If Not for the Money

“Mommy, why do some people only work for the money?”
My eight year old son, Ian

If you weren’t getting paid for what you do professionally, would you still do it?  Do you wake up in the morning excited to get started with your day?  Is your outlook positive, optimistic and grateful with respect to your job, your career, your profession?

Recently, I was at an event and fell into conversation with a fellow who is an agent for a large, well-respected package delivery service.  He treated me to a diatribe about how when a customer complains about the time of day he delivers their packages on, say, a Monday, on Tuesday, he will be sure to show up at least one hour later.  Then, on Wednesday, just to prove the point, he’ll make sure he’s another hour later than he was on Tuesday.  On the flip side, he said that if a customer is friendly to him on Monday, then on Tuesday, he’ll move them to the front of his delivery schedule.  He went on to say that he doesn’t hurry to bring the packages to anyone because he gets double time for anything he puts in beyond his standard eight-hour shift.  I had nothing to offer this individual in the way of response; it was so disappointing to learn that he really did not seem to care about his customers, his excellence or his reputation with the company. 

I believe this fellow’s attitude, truly, is in direct contrast to most people’s feelings about their own work – in fact, I’m not convinced that he is really quite as passive about the job as he claims. 

Research shows that people, irrespective of their station or position or title strive to take pride in the work that they do.  In his highly acclaimed book, Working:  People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, Studs Terkel shares the results of 130 interviews he did with American workers in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Bank tellers, homemakers, farmers, actors, athletes, telephone operators, janitors, waitresses and others explained in painstaking, honest detail what it took to do their jobs, what it took to be good at their jobs, what it took to feel good about what they did, how they derived pride from that thing they did every day. 

Sure, they voiced their complaints about the monotony of it all; about some of the strange people they had to interact with, about their inability to advance.  But as their stories continued to unfold, in case after case, they also admitted to a sense of accomplishment, a feeling that they played a vital, critical role in the system or cycle of the industry of which they were a part.  In fact, they took PRIDE in their profession.

One 14-year old Indiana newsboy complained that he would have to return to homes time after time to collect newspaper money.  He said that he was just in it for the money stating, “It’s nice to have a little money once in a while instead of being flat broke all the time.”  He went on to say, though, that he knew it was his persistence that got his customers to eventually pay him.  He did not say it out loud, but it was pride that drove him to return to those homes so that he would have something to show for his efforts at the end of the day.

Here’s the kernel of truth:  You can make meaning and gain a great sense of personal achievement and accomplishment from your profession by simply putting in a touch of consideration for your contribution to the larger, more macro picture.  Think not about the individual task at hand.  Think, instead, about the downstream impact of your contribution.  As you encounter others — through networking, through project work, and simply in passing, your level of satisfaction will be very apparent.

So, how do you feel about what you do every day?  Is it just a job?  Are you just in it for the money?  Do you clock in and clock out without thinking about what you are putting into the position?  Do you have aspirations for professional growth?  What will it take for you to get there?  How do others perceive your level of satisfaction when you talk about your career?

By the end of my conversation with the package delivery agent and after hearing how he enjoyed “showing those customers who is boss,” he closed his commentary by telling me that he is a member of the Safety Committee of his organization.  He shared how he enjoys working with the new recruits and telling them about the importance of taking their time, of delivering all of the packages that are loaded into their trucks in a manner that gets the items there safely and on time.  If that is not pride in one’s job, I don’t know what is. 

It turns out nobody is really just in it for the money.  No, they are probably not there for their health – certainly the money factors into it – but most of us wish to wake up in the morning excited about what lies ahead for the day and then go to bed with some sense of accomplishment, some point of pride that helps us to know that we contributed to the world.  Take that approach with you in your briefcase each day.  It will come out in the work that you do, your contacts will hear it in your voice, they will see it on your face, and they will be impressed at your passion and enthusiasm.

3 thoughts to “If Not for the Money”

  1. Great points, Alana. I always believe that all of us have three primary work “expectations” — personal, professional and financial. Finding the right balance, based the needs we have as we move through our careers, is the key to thriving in your job.

  2. Lately I have been thinking about this very topic but what has been on my mind is the question: Why make others rich?

    Maybe you could take on this topic at some point. How to reconcile pouring your blood, sweat, tears – your passion and intellect, hours and hard work into a job. You get a salary but the owners get real wealth.

    Thank you!

    1. Thank you for your comment. You sound like an entrepreneur! Have you considered starting your own company? Indeed, the owners get the profits associated with a business. It stands to reason that this is the case since they are the ones making the financial investment in the organization. However, great owners make their employees feel like owners, too. These kinds of employees are all too glad to put in, as you describe, passion, intellect, hours, hard work because they know how much the owners of the company appreciate the incredible effort that their team puts in every day. If you are not interested in owning your own business, you might consider finding an opportunity where the owners really value their employees who enable the company to succeed and generate the wealth that you point to.

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