Pop quiz: Name three aspects of your career or business that are more important to you than money.
Okay, just name one.
It’s not easy, is it?
We’re not trained to think this way. Since childhood, we’ve heard repeatedly from authority figures that getting a job or launching a business is all about “providing” or “earning a steady income” or “making a living.” All of which mean money — and only money.
I’ve probably given this more thought than most people have, for one reason: Simple math. I remember as a kid thinking about what a massive portion of my life I was going to spend working — eight hours a day, five days a week, for decades. So it occurred to me I’d better find a career that I’d actually like, or at least not hate.
So as I began looking for my first job, I made a list of things that I would gladly trade for more salary. It was one of the most valuable exercises I ever engaged in for determining my quality of life.
I’ve added to it over the years, and below is my current list of factors that are more important to me in my career than earning more money. Ask yourself if any of these would apply to you as well.
I’d gladly trade more money for…
1) The ability to do something I love for a living
2) The freedom to work flexible hours
3) The freedom to work from anywhere, including home
4) The freedom to dress any way I choose while I’m working
5) The opportunity to work with people I like and respect
6) The ability not to have to manage anyone
Some of these might seem trivial — working from home and dressing in shorts and t-shirts while working (which I’ve done more or less every day for a decade). And some might seem like the exact opposite of what we’re taught about professional advancement — like not wanting to manage people, not wanting to “climb” any “ladder.”
Write your own list of things you’d trade for money
I think it’s a great exercise to write down your own list, for several reasons. First, it’s a great way to hone in on what really matters to you in life. I think you’ll be surprised at how low money actually ranks on your list. If you don’t believe me, imagine a recruiter called you to offer you a job that paid twice (or three times, or five times) what you earn today. Now imagine the job…
1) Had a two-hour commute
2) Demanded you be in the office 10+ hours a day and often on weekends
3) Was a high-pressure environment where supervisors berated the weaker performers
4) Wasn’t something you enjoyed doing Now spend a minute thinking about all of that extra salary you’d be earning. Would it be worth it, if it meant giving up so much of your life to a long drive, long hours in an environment where you didn’t feel comfortable doing something you didn’t enjoy?
Ask yourself: How much money would I need to give up the best thing about my job?
Thinking about this from another angle, consider the highest-ranking non-monetary item on your list — or, if it’s easier, consider the thing you like best about your current job or business. Maybe you live close to your office, or you have a very flexible schedule and can disappear when you need to take some personal time.
Would you give that up for another $5,000 a year? How about $10,000?
When you think of it this way, you can see just how much competition money has for things that really matter to your professional happiness.
Money is how we all keep score, and it makes sense that by default it’s where you’d put your focus and your energy — and your frustration if you aren’t happy in your career.
But when you realize that your professional life can be shaped by many key factors other than money — doing what you love, working with people you respect, setting your own professional path — you’ll find it a lot easier to start reshaping your career the way you want it… without worrying so much about sacrificing salary. You might even realize you’re a lot closer to achieving professional fulfillment and happiness than you thought, when you were focused primarily on the size of your paycheck.