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Why working for money can be a dangerous career decision

By Sander Biehn | Jan 8, 2015

Over the weekend I heard about a USA Today survey that showed the overwhelming reason people do the job they have each day is to earn money.  On the surface this makes sense. Everyone needs to work to earn a living, but if you read between the lines here it says a lot about how Americans feel about their jobs. Most see them as just that, a job.  Most people view their jobs as a holding area to make a little scratch until something better comes along.  If it does they gladly jump on the new opportunity. But if it does not, the present position will do just fine.

You would think that if money was our primary concern we all would be doing anything we could to get more of it. But that clearly isn’t the case based on this survey. We are content to make what we make. In fact, that is the main reason we go to the office each day according to the survey.

I believe that there is more to this than meets the eye. Money may be the number one motivator according to the survey, but it is only because respondents weren’t able to articulate the truth about how they see their careers and lives. In reality, we are all yearning for purpose beyond the paycheck. We want to feel like what we do matters and that we are contributing with our talents.

So, why are we too shy to admit it?

Because we become engrossed in our present day employment, I think many of us have lost touch with not only what we excel at but also how to pursue such a job. First, it really doesn’t take very long to start identifying with whatever job we have. If it is our job to be a technical specialist supporting sales teams, we start to view ourselves in that role. Second, we tend to quickly establish a measurement of our success and ability to do our job, not on our skills, but in comparing our ability to complete daily tasks compared to others in the same role as us. Our bosses, annual reviews and paychecks all validate this thinking. In no time at all, we are no longer sure what our dream job is or how to go after it. Instead we get wrapped up in how to perform tasks according to other people’s expectations.

Here’s how my old VP would stop ambitious climbers wishing for a promotion in their tracks. He would ask them what specific job they wanted to do next. It sounds simple, but more than one director-level could only stammer a response as the VP chuckled in his head. My VP knew that most people are not looking for a specific job any longer just more pay.  This VP must have read the survey.

Finally, we grow accustomed to our lifestyle. Our salaries provide a certain lifestyle. I think that many of us fear if we begin to look for our next job based on what we excel at and love to do, it may mean a missed mortgage payment. And perhaps it could.

This morning in the Atlanta airport, I bumped into some old colleagues I used to work with. They were heading out to a customer conference. They had all been working on that same account since before I moved to Atlanta in 2011. I could see the tired look in Mike’s face as he told me where they were heading. Not to get existential, but how many more years do each of us have on this planet anyway? I am not sure if Mike would rather be doing something else, but I could see clearly that he was only doing this job for the money.


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