Ruth Ann Harnisch is currently serving on the board of directors of More Than Money, the Nashville Symphony, Women In Numbers, and the board of governors of the International Association of Coaches. She also serves on several advisory boards. Ms. Harnisch is president of the Harnisch Family Foundation and is also a personal coach.
I am literally immersed in my ultimate fantasy get-away. Surrounded by a white powder beach under an unimaginably blue sky, I am waist-deep in Fortune Bay, and I'm working. I am conceptualizing a project for a nonprofit organization, I am thinking about what I must do to meet a deadline, I am plotting my next steps with a challenging client. Yes, I'm working, even though I won't be paid in dollars.
A strong work ethic is one of the most enduring legacies of my upbringing. I come from a working-class family in a working-class town. From earliest childhood, I knew one thing for sure: I was expected to get a good job and earn money. I got my first W-2 form (an employer's government-required Wage and Tax Statement) when I was 15 years old. I seldom had just one job at a time. I did various combinations of clerical, secretarial, and telemarketing work. For nearly a decade, I had three simultaneous full-time jobs working different shifts for three different employers. I slept little, had few days off, and people wondered how I did it. I never stopped to wonder "how" because I was so focused on "why." I did it for money.
When asked if I enjoyed my jobs in television, radio, and newspaper, I used to say, "If you have to work for money, this is great work." The operative phrase was "if you have to work for money." Thanks to my wealthy and generous husband, it is highly unlikely that I will ever have to work for money again. Our financial advisor says current tax laws make it counterproductive for me to do so unless I earn significant sums.
This completely contradicts my cultural conditioning and raises questions, such as:
- Do I have a need to work that has nothing to do with money?
For now, the answer is yes. Perhaps it's the sense that much is expected of those to whom much is given. I have experience, skills, talents, and energy that I can apply creatively and constructively, and I feel an inner obligation to do so. I suspect I'll always feel a compulsion to "do something." My challenge is to embrace the concept of "being without doing," which is tough for a person who feels lazy and slothful when not fully engaged in productive activity.
- Do I need to work in order to have an identity?
I have never felt that I am what I do for money. However, a paying job does provide a definitive answer to the question, "What do you do?" My current answer to that question depends largely on who is asking and/or whether or not I feel the need to justify my existence at that moment. One of my friends answers the "What do you do?" question by saying, simply, "I enjoy my life." I admire her level of comfort with herself. I'm not there yet.
- Should I try to generate as much income as possible in order to have more to give away?
To generate significant income would require so much of my time, attention, and energy that it would disrupt our family life, so that's not the right choice for me at this time. But I appreciate those wealth creators who keep working long after their material desires are more than satisfied. They produce more, which they then share with others. (They will share whether they want to or not-the government insists upon it.)
- If I work for pay, am I taking work from someone who really needs the paycheck?
When I realized that I worked for pleasure because I no longer needed the paycheck, I had one of the best-paid positions at my place of employment. If I had quit, that money would not necessarily have gone to someone who "needed" it. So I continued to take the money and used it to meet the needs of others. When that job ended, I never accepted another paycheck. I know that the universe has infinite resources and there is enough for everyone. I also know that most people who work do so because they need money, and I'm not willing to compete with them for paying jobs.
- If I don't get paid for the work I do, does that mean my work is "worthless?"
This society uses dollars to keep score. But I don't like the rules of that game. Essential functions like teaching, police work, and military service score low in the pay game. Bearing and rearing children scores lower. Who would say these jobs are worthless? I am confident that what I do has value even if it doesn't have a dollar value to put on my tax return.
- How can I expect others to value my work if I don't get paid?
Some people won't value my work if I don't put a price on it, and when I encounter such people, I ask them to pay me by making a specific, dollaramount contribution to the charity of my choosing. Some people who value my work insist on paying for it. I'll suggest a charitable contribution, or I might ask that the person "pass it on" by donating some of his or her professional services to someone who can't afford to pay.
- What are my "office hours?"
At a recent More Than Money gathering, one of our members admitted that she works many more hours as a volunteer than she ever did as a salaried employee. "Maybe I feel guilty that I don't have to work for money. Or maybe I think that because I don't work 9-to-5 I have no right to say 'no' when somebody asks me to serve on a committee or chair an event," she said.
A formal job with regular office hours has defined boundaries. If your home is your base of operations, people may assume you're not really working, or, conversely, they may assume that you're on duty 24/7. I've addressed this problem by moving from a home office to an office outside the home, and by setting office hours. (OK, I set them. That doesn't mean I always abide by them.)
- How can I justify hiring support staff for work that brings in no money?
Simple. I can afford it and I need the help. Donor-organizer Tracy Gary says she's responsible for the hiring of more personal assistants than anyone in the country. She says that of all the things she teaches people, the lesson for which they're most grateful is that hiring assistance is one of the best things to do with money.
- Isn't managing our family life a full-time job?
It is for me. What we build, what we buy, where we go-the amount of money at stake in our financial decisions makes our family life a business. I'm the most qualified person to run some divisions of the "family life business," and it is work.
- What's the difference between work and play?
Taking money out of the work equation has made it easier for me to view tasks and projects as a form of play. Everything I do that I call "work" is something I enjoy doing and feel blessed and grateful to be able to do. In the days when I did work I hated to get money I needed, a vacation was a temporary prison break. Now, when I have a chance to bask in the Caribbean sunshine, I'm not escaping from my work-I'm bringing it along as a welcome travel companion.
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