Do you remember your first real job? I do, I landed a role as an instructional designer working on a large project at the institution I had just graduated from, The University of Illinois.
I was ecstatic that I would be making close to $35,000 a year! Back in 2003, that was a lot of money (really not that long ago, I know)! My goal was to land any job paying over $30K – regardless of what it was. As a recent grad, getting paid for my work, any work, was exciting and that was my measuring stick – my salary.
Quickly, I learned that my criteria for evaluating a good job solely upon pay was flawed. A laundry list of things I disliked about my job began to accumulate – location, commute, uninteresting work, unmotivated coworkers, lacking leadership, bureaucracy – on and on.
Of course, I was young and inexperienced. I shouldn’t expect to have known any better, and maybe my strategy of ‘get a job, any job that pays decent and worry about the other stuff later’ was practical. But as my career progressed and I became smarter about what I wanted from my work, I still found myself overcome by the pull of how much money I would be making.
It’s clear now, I had a one-dimensional view of wealth. To me, it was about income and the freedom it gave me to do the things that I then, wanted to do – go out, have fun, travel, live a certain lifestyle, have peace of mind that ‘I didn’t need to worry about money’. It also allowed me to plan for my future, sock away what I could to save for a distant, unknown future.
Money was the means by which I lived my life and the lens through which I viewed it. I now understand how naive and limited my perspective of wealth was.
What then is wealth?
What comes to mind when you think of wealth? An image of something material? Maybe it’s wealth personified?
Dollar Bills? A yacht on the Mediterranean? Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos? A luxury car or private jet? A big house?
These are all good examples of what many of us experience as wealth in the eyes of marketers, advertisers and content creators – maybe even our parents, friends and coworkers.
When we think about wealth, why don’t we conjure images of family, a mountain forest, running on a beach, a healthy meal with friends or reading a book?
The definition of wealth is subjective, but many of us operate with a flimsy understanding of what wealth means to us. Thus we flounder from one symbol of wealth to another, growing no more satisfied with each new accumulation.
What if we moved beyond the textbook definition of wealth – which by the way is: ‘the abundance of valuable possessions or money’ – and defined wealth for ourselves?
What would a ‘rich’ life look like for you? What would you include in your definition of personal wealth?
Yes, we all need money for the purchase of goods and services and the basic necessities of life – staged, water, shelter, and clothes, etc., but I’d argue most of us overestimate the amount of money we require to satisfy these needs and live a meaningful life.
In fact, a 2010 Princeton study showed that money can increase our happiness up to a point; it plateaus with an annual income of around $75,000 (no small chunk of change, but certainly not outrageous).
Why then do many of us push on in a job or career that we don’t really like, so we can earn with a ‘more is better’ attitude?
Instead, we could be deliberate about the trade-offs we want to make between what’s important to us and what we earn.
It could mean that we take home less money in a job that we love because it offers us flexibility.
It could mean that we stay in a job that is just tolerable because the pay is great.
It could mean that we accept the risk of doing something totally new because we crave purpose.
It could mean we approach the boss about making some changes for better work-life integration.
It could mean we make do with less because we serve a greater need in society.
In a world where it seems like the end game is the number of zeros in the bank, we’re left feeling emotionally broke and corrupt from the struggle and sacrifice of our toil.
Only after examining our own views of wealth can we be intentional and deliberate about shaping a career and a life that pays dividends, beyond the bank account.