Why Do You Work

Thank You Mrs. Arsenault

My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Arsenault, taught me a wonderfully important lesson all because she was at her wits end with the crowd of rambunctious 10 year-olds she was teaching.  Even as a ten year old you could tell Mrs. Arsenault did not want to teach us that day.  I think she wanted to knock some sense into us.  With a very exasperated voice she asked a simple question – “Why do you come to school?”  It seemed easy enough.  Kids raised there hands and had all kinds of great answers.

  • “For recess”
  • “To see my friends”
  • “To get away from my younger brother”
  • “To give my mother a break from me”

Focus on the Main Reason

Mrs. Arsenault was not pleased with any of the answers and all the answers seemed legitimate to the 10 year-old me.  Finally, she had to tell this class the reason we go to school.  “You come to school to LEARN.”  I guess that day we had not been acting like we wanted to learn anything.  Yet, that one sentence has stuck with me ever since.  I think of it whenever I feel like all the extras are overpowering the main objective in any activity or project I am doing.   I think of that one sentence often when I talk with women about their salaries.

The Main Reason to Work

Time and time again, the women I meet ask me about salary negotiation but then they talk about everything but salary. Even though they know they are underpaid, the flexibility of a job, the friendships developed, the kindness of the boss, and the purpose of the work often come up as to why THIS job is worth keeping even if they can’t negotiate a larger salary.   What would Mrs. Arsenault ask in this situation?  “Why do you work?”  Sense of purpose, mental engagement, physical engagement, developing friendships, and flexibility are all secondary reasons to the main one. Have you thought of it yet?   You work to earn MONEY.  Does that seem overly simple?  Am I stating the obvious?

I wish I were stating the obvious but the fact that we work for financial reasons gets lost very often for women.   I have no hard science to prove this but I do have the anecdotal evidence.  Seth Godin wrote a short post with the opposite position that we focus on the money too much.  I think that may truly be the difference between men and women.

We can achieve all the secondary goals for working in other arenas.  Volunteer for a sense of purpose; get a hobby for mental or physical exertion; nurture friendships from school and the neighborhood instead of augmenting them with work friends.   The one goal that is very hard to replace is earning money.  Sure you may win the lottery but you can get struck by lightening much easier.  You really can’t depend of the lottery.

Three Times to Focus on Money

Focusing on the money does not need to be a full-time endeavor.  It needs to be a primary focus when applying to jobs, when accepting jobs, and annually as you review the status of your current job.  All the other items still are in play but they need to be in the backseat during these three important moments.

Be mindful of the minimum you are willing to be paid when applying to jobs.  We all need to keep a roof over our heads and if you know a certain type of job, company, or industry is low paying it is doubtful that you will get the financial security needed.  When accepting a job make sure you know the going rate for the particular job and negotiate for the best pay possible.  You are NEVER IN AS POWERFUL A POSITION as when the company offers you a job and before you accept it.  Use these moments to your advantage.  Finally, once a year you should take an audit of how things are with your job.  Has the salary range for your job increased?  Has your industry become hot? Are you making what you could if you were to change companies? Still consider the soft aspects of the job such as sense of purpose, friendshps and lifestyle fit but don’t forget about the money.

Thanks Mrs. Arsenault for such a great life lesson.