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Money as a Resource: Gaining Perspective

July 18, 2012

D&B Consulting

I often watch my clients who make healthy six figure incomes, yet are miserable, struggle with the thought of earning less. In the US many of us measure our self-esteem and career success by how much money we make. So money becomes who we are, our being, and our worth in society.

Some endure jobs or companies that provide little satisfaction, and/or work in conditions that are dehumanizing and demoralizing. But their addiction to the salary, perks and prestige offered by their careers hold them back from moving ahead. They may find themselves handcuffed to a large, popular company, or a glamour profession, or a job that is not a good fit for them. And at the exact time they complain of their unhappiness on the job, they may purchase a new house or a fancy car. Their motivation is to have the “things” 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?

Everyone wants financial assets and savings, and enough material possessions for comfort. Money is a resource that provides many of the creature comforts we enjoy. Financial assets help put our children through college and provide for our retirements. Our personal savings allows us to make changes in our lives and provides us some comfort and a sense of security.  It’s when we expect material possessions and status to create inner fulfillment that we get in trouble. Remember the Beatles song “Money Can’t Buy Me Love”? “Things”can’t love you back.

In a questionnaire I give to my clients, I ask when they felt the most successful and the happiest. A surprising number describe their college days or when they were just starting out in their first job, or talk about their life outside of work. 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 that is a better fit for them. And sometimes those with the most financial resources see their choices as the most limited. Yet logic tells us they should be the ones with the most options.

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, in a supportive work culture, is one way to add value to our work beyond the paycheck.

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, identify our values, and attempt to 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 is a fine goal to own a nice home and car, and have a nice lifestyle. It is when we expect these things alone to provide fulfillment for us that we get in trouble.

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