137. It’s all about the money?
October 8, 2011 § 1 Comment
I’ve been in hiding for the past couple of days because I’m facing a lot of uncertainty about stepping out into the real world AND I AM CONFUSED!!!
You know, here’s the thing about life – it’s a relentless circle of ups and downs. Just as you think you’ve reached a happy place in your life (e.g., graduating high school, graduating college, landing a cool job, etc. etc. etc.), you realize that what you actually come across is ANOTHER uphill to climb! And the higher you go, things become more complicated and convoluted and the roads start twisting and intersecting and intertwining and some roads are well-traveled while others aren’t and you are like WTF am I supposed to do?!?!?
So now that I’ll soon be employed (my first day is November 1st!), here is my current “adultlike” preoccupation:
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ MONEY $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
Honestly, I’m not a big fan of money and the way that it skews people and taints relationships. That’s why I’ve tried to avoid it as much as possible. My family didn’t have much money as I was growing up and money was a touchy subject that we avoided because it bruised egos and begot worry lines on my parents faces. Naturally, I avoided the subject of money and I hated asking for money, negotiating for money, being in need of money, talking about money, and even thinking about money.
That’s not to say I don’t like buying stuff and all the pleasures money can provide for you. Don’t get me wrong, of course I’d rather have money than not have money – but money is just a weird and uncomfortable concept that I placed in the backburner of my mind in favor of more idealistic pursuits like “learning” and “passion” and “beauty” and “love.”
I still maintain my passion for idealism, but as I encroach my first full-time job and face financial independence, money is not to be ignored. Like, at all. Like, as in money is screaming in my face. It screams at me in many tongues and volumes, but I’ll pander on about one issue today.
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So here’s a common transgression of conversation that I’ve been experiencing these days:
Them: So, what are you doing with your life?
Me: I got a job
Them: Omg congratulations!
Them: What are you doing / What company will you be working for?
Me: I’ll be doing tech/designy/businessy stuff with a cool online retailer
Them: Awesome! Are they going to be paying you well?
Me: Uh…yes? no? maybe so???
That last question really bugs me. Because, well…I don’t know how to answer it. I’m not talking about the objective numerical value here – what perplexes me is the underlying principle. What does a salary mean? What does “being paid well” indicate?
…so I went for a run and started thinking about what it means to be employed.
What exactly is the company paying me for? Why are they giving me money?
The obvious answer is “you’re working for them.” Duh.
But let’s look deeper here. What is “work”? Work and employment comes in various forms, but essentially it is an exertion of one’s energy and time. This can mean physical labor via picking shrubbery, washing dishes, busing tables – or it can mean mental labor via interpreting the law, keeping numerical accounts, strategizing business plans, and so on.
The type of work I’ll be doing is of the latter sort and it got me thinking about the relationship between me and my employer. Essentially, employment is an of exchange of different commodities – I give my brainpower, work ethic, creativity, analytics, and time in exchange for a monetary amount we call “salary” (along with some other stuff) from the employer.
So “salary” means what exactly? I guess it indicates a tangible value the company puts on my brain and my energy. And for a business to thrive and from a numerical/HR point of view, an employee is valuable if and only if he/she brings more value to the company than what they pay you. In essence, the company needs to profit off of you in order to keep you around.
…Where am I going with this? I don’t really know.
But it’s weird isn’t it? Once you’re employed and kind of in the real world, you can be seen as a commodity. And your value is represented numerically by “salary” or “net worth” or “assets minus liabilities” or whatever other fancy terms people like to use. Oh, my favorite is the “credit score” which is basically like your SAT score for life and personhood in the United States.
But the thing is, how are you supposed to know what your inherent value is? How do you put a price tag on your brainpower? What factors determine your market price? Is it relative to what your peers are making? Is there a “Big Man” up there that stickers a price tag on you? How does this system work?!?
…And then when I think about who I’m making money for…which, in essence, are the big investors and stockholders and etc…I get super weirded out because I start wondering how much are they making? And who are they working for? And round and round we go~
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Anyways. Okay, let’s get a bit more grounded here. I’m super stressing these days because I’m apartment hunting and thinking about personal finances and how much I’m supposed to spend on housing vs. saving. vs. investing vs. buying stuff vs. taxes vs. utilities vs. wondering about my parents retirement vs. brothers college vs. blahblahblahblahblahblah omg. And with parents who are not really in tune with the American monetary system or multi-generational relationships with family-friend tax accountants and lawyers, where do you start?!?
Le sigh. Sometimes, I do wish I had the benefit of a rich uncle who knew all the answers. Or the networking-savvy personality who can sliver his/her way into insider circles and whatnot. Unfortunately, I don’t fall within either of those categories so off to the shelves we go!
If anyone’s as confused as I am about finances, here are three books that serve as a good entryway into the intimidating world of personal finance and investment strategies:
1. On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance by Harvard MBAs Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar. A good start for personal finance newbies. An no, you don’t have to be a female to reap the benefits of this clean-cut simple yet extremely informational book (image via manishathakor.com).
2. My next recommendation for finance newbies is The Random Walk Guide to Investing by Burton G. Malkiel. I haven’t personally tried any of the methods in this book (uh, you kinda need money to start investing. darn.), but apparently this guy knows what he is talking about when it comes to safe investing (image via tower.com).
3. And for a less conservative and intriguingly bold approach to personal finances, superseller Rich Dad Poor Dad is quite a juicy read. Author Robert Kiyosaki’s methods make my money-conservative heart beat a little quicker, but the author is quite compelling and persuasive. Again, I haven’t personally tried his methods so I am in no way recommending you go out and start buying/selling houses and whatnot – but it’s a different perspective so it’s worth reading (image via wikisummaries.org).
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And one last thing before I go. Goodbye and thank you sir Steve Jobs.
The man’s words and actions I really took to heart. They fueled my gap year of amazing randomness, they imbued confidence in me when my parents were discouraging, and encouraged me to really follow my inner voice which led me to get hired at a cool company. And who knows where else they will guide towards.
Thank you Mr. Jobs. You continue to inspire.
“Keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”