"There is nothing wrong with loving your work and wanting to apply yourself to it. But there is so much more to life."
I feel pretty good as I move into my new office. I accepted a director-level job at a financial planning firm that comes with a good salary, opportunities to expand my network, and a potential for an ownership stake in the firm. As I'm unpacking, I pause to reflect on how far I've come.
In college, I happened upon a book about different careers in finance. One that spoke to me was a portfolio manager, though I had never heard of that. I was drawn to this because of all the jobs in the book, it had the highest salary expectation. So I set out to become a portfolio manager and pursued a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) charter.
Since earning the CFA charter, I went on to earn many other professional designations. I started out in the investment industry doing what we called "gopher work," eventually working up to Vice President. Now, I find myself in this fancy new role.
I should be happy.
My life right now is the opposite of my upbringing. I don't have to worry about money, I'm not behind on my bills, and I can afford anything I want.
I'm also miserable. Despite accomplishing everything that I was "supposed to" do, I'm pretty far from happy. My fancy new director-level role comes with a micromanager, the expectation of working evenings and weekends, and few vacation days. That means that my top values of autonomy, adventure, and creativity will never be met. I'm living a life where my behaviors are not aligned with my values.
I never stopped to ask myself how much my job was costing me.
HOW MUCH YOU GET - AND GIVE
It's easy to know how much your job pays, right? It's right there in your paycheck. Unfortunately, that's not quite the case. We always have to give up something. There is always a trade-off. The easy trade-off to recognize is our time; we trade our time for money.
It actually is deeper than that. If you want to calculate the net pay, you have to consider how much you would save if you didn't have your job. You already know that you have to spend time at work. You may not know that you spend more time than you think. It's common to get paid for working eight hours per day, but if you spend an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening commuting, then your job costs you 10 hours per day. The amount you make per hour will be reduced. This is also true if you spend time on evenings and weekends answering emails or doing projects at home.
Similarly, how much do you spend on business clothes? Perhaps there's an expectation of wearing a specific style of clothing, driving a particular car, or keeping a particular lifestyle. If you didn't work that job, you wouldn't have to purchase these things.
It can be humbling to figure out how much you make on a net basis after accounting for the actual hours you put in and the money you spend for your paycheck.
But wait...it actually goes even deeper than that. It's not always about hours and dollars. How much of your mental energy do you spend thinking about or worrying about work? Does work take you away from spending time with your family? Do you find yourself stressed out or frustrated at the end of the day? Do you have to put your hobbies on hold? All of these add up to the total amount that your job costs you.
When you view your work in this way, you can easily see that sometimes it makes sense to take a position that looks like it has a lower salary but doesn't cost you as much.
NO ANSWERS - JUST TRADE-OFFS
There's an old saying that there are no answers, just trade-offs. This highlights the idea that with every decision you make, you give up something. It's not good or bad. What makes it potentially bad is when we make decisions without knowing what the trade-off is. An argument could be made that you aren't truly making an intentional decision if you don't know what you're trading off.
Often we work in a particular industry or in a particular profession because we think we are supposed to. Anytime we do something simply because we think we're supposed to, we're living our lives through the lens of other people's values.
If you find yourself in the rat race desperately trying to get to the finish line so you can retire from your job, it might be worth taking a look at what you are trading off. Are you living with intention according to your values?
WORK ATTITUDES DRIVEN BY MONEY SCRIPTS
If anything you've read so far made some sense, but it feels like it doesn't apply to you, it might be because you have a strong Money Script driving that belief.
A Money Script is a belief we have about money that acts like a rule that we follow and act on as pure truth. All of our financial behaviors are driven by our Money Scripts. Likewise, every financial behavior makes sense once you know the Money Script that drives that behavior. If you want to better understand the behavior, then it's helpful to understand the financial beliefs behind the behavior.
Ask yourself what you learned about work when you were growing up. Was it something you had to do because you needed to help bring in money for the family? Did you do it because you were told to, and you wouldn't have otherwise? Were you told what profession you had to go into? These messages that we received when we were growing up have a significant impact on our financial lives as adults.
MONEY IS A TOOL - NOT A GOAL
Taking a step back to ask how much our job costs helps us think about our financial lives from a bigger picture perspective. It helps us break from the idea that money is a goal.
Many people believe that they need to save up a particular dollar amount before they can retire. Others will quit a job they don't like only after their savings generate a certain income every month. Some people want to hurry up and be financially independent as soon as possible.
But that treats money as a goal. It says nothing about what the money is for. Money is a tool that helps you live the life that you want to live. It helps you live the best life possible with the money that you have. Nobody sits on their deathbed wishing that they spent less time with their family so they could have made more money.
What's the money for? How much is enough? How will you know?
WORK IS A PART OF YOUR LIFE DESIGN
Viewing money as a tool allows you to design a life that you would be proud to look back on from your deathbed. As you think about designing a life, work is a part of that life. As you think about what you want out of life, consider that the top regret people have when they're on their deathbed is that they didn't live a life that was true to themselves. The second biggest regret people have is that they worked too hard. Yet another top regret people have is that they didn't allow themselves to be happy. How can you construct a life so that you will have the fewest regrets?
You have to work. We all do. But work is only one aspect of our life. Don't work too hard and sacrifice things that are truly important to you. Don't live someone else's life because you think you're supposed to.
Live a life that is in alignment with your values, don't work too hard, and let yourself be happy. Live a life that you won't regret.
You only have one life. Live intentionally.
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Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences
Hagen, Derek: Money's Purpose in Your Life
Hagen, Derek: Your Money, Your Values, and Your Life
Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis
Klontz, Brad, Edward Horwitz & Ted Klontz: Money Mammoth
Klontz, Brad, Rick Kahler & Ted Klontz: Facilitating Financial Health
Schwartz, Barry: Why We Work
Seligman, Martin: Authentic Happiness
Seligman, Martin: Flourish
Ware, Bronnie: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.