The Purpose Of Work And The Role Of Money
What would you be doing today if you were not working to make a living?
If money was no concern, would you continue in your current line of work or do something else?
Back in 2016, I asked myself these same questions, and that thought process led me to create The Humble Penny.
In my mind, it is a lifelong project. A canvas where I am free to be creative and write about things I am passionate about.
Research shows that as time passes, alot of people want what is often called an “encore” career. One that combines personal meaning, continued income and social impact.
In fact, in my personal life, in my late 20s, I searched for job opportunities that offered the two P’s – Profit and Purpose.
Before that though, I was only interested in high paying jobs, as is the case with most people starting their careers.
Thinking back to how I actually set off on a career in Finance and trained as an Accountant, I realise that that journey was driven by two things:
- I smashed Maths at College and thought “I must be good at numbers…”
- My maths teacher told me about high paying jobs that required Maths down the line.
That list included Investment banking, Actuarial Science, Accounting, Software Engineering etc.
I chose Accounting because I could directly apply it to running my own business one day. Something every member of my family was already doing in one way or another.
It’s interesting thinking about this because I never forget what my mum said:
“If it’s money you’re interested in, you can start a business and hire an accountant”.
I didn’t have the wisdom she had back then but going down the journey of training as an Accountant has been useful for seeing life through the prism of:
- Personal freedoms (including Financial Independence)
- Business as a vehicle for good
Coming back to the purpose of work, I don’t know about you, but most people I know hate their jobs.
There ofcourse is a difference between hating working and hating your job. The former is a much bigger problem, whilst the latter is a life design problem.
Money plays a powerful role in the type of work and direction we typically take.
There are typically two directions one can take re their work. These include picking
- A high paying job or career path, or
- One based on passion or purpose
Let's consider these in turn –
A High Paying Job
Those who choose this path do it primarily for the money.
This is potentially a very dangerous path because you could easily live your entire life working to chase money.
In fact, this path will most likely lead to misery through life.
Most people typically follow this path, and so did I. However, I think it is the wrong path to follow except for one reason – Financial Independence (FI).
A small minority who follow this path of the highest paying job should at some point ask themselves – How much money is enough?
This is possibly one of the most important questions one could ever ask because it really demonstrates an understanding that what we need to live a decent life is finite.
If you’re lucky enough to have asked this question in your career so far, it should have led you down the path of plotting your escape.
What’s interesting about taking this path is that most people choose it because it leads to the one goal we all desire – A life of happiness and joy.
So although you might have set off on your career or even current job primarily for money, choosing financial independence provides enough motivation to make it worthwhile.
Once you achieve FI, you can then focus your energy on the things you love doing, with the primary focus of seeking joy in your life.
This path does assume you will achieve, which although is achievable, does not happen overnight! But it’s so worth the journey.
Another way of making this path more meaningful is simply to change your why and find greater purpose in what you do.
This might lead to you moving jobs and taking a pay cut, or making a tangent and doing something else entirely.
Passion or Purpose
Following this path from the beginning removes the emptiness that I’d certainly felt as a result of chasing the highest bidder.
It is a more sustainable path and likely to keep you enjoying your career even into a conventional retirement.
This path could also lead to FI, whilst giving you the option of early retirement if you choose or need to.
The only problem with this path is that many out there have no idea what they are passionate about.
So this option might afterall become something that is available to you later in life as it was for me.
To make this more relevant to you, I’d like you to think about and write down your personal answers to a series of questions.
I did this myself last Summer, whilst on a train journey one Saturday afternoon, with the excitement of picking up our first electric car.
My book of choice was Designing Your Life: How To Build A Well-lived, Joyful Life, and I puzzled on questions about my workview.
The series of Q&As that follows below is an extract from my notepad on that journey.
***Pause for a minute and grab a notepad and pen. You'll need 15 minutes to answer these questions for yourself.***
It really will serve you well as you manage the complex relationship between work and money in your personal life.
Here are the questions for easy reference:
- Why work?
- What’s work for?
- What does work mean?
- How does it relate to the individual, others, society?
- What defines good or worthwhile work?
- And what does money have to do with it?
- What does experience, growth, and fulfillment have to do with it?
Below are my personal answers:
Work is a necessary part of life and a calling in many respects. In fact, for me very personally, it’s an act of worship and I take it very seriously.
However, what I have always been interested in is freedom and the ability to choose whatever I want to do with my time e.g. writing this blog or volunteering in some capacity etc.
I would always work but with a greater focus on impact.
Work in Itself helps to create an environment where we think, learn new skills, build relationships, create value, contribute to society and earn a living.
What’s Work For?
Work is useful for a variety of things and these include:
- Exploring creativity,
- Building social skills and relationships,
- Solving problems,
- Getting remunerated (monetary/non-monetary),
- Learn life lessons, and
- Getting better at a craft.
Day to day, it is easy to overestimate one aspect of work (e.g. getting paid) and underestimate another (e.g. building valuable relationships).
Work is fun when I am actually leaning into my strengths, deeply engaged and energised by what I am doing.
What Does Work Mean?
Work means different things to different people. For me, it refers to the ability to create through applied effort.
The things we create include value, solutions, useful resources or simply doing something for nothing.
How Does It Relate To The Individual, Others, Society?
Work relates to the individual because it is a social activity that takes up a major part of the day.
It relates to the society because the work activities we get involved in have a direct and indirect impact on other people, the society, and even the planet.
What Defines Good Or Worthwhile Work?
This is work that I consider enjoyable, which adds value to people and society, and is done in a sustainable way.
It is also work that makes me happy or work that I am happy to do and consider a good use of my time.
What Does Money Have To Do With It?
One way I look at money is that it’s a silent applaud for a job well done. It's a reward for providing value.
Money is tied to work because the traditional way of earning a living is by selling time and skills for income to support a lifestyle.
This approach to work is necessary at the beginning but could lead to work offered to the highest bidder. It could result in a conflict as one could have enjoyable work available, which is poorly paid.
The pressure of life financially, therefore, means that in the interim, It’s easy to choose work that pays enough to satisfy a lifestyle.
However, that lifestyle needs to be questioned and challenged always particularly if it’s one that is not sustainable.
This question of sustainability ultimately leads me to ask – Is there another way? Could money be removed as a concern altogether?
What Do Experience, Growth, and Fulfillment Have To Do With It?
Experience, growth, and fulfillment have everything to do with work.
Life lessons are learned whilst interacting with others, having responsibility, making decisions that affect us and others, and making mistakes.
Over time, these could serve to offer fulfillment.
To conclude, work is important, whether you’ve achieved FI or not.
Money certainly has a role to play in our work journey, however, it shouldn’t be the dominant factor as there’s so much more to work than money.
No matter who you’re, what you do, how young or old, it’s important to follow the joy; follow what engages and excites you, what brings you alive.
It’s never too late to design a life that is meaningful, joyful and fulfilling.
Do you hate your job? If so, why? What do you think is the purpose of working? Please comment below.
Do please share this post if you found it useful, and remember, in all things be thankful and Seek Joy.