A friend sent me a word early this morning, asking me to riff on “money.” Of course, there was zero discussion of what this word mean to either us - just the request. So here I go. And I’ve got a lot of thoughts on this one.
When I was a little kid, my family did not have much money. My mom got pregnant with me while my father was still in graduate school. They have famously told me the story of needing to decide whether my father would teach at MIT or start a company with his fraternity brothers. He rolled the dice and went the company route. It was a good bet, but it took a while to pay off.
As a result, we lived modestly our first several years. Very modestly. Given my parents’s middle class upbringings, they seemed to be comfortable with this for the time. But it was short lived. They had big ambition, and a big work ethic to match. And money and success followed. More than I will likely ever see in my lifetime.
With no college education, my father’s father started out slinging steel for U.S. Steel. He had an insane work ethic, and ended his career as running the European division for the same company. He handed nothing to my father or his sister. The expectation was that you make it on your own; nothing is handed to you. So that is what they did. My father left his rough Indiana town for MIT and never looked back.
And he taught my brother and I the same thing. We hand you nothing. Work your ass off for it. Money is earned, not given. So I grew up respecting that.
By the time I was in high school, my parents had ample cash. I was fortunate enough to be in a family who exposed me to much, and I took full advantage of it. Of course, part of this was having a job from age fourteen on. It was expected. And really important for so many reasons for me.
Because I had been taught that money is earned, not given, I worked really hard to earn it. And because the only job I could get at that age was as a waitress or a babysitter, I did both. And I raked in the cash.
I liked being able to save, and I liked being able to buy myself things without needing my parents help. Money in this context represented freedom. As it has ever since.
I like money. I have worked really, really hard for the money I have earned. I pride myself on having made some smart choices which have allowed me some great outcomes. And when I have lost money, like when stock has dipped or in my divorce, I attempt not to be bitter. It’s just money, I tell myself. It’s not important. I have so many more things in my life that are so much more important. I am grateful for that.
At the end of the day, however, money represents two big things to me. The freedom to live the life I want to live, and peace of mind. I am grateful I have a good job that never has me worrying about whether or not I can pay for my basic necessities or which bill needs to get covered.
I take pride that I have worked hard to get to a place where I earn a good salary, but it will never be enough. There is so much I want to do in life, and I could always use more to fund it. And while I don’t need yachts and mansions and excessive wealth, being able to never think twice before spending would be an incredible luxury.
Only if earned, though. If inherited, if won in the lottery, etc, I’m the jerk who you will see at the office the next day. I do not respect non-earned wealth, at least for me.
So, to my friend who asked, there’s my take on money. I love it, I respect it, and I must earn it to appreciate it. And I work really hard to keep earning…because I’ve got some expensive taste at this point.