hendershott: Welcome back to Love Your Money, Manisha.


Manisha Thakor: Oh, Hilary, it’s so good to see you and talk to you.


Hilary Hendershott: It’s great to see you, too, yeah, in your new dig. So, we’ll talk more about that. So, Manisha, everyone’s heard the research study that concluded happiness plateaus at $75,000 a year of annual income, right? I was always a little incredulous. Tell us about the follow-up research that has experts like you questioning that conclusion.


Manisha Thakor: Yes. What’s fascinating, most people rolled their eyes when they heard that number years ago. Obviously, we’d have to inflation adjust it for today. And it turns out those eyeball rolls were correct. That study is wrong, but it’s not wrong for the reason we think. It’s not because the number is too low. It’s because for each of us, there is a level of financial health and stability. The number is different for everyone, but for each of us, there’s a number above which increased earnings does not increase our life satisfaction unless these increased earnings come on a base of financial well-being, an emotional well-being, and physical well-being. And that’s the big eye opener is that well-being, that foundation has to be present for more money to increase life satisfaction.


Hilary Hendershott: And my impression is you became aware of this contradictory research, sort of in the middle of the chronology of your personal search for well-being. So, if you want to bake lessons about that in, but I have lots of questions about you and how you found yourself in the Cult of Never Enough and how you got out. So, first of all, what is the Cult of Never Enough?


Manisha Thakor: I defined the Cult of Never Enough is this place, this mindset where you feel like no matter how much you earn, no matter how many achievements you rack up, no matter how many accolades you receive, it’s never enough and you feel like you’re never enough. And kind of the corollary to that is, and/or you may feel like you have become subsumed by our modern culture’s belief that the answer to anything that ails us is more, something isn’t right, earn more, be more, do more. And so, that’s how I think of the Cult of Never Enough.


Hilary Hendershott: And in the book, you talk about how– there’s a part of this that starts with your career journey. But in the book, you talk about how a combination of therapy and what you call “small t” traumas had sort of captured you into this cult. So, can you describe how you found, and forgive me if I’m saying this wrong, but sort of being bullied as a child led to really being a dedicated overachiever?


Manisha Thakor: It’s not wrong at all. And one of the things that I like to highlight about “small t” traumas, which I define as events that happened to us before age 25 when our brains are fully formed, is that they are things that often, in retrospect, as an adult, you might feel how on earth could that have had such a catastrophic or toxic effect on my life. So, I’d like to just walk through this to help people understand.


So, in my case, I’m a mixed race and I grew up in a small town in Indiana, and I didn’t fit in. I was chubby, had Coke bottle glasses. Indian women, we often tend to have hair on our upper lip. Not a big deal in India because your moms and your aunties know how to teach you to get it threaded and get it off. But I’m living with an American mom in the Midwest. There are no places to get threaded.


And so, kids used to call me cow butt, thunder thighs, mustache mouth, and it was so painful. And this went on from fourth, fifth, sixth grade. I go into more details about it in the book. But let me just say that what happened is I felt so ostracized. I needed to find some place that I belonged. And that place happened to be with my teachers because I was a good student. And so, I would feel seen and heard and accepted from them. So, as I went through junior high, high school, and so forth, the bullying stopped. But my behavior around seeking acceptance through academics didn’t change.


Then I stepped into the workplace. And what replaces grades and teachers, money and promotions and accomplishments. And so, that seemingly “small t” trauma set me on this journey that ultimately ended up with me having an exceptionally toxic set of beliefs and behaviors around work, money, success, accomplishments.


Hilary Hendershott: And from my perspective, and I’ve watched your career evolve a little bit as much as it’s been public facing, but you always had a very benevolent, passionate voice. So, from the outside looking in, it didn’t necessarily look toxic. Anything besides the obvious that sort of characterizes that toxicity for you?


Manisha Thakor: Yeah. So, there are a couple of key things. One sign that you have a toxic relationship is when you start having health problems. I had two very serious health incidents. Your body often speaks in that way when you are rubbing it hot all the time. Another is relationships. I’m divorced. I was never around. I really was a lousy spouse. And my ex-husband is now with somebody who paid the kind of attention to him that I should have.


Another sign is you’re losing friends. One holiday season, I realized the only holiday cards I received were from immediate family and people I paid, my housekeeper, my massage therapist. And then the other and most insidious one is that you cannot disengage from work. Even when you are not working, it’s filling your head in a way that you feel you are emotionally connected nonstop to the striving, the being busy, the work. And there’s no peace because you’re living in the future, not in the present, because you’re striving. In my case, that’s exactly what I felt like. And if I had to sum it up with a bow, I would say I felt like I was a human doing and not a human being.


Hilary Hendershott: So, that’s a lot. It’s a lot to potentially unravel. I recall being at points in my life thinking, okay, I know I want to stop this behavior. I just don’t know how to stop it or what to replace it with. And I’m sure and I know from reading the book that you found that kind of the way out of your Cult of Never Enough wasn’t something that can be captured by a top five list.


So, standing in that place where you– I mean, was there a particular moment you realized my brain is just too full of this future stress and anxiety and seeking and striving? And so, was it a bright line or was it a process? And tell us a little bit about that.


Manisha Thakor: Yeah, it was not a bright line. I so wish it were. In my case, there were two parts to it. One, I was sitting in a meeting with a potential client who was very private about our finances, and we were going through a discovery process trying to show her how we worked with clients. And so, we used my financials and the team interviewed me as if I were the prospective client and walked through my financial journey. And we talked about how I borrowed $2,000 from my parents out of undergrad for first and last month’s rent, and I paid them back in six months, and everything else I had earned, I had earned.


And when we ran the Monte Carlo and we’re showing how much more I could spend and still have ridiculously low odds of running out of money if I lived to 100, I realized I’d been chasing after this financial safety because I didn’t ever want to get stuck in a place like I had been in fourth, fifth, sixth grade, so rejected that I had done it at the expense of actually living. I’d spent 30 years of my adult life trapped on this hamster wheel of hustle culture, and that happened concurrently with a period where I had an autoimmune issue where quite literally, my body was attacking itself.


To give people a perspective of just how much stress can affect the body in terms of causing inflammation. There’s something called a sed rate, measures level of inflammation in your body, 0 to 20 is a healthy range. Above 100 indicates tumor or malignancy. I was at 95, and they tested everything to see, did I have a tumor somewhere? And shockingly, that was from a culmination of years after years after years of working like this insane person. And I had red welts all over my body that were painful to touch. My scalp felt literally like it was on fire. My fever was vacillating between 100 and 103. And that was the effect of an inflamed body.


And on top of that, I had Epstein-Barr, which is to mono, which shingles is chickenpox, but my body couldn’t fight it off because it was so inflamed. And so, to bring a long story to a close, it got to the point where I literally could only stay awake about five or six hours a day. My body literally had shut down. So, here I am with the reality…


Hilary Hendershott: Against your will, you will stop working.


Manisha Thakor: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And that was the kind of aha combination that I had financial health and I was emotionally and physically bankrupt.


Hilary Hendershott: And so, you say in the book, look, you’ve got to go back and do– would you call it root cause analysis? I don’t want to take the words out of your mouth, but of course, I want listeners to be able to apply this to themselves because the answer isn’t just quit your job. I mean, it’s not that simple, and go, be a substitute teacher or whatever. And so, what’s the journey you went through? How did you sort of clamor your way to the surface, if not out of that?


Manisha Thakor: My first job out of business school was as an equity research analyst. I’ve always loved research. And so, as I’m going through months of bed rest, which is what happened after we discovered that high level of inflammation, I started thinking, how did this happen to me? How did I get here? I graduated from college with such dreams and hopes for a very different life than the one I ended up with.


Hilary Hendershott: And credentials, yes.


Manisha Thakor: And from the outside, yeah, maybe I did look successful, But inside, I wasn’t alive. My soul felt dried up and empty. So, I went on this two-year journey. And what I discovered was the reason that doing all the things, meditating, doing yoga, writing gratitude list, those things would help briefly, but they didn’t cure me. And the reason was you end up in the Cult of Never Enough, each one of us in different ways, but it’s a very multi-disciplinary set of effects that cause you to end up in this place.


Briefly speaking, it’s personal “small t” traumas, cultural norms, societal expectations, and evolutionary biology. Those are the four big buckets. Everybody has different levels of emphasis in those buckets. But it is I’m feeling and understanding which of those influences and what combination are leading to this behavior that you have to go through in order to change the behavior. And that was the big aha for me, was that you can’t just start following three new tips to have work-life balance. You have to unravel and, you said it perfectly, root cause analysis.


Hilary Hendershott: I see. Okay. Well, so the good news is there’s a way out. The medium news is it does require significant amounts of personal introspection. And so, in looking back, do I hear correctly, you spent two years on– I mean, essentially on a personal journey? Was that your full-time activity? I’m trying to figure out for people, if they aren’t like you currently fully funded, how can they particularize this or look to the core themes so that it can be at least begun?


Manisha Thakor: So, I was not doing this full time. I have my own business and I also sit on a couple of corporate boards.


Hilary Hendershott: Well, you said you were in bed rest, so I wasn’t sure where we were in the timeline. Thank you.


Manisha Thakor: Yeah. So, the research started after the medical leave and the bed rest. But the reason I wrote the book was to give people a road map for thinking through this. The book is actually quite thin. It’s a book you can read in a couple of days. It’s not dense at all.


But what it does is give you ideas that you can then marinate on for as long as you need to. And likely, it’s a repetitive kind of process. I put together a reflective journal to go along with the book, which you can download for free on the website, MoneyZen.com, so that you can kind of have some prompts to work through it.


But what I want to emphasize is if you try to go sit on a hill for two weeks or two months and just figure this out, it’s not going to work. These insights that will come to you have to come in between your daily normal life experiences. That’s when the insights will start popping up.


Hilary Hendershott: And I’m super curious, for example, I know workaholism is one of the most common things I speak to female entrepreneurs about, right? Most of my conversations with some of my clients end in tears. And it’s always like, no matter what, I’m not enough. I’m missing something. I’m missing my marriage, I’m missing my kids, or I’m not getting it done at work, right?


And there’s a strong sense of obligation. And you had promises and obligations and contracts with lots of very big, we’ll say, white-shoe or big-name organizations. Did you cold quit? Have you cold quit? In other words, how have you– I know, for example, you’re talking to me, you described it as a 500-square-foot cabin in Maine. So, I’m just curious, what were the forks in the road that led to that and that decision? And how are you feeling about that now?


Manisha Thakor: I would say it’s a very windy road. And what I’m proud of is that I’m still driving on it and the things I learned in the journey now serve as bumper rails on either side of the road to keep my car from flipping over, like it used to. And so, it’s not like you solve it forever. I can give some examples.


So, as I’m going through the research for the book and I’m understanding how I ended up, what were the influences culturally and societally, and even from an evolutionary biological standpoint on top of, because it’s not just one thing. As I unravel those and then I was able to slowly replace them with a mental framework that we can talk about in a bit, I, by the end of writing the book, felt wonderful, just liberated. And as if I could fly, I felt so light and I made a decision that I was going to, because I work for myself, I can do this because I’m not married and I don’t have kids, I can do this. And neither of those things were deliberate or planned. They all happened as a result of the workaholism. So, I’m not saying that in a bragging way. I’m saying that in a…


Hilary Hendershott: No, it’s okay. We all end up in different places.


Manisha Thakor: A cautionary tale way that you can wake up at 53 and realize there are a lot of big experiences you didn’t experience because you were working. But I decided that I was going to live half the year in Portland, Oregon and half the year in rural Maine, and it was heavenly until I started the marketing of this book. Because with book marketing, your ego gets so wrapped up. And now, with likes and views and downloads, there are so many different ways to measure the efficacy of your PR and marketing efforts.


And then when you have a hit and you get an article published in Fortune or CNBC interviews, you start to get almost this, I call it an ego high, and then you want more and more. And we know biologically, it’s a dopamine hit. But what I found is right now, I feel overwhelmed again. And I know I am working too hard on marketing this book.


But the good news is I’m able to look at that. And I have a North Star now, a framework as a result of my research that I am focusing on and saying, “Okay, what baby step can I take today to shift myself closer to this healthier state that I want to be in?” But I want to emphasize that life throws stuff at us. And so, it’s not like you get fixed, but you can learn how to self-correct more quickly and more gently.


Hilary Hendershott: Well, I mean, ultimately, you may have found your navigation system out of the cult, but you’re still working with organizations who are smack in it to promote and let the world know about your book. So, it’s a sort of interesting meta exercise, perhaps, the foundation of your next book.


Manisha Thakor: And what you’re speaking to, Hilary, is so important because that’s part of the cultural norm. We live in a society that encourages us to think of our self-worth as a human as being tightly linked to what we do. And particularly, in the workplace, the shift from work being a job to a career to now a calling, Derek Thompson, a writer for The Atlantic, whose work I cannot recommend strongly enough, says, “We’re now worshiping at the altar of workism.” And so, as I engage with firms that are helping me promote with the best of intentions that we’re all in this more, more, more is better mindset. And it’s really hard to disconnect from those cultural norms.


Hilary Hendershott: I sort of see the pursuit for career success as a separate but very related track to the career for a bigger bank account. I mean, they’re clearly intertwined, right? And one of the saddest things in my professional career is I, of course, have clients who are wealthy and very wealthy and getting to be wealthy. And I have found that it’s not predictive where they are on the financial timeline, their experience of financial freedom or scarcity.


And I think, to almost comfort myself, I have developed to saying, I do my best to create all the circumstances where you can step into the experience of financial freedom, but you have to take that step, right? And I’m wondering in the moment where you ran the Monte Carlo scenario that I’m sure you had run before, like you knew those numbers. Is there a sense of– I wasn’t planning this question, but I’m wondering, your experience of stepping into that experience of enoughness, I’m sure, in your writing and interviewing experts for this book and talking with people about the book, you’ve talked with people about, to them, taking that step, is like, how do you stop that persistent thought pattern that ultimately, if you’re a conservative spender, got you to where you are, which is you’ve built compound returns over decades? How do you then set your mind free? Or what do you know from talking with people?


And if I’m wrong and I’m way off topic and this isn’t your viewpoint, then tell me. But it just seems like people have to take this leap of believing, this leap of faith, or just make a decision. I’ve said a lot. That is a poorly formed question. Have you seen that?


Manisha Thakor: Yes, I know exactly what you’re asking me. And I can tell you what my personal experience is and I have been surprised on this research journey that it seems to mimic all of the people who I looked up to who had found a healthy way to grow professionally and personally at the same time. In my case, I started tracking how much I spent in 1992. My dad, who’s worked in finance his whole career.


Back then, there were computers, so he showed me how to make a budget on a piece of paper, pencil, and then I transfer that to an Excel spreadsheet. And literally, up until the time I started to write the book, I could tell you within probably $500 of accuracy exactly how much I had spent each and every year. I was so meticulous with my spending. It helped that I had no social life, no hobbies.


And when I would have vacation days, most of them I wouldn’t use. So, it’s a little bit easier to save money when you’re not doing anything but working. But my point is I had this scarcity mindset and it was from fear, it was from terror that I would find myself one day in a situation where I could not get out. What I couldn’t do was disconnect in my brain or rationally make my brain understand that accumulating more and more and more money is not the answer to that problem.


That problem or concern is a deep emotional one that needs to be explored separately from money. There are money problems, which are things that we solve with intellectual solutions. Question, how much house can I afford? How do I prove my FICO score? How do I get out from my student loan debts that are drowning me? But a scarcity mindset and that sort of unwillingness to spend your money because you’re so terrified, what I found after running the numbers and realizing I was in a completely fine state of financial health was I had to take a leap of faith. And it was terrifying. And in my case, I started with deciding not to track my spending. And I mean, literally, I had a pit in my stomach.


Hilary Hendershott: Like, head that shakes.


Manisha Thakor: Yeah, exactly.


Hilary Hendershott: I can’t not do it.


Manisha Thakor: Because I was terrified that I might live beyond my means. And I think what I want to say is letting go of perfectionism, workaholism, not feeling enough-ism, part of it is an intellectual understanding of how you got there and part of it is faith that you are enough. And when you let go, you actually will be happier. And whatever is meant to come into your life, whatever you’re meant to do for that place of happiness will happen as opposed to how we are traditionally hardwired and trained, if you will, by society, which is first, you must do this to have that, and then you will be happy.


And so, with the money, flipping it around and saying, “First, I’m going to be happy and that will lead me to do whatever I need to do, to have whatever I meant to have to support the happiness.” And so, you have to just trust in some ways that there is a net under you that if you fall, it will hurt, but you’ll bounce back up eventually and you’ll learn from it. And we all fall.


Hilary Hendershott: We all fall. And that particular statement you just said, which is you trust that you are enough and it sort of happens in reverse order, is I think very concrete, is more concrete than I would expect, and it’s attainable. So, I think that’s a great place to wrap.


I agree your book is consumable, easy to read, and it’s incredibly charming. And just thank you for the vulnerability in the stories you share. So, you have a quiz. Should we tell people about the quiz? Or should we just tell them to buy the book?


Manisha Thakor: I would say buy the book. And please, leave an Amazon review if you like it because I am shocked and amazed at how those drive, it’s just like the like buttons of– Amazon reviews are like gold to authors. So, if this appeals to you, please leave one. But at the same time, if you have a little extra time, go to MoneyZenQuiz.com because it’ll help you see how deeply you may be trapped in the Cult of Never Enough.


Hilary Hendershott: Amazing. Well, thank you for your writing and thank you for leading the way. I appreciate you being on Love Your Money show today.


Manisha Thakor: Hilary, thank you for having me. You always ask such fun questions.


Hendershott Wealth Management, LLC and Love, your Money do not make specific investment recommendations on Love, your Money or in any public media. Any specific mentions of funds or investments are strictly for illustrative purposes only and should not be taken as investment advice or acted upon by individual investors. The opinions expressed in this episode are those of Hilary Hendershott, CFP®, MBA.


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