Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Great Expectations: How Much Do Any of Us Need?

Yesterday, an uncomfortable conversation with a coworker:

FF: I'm not in this to be rich. If I wanted to make money, I would have pursued a different kind of work entirely.

Coworker: So you're saying you could take a $20K pay cut and work for [good cause]?

FF: Yeah. Because I don't love money.

Coworker: That's easy for you to say when you're dating someone who will be incredibly wealthy.

FF: That is so not a factor.

(Awkward pause)

FF: I think that people have unreasonable expectations.

Coworker: I don't think it's unreasonable for me to expect to have a summer home and nice vacations.

(Polite smile)


My boyfriend is angling towards a specific field that does have the potential to make him very comfortable. However, I also know there's a chance he might take a pay cut to do something less intense and that his financial situation is complicated by a variety of lending versus assets that have paid for school. Let's not count eggs for chickens, I say.

Interestingly, I haven't dated someone without potential wealth for years (familial, professional, entrepreneurial), not because I seek it out but because they seek me out. It's that obvious I'm self supporting and not a gold digger. And, I don't love money.

[Said coworker told her husband (who put her through school) that he should become a dentist instead of a teacher. To fund her expected lifestyle. In front of me.]

The whole conversation made me think about how what we do translates into what we earn, what we should realistically expect, and the values that underlie those things.

Do we get to expect more because we attained a certain level of education? Why? What does that level of education represent that entitles us to more than someone else? What if that someone else didn't have the option but was otherwise qualified? What if that someone else makes a bigger societal contribution than we do?

If you're having trouble drawing the parallel, what entitles the banking industry to... well, lately, anything? Entitlement and unreasonable expectations are two of a kind, at least in my mind, although entitlement results in taking something that you unreasonably expect whereas bare expectations can simply result in disappointment.

My standpoint on work is as follows: you need to make enough money to live, and make a threshold that allows you a safety net. Security is priceless. Beyond keeping the lights on, it's more important to do something I feel good about at the end of the day than to be able to afford life's little excesses.

I do worry this is really naive and idealistic.

I base my values on the following:

(1) I haven't met a lot of genuinely happy people, but those I have met made a conscious choice not to spend their time in ways that don't matter (the double negative is imperative)

(2) I spend too much time working to do something meaningless. Meaning can be broad - one of my childhood friends makes pizza all day and finds real satisfaction in preparing people's food

(3) Not all money is bad, but easy money is often conspicuous. I refuse to gather wealth from what I fundamentally disagree with. I have environmentalist friends who... work for the oil sands. Global warming or not, tar ponds kill living things and are virtually eternal, and arguments you can "influence from the inside" aren't yet persuasive. I never want to watch a news story and know that a disaster in someone else's life paid for the car in my garage

(4) If you can make a living doing something you don't hate, maybe even benefitting the world around you in some small way, it will outweigh the material things you surround yourself with. I always think, Titanic style, about the pictures I want to surround me as a little old lady. Those pictures are people and experiences, not so much the necklace (which you will remember, she THREW INTO THE OCEAN. Life lesson.)

Maybe in twenty years, I'll recant this one. And maybe I do find license to say it because my life is so easy now, because I have sufficient security to not worry much.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree, and dug your examples. You're a strong writer with just the right amount of humor -- would you ever want to guest post on my site? I loved this post.