Reflections on Money, Work, and Self-Esteem
"Open wide now." Wielding the dreaded tool between my incisors, my dentist inquires, "Are you a student, Allen?" I restrain from shaking my head while uttering to the best of my ability "Naughh." -scritch! scritch!- "Are you working?" My eyes roll up and search the caverns of my cerebrum for the right answer. "Uh...Yethh," I mutter with the decisiveness of a houseplant. My jaw clenches.
"Relax now...so, what do you do?" She pauses in her work to let me answer. From out of nowhere, I respond, "I'm a social architect." With great intrigue she asks, "Hmmm...what does a social architect do?" In the time it takes to wipe the drool from my tongue, I miraculously devise an answer that portrays my volunteer work, all my future aspirations, plus the "invisible" work of managing the money I inherited-as a skilled trade. Resuming her task, she remarks without wavering "That's interesting."
Allen's experience at the dentist represents some of the challenges that we (the editors of More than Money ) grapple with every day. In this issue, we explore some of the unique challenges people face who have the unusual privilege of not working for a living-whether for a few years or a for a lifetime. Why work at all, if you don't need the money? What's fair pay, if you're already rich? How necessary is earning money to your self-esteem? And if you don't earn money, what in the world do you say when people ask, "So what do you do?"
We found that people who earn their fortunes experience these questions quite differently from those who inherit them; and those whose money goes back many generations feel differently from those whose wealth is recent.
Although we interviewed people with wealth, we noticed that some challenges about work, money, and self-esteem cut across class lines: How can we claim the dignity of unpaid work-whether caring for a baby, sitting with a dying loved one, or fighting for stronger anti-toxics legislation-in a society that primarily measures value by dollars earned? How can we find work that's deeply life-sustaining in a culture where so many toil at alienating jobs, where money is too often used as a stick to drive us or a carrot to lead us on? People with wealth struggle with these issues, too.
If you browse the covers of magazines-in the supermarket line or in the business section of a university library-society's assumptions about money, work, and self-esteem are clear: the more money you earn, the more powerful and respected you become, and presumably, your self-esteem follows. While there's some truth to those assumptions, we believe they have been amply promoted elsewhere. Instead of repeating a common viewpoint, our goal for this issue is to show the ways people have been affected by these assumptions, challenged them, and experimented with different choices. We hope their stories will encourage you to examine your assumptions and open your heart to new possibilities about work.
- Anne, Christopher, and Allen
P.S We hope to return to the topic of work in a future issue, and we are interested in stories from readers with a financial surplus who nevertheless work out of financial necessity. In particular, what challenges do you grapple with in relation to those who have less? (e.g., those with lower status jobs, less compensation, the involuntarily unemployed, etc.) We welcome your stories -the editors.
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