Money as a Resource: Gaining Perspective
Debbie Brown, SPHR, MSM, MSW
I often watch my clients who make six figure incomes, yet are miserable, struggle with the thought of earning less. Although they are in jobs that provide little satisfaction, and/or work in conditions that are dehumanizing and demoralizing, they are addicted to the salary, perks and prestige of their careers. They find themselves handcuffed to a large, popular company, or a glamour profession. And, especially for the younger ones, at the exact time they complain of their unhappiness on the job, they may purchase a new house or a fancy car. They want the “things” to make up for the discomfort and dissatisfaction they find in their career. They want to assume the outward appearances of success, while they are suffering deep inside. But things can’t do that for us. Nor can fancy expensive vacations. Ever take a great vacation and then 24 hours after your return feel like it never happened??
Marianne Williamson says it best.
“Meaning doesn’t lie in things. Meaning lies in us.
When we attach value to things that aren’t love-
the money, the car, the house, the prestige-
we are loving things that can’t love us back.
We are searching for meaning in the meaningless.
Money, of itself, means nothing.
Material things, of themselves, mean nothing.
It’s not that they’re bad. It’s that they’re nothing.”
In a questionnaire I give to my clients, I ask when in their life they felt the most successful andthe happiest. A surprising number of people describe their college days or when they were just starting out in their first job. In college they knew where they were going. They set goals, achieved academic success and had a rewarding social life. They had balance. Their first job after college provided the means to furnish an apartment and establish their independence. Life was simple. Even so, when considering making a change in their career to more fulfilling work, some will not consider taking a lower starting salary, or moving to a smaller house or one that is in a less prestigious neighborhood. Or a change to a less glamorous career, like teaching, that is a better fit for them. It seems often it is those with the most financial resources who see their choices as the most limited. Yet logic tells us they should be the ones with the most options!
Yes, we need money to live–as anyone who struggles to pay rent, buy food and get medical care can tell you. Money is a resource that provides many of the creature comforts we enjoy. Money provided the medical care for my mother who died years ago from Parkinson’s Disease. Money will put our children through college and provide for our retirements. But it is also this attachment to money and “things” that does many of us in–this pursuit of large paychecks and closets filled with clothes we never wear. Instead, we should first identify what gives meaning to our lives. And identifying and pursing meaningful work that uses the best of us is one way to add value to our work beyond the paycheck.
I once had a client say that he would like to be able to take off to Hawaii whenever he wanted. This is the same man who has not taken a vacation in years because he is consumed in work, burnt out and miserable. He pays someone to walk his dog because frequently he is not available to do so. Perhaps if he had a life that he was happy with he would not need to get away from it so much by taking expensive vacations.
I worked with a couple that were both employed for the same Fortune 500 company for 15 and 20 years respectively. This company has a strong corporate culture that demands loyalty and offers no flexible or alternative work schedules. Their work is demanding and consuming. They contacted me because they lacked meaning and balance in their lives. Since one of them travels extensively,the other assumes almost total responsibility for household chores while working a sixty-hour work week. Their goal was to retire early. But what purpose does an early retirement serve to people who have not yet learned how to live??
If we devote our lives to amassing material possessions, and measure our worth by these things, what happens if we lose some of it through divorce (there is a 50% divorce rate in this country), or from losing our job. If our worth is attached to that county club membership and it suddenly disappears, who are we? Today’s companies run lean and mean and lay-off employees when profits decline. Many states are “right to work” and do not need a reason to fire an employee.
If we spend time developing a clear sense of who we are and what we value, and live our lives to reflect those values, then we have the inner resources to shield us in times of misfortune. All is not lost if we lose our job. All is not lost if the stock market goes down. What I am talking about is developing a strong inner foundation and a healthier perspective on money so that we can develop both inner and outer wealth. It’s fine to set a goal of owning a nice home and car. It is when we expect these things alone to provide fulfillment for us that we get in trouble.