When my father used to tell me that I needed to learn the value of money, I used to roll my eyes (just a bit!). After all, it wasn’t like I was loose with my money, that I didn’t know that it was something important. I always thought that I was pretty responsible with my money; plenty of other kids would go out and spend ten times more than I on food and clothes and movies. But I suppose I took what he said to heart, and even though I thought he was just being critical of me, I always kept his words in the back of my mind. What is the value of money?
College took me along a funny a path with respect to my ideals about money. At some point, it occurred to me that the path I wanted to walk was that of an academic, or at least of a scholarly person. I wanted to devote my life not in the pursuit of money, but in the pursuit of beauty and justice (and the other naive things young people brazenly devote themselves to).
This fervor of youth coalesced as a statement: “Money isn’t important.” My idea wasn’t that money had no value, but that money wasn’t what anyone should work for or make the sole object of their lives. But when my parents heard me tell them this, they gave me a reaction I hadn’t been expecting. I guess I was expecting them to recognize the wisdom of what I was saying, to be proud that I wasn’t going to try and fill my life with money and transient pleasures. The reaction I received instead? Concern. They were concerned that I wasn’t taking the world of money seriously, and that I would one day regret not having the money to pursue the things that I wanted, not just for myself, but for my children and my loved ones.
And I knew this, really, I did! But I suppose that there was something in what they were saying. And I thought about my father’s oft repeated admonition about learning the value of money. In my time on my own, have I really learned what exactly that was?
So I’ve been thinking about what money meant, to me and to the world. I suppose I had bought into the whole “Money is evil.” philosophy, at least in part. And in truth, money really does bring out the worst in people far more often than it should. But how else could the world be more efficient? Barter? Communism? Anarchy? I don’t really think any of these are good alternatives. Money seems to work just fine, despite the existence of greed.
What I’ve realized about money is that it is important, but not for the reasons that most people think. Money isn’t important because you need it to get the things you want. If anything, this view of money, as innocent as it is, is where greed finds its ground in us. The real importance of money is beyond this. Money, as I see it, is a representation of the value of your work: the more valuable your work is, the more money you should make. It’s the price of your ideas, of your character, and of your will. It’s how the world separates those who wish to contribute from those who don’t. Money is your reward for contributing to the world.
For those of you who would claim that you do work that no one recognizes the value of (at least as far as getting paid is concerned), then do more. I’m not telling you homeless shelter volunteers to stop volunteering at the homeless shelters, I’m telling you to also go out and do something about homelessness. Work in the government and improve the system. Become an entrepreneur and create jobs. Learn science and design a better future for everyone. It’s possible to hold on to your romantic visions of human love and whatnot while still making money. Really, it is.
The main problem with the system as it is now is that it’s already filled with a crap ton of people who make a lot of money but contribute extremely little beyond their own spending. On top of that, there’s an entire legion of young people that’s entering the world of business with dollar signs for eyeballs, hoping to live their lives by contributing to the business of money rather than to the business of people. And you can trust my opinion on that: I went to school with a lot of these people. To those of you who would write me off as one of those Occupy Wall Street hipsters, I’m gonna write you off as useless pricks (pardon the language). And you really are!
Let it be known that I don’t blame anyone for having this attitude towards money: it’s natural and perfectly fine to want things. I simply think that people have a poor attitude towards work. No one wants to work hard anymore. We live in a time where people use excuses like “I’m not a genius.” and “I’m not gonna make the next hot thing.” to duck into finance and business. Rather than mope around about how you’ll never make money because you’re not smart enough or not talented enough, why not become smart? Why not become talented? Why not prove that you can create a better world? If you don’t make the money you want at first, then become more than what you are.
The world has formed the belief that work is solely for the money. And this isn’t the case! It should never be the case. Work is for the betterment of the world around you, for the improvement of self. If your idea isn’t getting you want you want, then make a new idea! If someone creates a better version of your product, make an even better one! No one’s saying that that is an easy task, or that there won’t be competition; it’s hard and there will be a lot of competition! Just aspire to be more than you are, to be better than you were yesterday, and you will find that this is enough to get you the things you desire.
I don’t know if this is at all what my father intended to teach me about the importance of money, but this is what I have learned. I don’t want to make money for the sake of money, I want to make money because my ideas have value, because my work makes an impact on the world around me. I want to make a contribution to the progress of man; the money will come if I am worthy of it. If it doesn’t come, then I simply have to try harder, innovate better, and think more. It’s really as simple as that.