Getting clear on your values around money can help as you make career decisions.

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The topic of money comes up a lot in my career coaching practice.

This is the story of a young college student who came to talk to me about her career path after graduation. We ended up talking about money and ambition.

This young woman sat down in my office and, fumbling in her purse, started telling me about her classes.

As she was talking, she poked her thumb with a little needle and glanced at the reading. Still talking, she pulled out a syringe and casually jabbed her thigh with an insulin shot.

I watched, awestruck.

“I’m interested in science,” the young woman said. “But I’ve also really enjoyed my finance classes.” She was feeling overwhelmed by the smorgasbord of interesting classes and interesting directions she could take.

“How ambitious are you?” I asked.

That’s one of my favorite coaching topics. Talking about a client’s ambition exposes a potential Catch-22 of social expectation and censure. On the one hand, it can seem somehow unseemly (for women, particularly) to be ambitious. At the same time, there is all kinds of pressure to be financially successful.

My client squirmed, caught in the Catch-22.

“I think I’m really ambitious,” she said shyly, as if she were confessing something embarrassing. “I want to make a difference.”

She described growing up poor, of being the first in her family to go to college.

“What does money mean to you?” I asked.

My client squirmed again. “I really like making money. Having money,” she said slowly. “But it seems wrong — like, greedy — to want it.”

“What if that’s not true?” I asked her. “What if money means health for you?” I gestured at her bag of insulin shots. “What if money means financial independence and freedom, not greed and superficiality?”

She looked at me askance. “I’ve always thought it was wrong to want money,” she said. “My friends all talk about it like we need to save the world and not think about money.”

“You, awesome young woman, will be part of saving the world,” I told her. “Either in science, or business, or wherever you land as you explore interesting classes and opportunities in the future.”

“And you get to make lots of money while you’re at it,” I said.