On Meaning, Money and Motivation

Would you keep your job if you were told tomorrow that you wouldn’t be paid anything to do it?

I think for most of us, myself included, the answer to that question is a pretty clear hell no! (If your answer is yes, please share your story with us in the comments).

But think about it for a moment, wouldn’t it be better to not have to work for a salary? You’d be free to choose exactly what you’d work with, when you’d do it and with whom.

I think the best work is done by those whether they be employees, artists, business owners or self-employed contractors who don’t just work solely for the paycheck at the end of each month. In other words, the best work is done by those who think of the work they do as having value in itself, not because of the outcome it might or might not produce.

Allow me to take a slight detour. What’s the difference between children and most adults? Children find joy in play with no particular purpose. They just play because it’s fun. Adults often have a second (hidden) agenda in everything they do. They’re only doing things in order to get something else. They’re so goddamn serious and professional all the time (not everyone of course). Unfortunately, that eliminates the fun and joy because the focus is not on the action itself but on the anticipated reward, which often comes in the form of money.

Ultimately, I think becoming financially independent (FI) can change this pattern. Being FI basically allows a person to turn work into a kind of play, because the focus is on the work itself not the reward.

Some (adults) would say: “You want to turn work into play?! Are you serious? That would ruin the economy and the whole western civilization within days!”

Well, I’d argue that we would have a much better society with less stress, less mindless consumerism and less social pressure to climb the corporate ladder. A society with more personal freedom and more meaningful work where each individual gets to decide what’s meaningful to them.

In my opinion, the best motivator is not money, prestige or respect. It’s fun and joy. The most fulfilling moments in my life is always the very brief moments where I stop thinking and just feel the flow. Those moments almost always only happen when my actions have value in itself. Like skiing full-speed down a mountain slope or concentrating about writing this blogpost. That precious moment when you finally nail your first handstand.

One (obvious) thing I know about having fun, is that it cannot be forced. No one can tell you to have fun. You have to be free to choose how and when. There doesn’t have to be a why as having fun has value in itself.

However, in order to do work that has value in itself you’d have to be free to say no to work that is not enjoyable and does not have value in itself.

Simply put, most people do their best job when they have a high degree of freedom to choose when and how they’re going to solve a certain problem or do a specific work task. If we look even closer I’m sure we can agree that the most important, however, is why we do what we do.

A meaningful job is most wanted by everyone these days. Corporations, government institutions and other organizations have, of course, figured this out a long time ago so they’re all trying to attract the brightest talents through employer branding and fancy marketing.

But many employees have another big why: Money.

However, there seems to be a movement that young professionals to a higher extend are putting meaning before money. I think that’s a wonderful development as it forces organizations to create jobs with a higher degree of meaning and purpose. This also creates space for new innovations like the Danish start-ups Penstable and Voluntas.

If more young professionals reject the consumer lifestyle, and start to save and invest (preferably in innovative and sustainable companies), I think we’ll have a better, more innovative and healthy workforce that will be better suited to take on some of the challenges we face on a global scale.

Furthermore, we’ll see a more diversified labor market with a higher percentage of independent contractors, self-employed consultants, freelancers and business owners. If young professionals manage to make clever financial decisions from a young age, e.g. learning to save aggressively and invest wisely, and take advantage of the possibilities to start their own business or become self-employed it will transform working conditions to the better.

People will be more in control of their own destiny. There will be a lot more flexibility and most important more time to do the important things outside work, like raising kids, taking healthy naps and being of service to the local community etc.

4 Comments on “On Meaning, Money and Motivation”

  1. Hi WWE 🙂 I never did manage a handstand and I very much doubt I ever will 🙂
    You are perfectly right in this post. We should be inspired by what we do. We should enjoy it. My husband is one such person (lucky so and so!). I often ask him if he would retire early but he answers that he would miss his job too much. And he really means it!
    I recently watched a video showing the impact of the Universal Basic Income on a number of unemployed in Finland. They stopped worrying about money and got involved in creative projects and launched businesses. Looks like this UBI experiment is proving to be a big success! 🙂

    1. Hi Mrs. Freedom 🙂
      Well, I can only recommend practicing the handstand – when you get over that initial fase of the first 6 months it gets really fun 😉
      It sounds like you have a nice husband! Those people who love what they do are surely the most inspiring to be around. Fortunately, there’s lots of people who genuinely likes their jobs, and I’m hoping to become one them soon.
      I haven’t heard much about the UBI-thing in Finland, but from what you describe here it sure sounds interesting! Thanks for mentioning it here, I’d love to read more about it!

  2. Great post, WWE! I very much agree that our society would be much better off if people actually enjoyed their work and found meaning in it.

    Unfortunately, money will be the main driver for most people in a capitalistic society plagued by consumerism and minimal savings.

    If we started teaching kids basic personal finance in school, I think we could give more people the possibility of saying no to meaningless jobs and find meaningful jobs/activities to spend their time on instead.

    Just shared your post on Twitter. Now I’m off to try and find some meaning in my own job 😉

    1. Thanks a lot Carl, I’m happy you liked it!

      Money is a big motivator for many people, but maybe we’re going to see a small change in the future? It seems to me that movements like minimalism and frugal-lifestyle are becomming increasingly mainstream.

      I very much agree with you that there should be more focus on educating kids about finance! I sure wish I had known more about personal finance when I was younger, but I doubt I would’ve listened much if it came from a teacher 🙂

      Thanks for sharing my post, and good luck with your job!

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