I’ve never taken a job because of the money. Not even once.
That came as a shock to me when I realized it the other day. The entire assumption behind the labor market is that we take increasingly difficult roles or maybe jobs that require longer hours because we make more money by taking them. So it confused me when I first realized that financial incentives have never motivated a job change for me.
I don’t mean I haven’t wanted more money when it was available. Each time I changed jobs — back when I worked full-time for others — each promotion meant more money than the last job. But did I take the promotions because they came with more money?
No. I wanted the excitement of doing something new. I wanted a new challenge. I wanted the enjoyment of moving up in the pecking order. I wanted the feeling of achieving something.
I was having fun.
The extra money was nice, but I realize now with surprise that I would have taken the tougher jobs with each promotion even if they had come with no additional cash.
The money almost didn’t matter. Being paid allowed me to do something which I would have done for free if I hadn’t needed the money to live on.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why we do the things we do with our work time. We spend the bulk of our waking hours doing work that other people want done in order to earn money. Most people tend to choose these jobs by taking the one which offers the most money as compensation, regardless of whether they want to do the tasks involved or not.
At least, that’s the theory. I’m not certain how often it’s true.
It might seem obvious on one level, but people who take jobs simply for the money are the ones who hate their jobs. They’re performing tasks because there is a cash reward, not because they want to do whatever is being done and not because they get satisfaction from doing that work.
If I try to ignore the issue of pay — which seems ludicrous to those of us in this culture — the question becomes what would I do with my time if the money made no difference.
I’ve found myself doing a thought experiment this week. Let’s assume that I somehow had some basic level of income set for life. I don’t mean enough to be wealthy, but enough to continue to live a decent, fairly modest income.
If I had such an income, that would mean I could do nothing. Or I could do whatever else I wanted. I wouldn’t be bound by what someone else wanted done.
Because most people in our society have been trained to think of work as tedious drudgery, many people say they would do nothing. They might think they’d sit around the house watching television. Or maybe reading. Or whatever. But those sorts of people assume they wouldn’t do any work.
I believe it’s our natural need to work in some way — to make something or provide some service — simply because we’re wired that way. I know beyond any shadow of doubt that I would never want to sit around doing nothing. Even if I needed nothing — even if I were wealthy beyond my wildest dreams — I would still want to be productive, at least on my own schedule and in my own way.
The question is what do I need to do — not because anybody wants to pay for it, but simply because it matters to me? That’s what I have to find a way to get paid for, because it’s the only thing that will matter to me.
I know of things I’d be doing with my time. I know I’d be good at those things and I would eventually be compensated very well for them, not because I wanted the money, but simply because money naturally comes to you when you provide value that others recognize.
What’s more, I would enjoy work.
I wouldn’t be dreading each Monday. I wouldn’t be annoyed at a client’s call. I wouldn’t be aggravated having to follow orders of someone who was paying me to do something on his schedule.
When I have made a good income in the past — more than six figures in a year — I was doing what I wanted to do and accepting only the work I wanted. I controlled my time. I didn’t take orders. I got rid of clients when I didn’t like working for them. And I enjoyed my days, despite long hours at times. They money was just a bonus.
What would you do if you didn’t need the income? Do you know? If you’re doing your present work simply because of the money — or the lifestyle or the prestige or whatever — you’re never going to be as happy as you would be if you were doing what you need to be doing.
I don’t want to drag myself out of bed to go to an office I hate simply because I need the money. I want to be excited about what I’m doing and be grateful to be paid for something I’d do for free.
I’ve done that before. It’s time to do it again, but with a different purpose.