Money Or Meaningful Work: Which One Is Better?

Money or meaningful work

Are money and meaningful work mutually exclusive? Do you have to choose one over the other? Money is a strange topic. People who get paid salaries never discuss money. It is not culturally acceptable in the U.S. to approach someone and ask them how much money they earn. Most companies protect the salary information as if their lives depended on it.

Entrepreneurs, however, talk about money all the time. It is typical for one entrepreneur to ask another how much revenue the person generates each year. Many entrepreneurs share this information freely, especially if they are making a lot of money.

While it is interesting to ponder the dynamics and cultural norms of money, that is not what this article about. The question I would like to explore is what should one do with the money once it is earned.

My first job out of college was at a large global organization. When I joined the company as part of a class of new associates, we had a multi-day onboarding at a fancy hotel in New York City. The onboarding consisted of typical HR discussions. Hours were spent talking about the company and its processes and procedures. The company even brought in an etiquette consultant to teach us…etiquette.

That session did not leave a lasting impression on me, other than a tidbit that Americans cut their steaks differently from Europeans. Americans cut the entire steak first and then start eating, as opposed to Europeans who cut one piece at a time and eat it before moving on to cutting the next piece. While this information may be interesting from a cultural perspective, it served me no purpose over the past twenty years, not to mention that I don’t like steak that much in the first place.

What would have been valuable for me to learn when I was 22 was how to manage money. Although many people have jobs before graduating from college, the first job after college is when people usually start to make “real” money. Sadly, no one teaches young college graduates what to do with the money once they earn it.

Some would argue that financial literacy should be included in the core high school and college curriculums, right along with history, science, and literature. I agree. Unfortunately, formal education is a complex and bureaucratic beast, and implementing any change takes an extraordinarily long time. Company leaders do not have control over grade level or even higher education, but they do have control over how they train their employees.

While employers go over the 401(k) options the company offers as part of the onboarding process, that is not financial education. No matter how many 401(k) sessions I attended, I always felt like I was being sold a vacuum cleaner. The salesperson kept describing all kinds of features the vacuum cleaner had without ever explaining what it takes to keep your house in order.

At 22, it would have been helpful to learn the difference between making a living and building wealth. If someone makes a good income each year and spends it all, they are not getting wealthier. Lifestyle inflation is a fascinating phenomenon.

It would have been good to understand various asset classes for building wealth and know that 401(k) is but one strategy, and not always the best of what is available. Alternative asset classes, such as real estate, commodities, and business entrepreneurship, do not have to be riskier if people learn how to invest correctly. Most importantly, what is the right strategy for one person is a wrong strategy for someone else, and the dogma that everyone should invest in 401(k) limits people’s options in life.

I would have liked to learn about privatized banking or cash flow banking. I may not have fully understood everything at the time, but it would have been helpful to know that the option existed.

Learning about risk protection and types of insurance policies available to individuals from an unbiased party with the pros and cons of each would have been valuable, especially the difference between permanent and term policies and examples of when to use one instead of the other.

Hearing about financial statements, assets, and liabilities the way Robert Kiyosaki explains them, rather than how they are taught in accounting classes, can be transformative. Many people say that his book, Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! changed their lives. I agree. My mindset also shifted after I read the book.

Not everyone is as fortunate as Ann Wilson, the author of The Wealth Chef, to hear the advice that she received from her father when she was young:

You must take responsibility for your own financial future; you can’t blindly hope that a person, a husband, a job, or the government will ever do this for you: only you can make sure you have your wealth sorted out, and it’s your responsibility, alone.

Many young adults are confused. They feel powerless and financially illiterate despite getting a college education. They are afraid to make long-term decisions about money or their future.

By stepping up, filling the knowledge gap, and providing the right kind of financial education to their employees, leaders can empower others to manage their lives better and benefit society as a whole. Horace Mann, a pioneer of American public schools in the 19th century, famously said, “education is the great equalizer.” I would expand it to say that financial education is an enabler of meaningful work.

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