Your Career and Your Relationship With Money

Spending Money by 401(K) 2012
Spending Money, a photo by 401(K) 2012 on Flickr.

The beliefs and feelings we hold about work are intertwined with our attitudes about money. What a complicated soup! Many of us feel that making a lot of money is more important than practically anything else, certainly more important than something as abstract as “happiness.” Others stay in a job earning far below their potential and maintain a vague sense that they don’t deserve wealth or that money is somehow a bad thing.

Where do these attitudes come from and why do they have such a hold on us? Generally we form our beliefs when we’re children. We soak up messages from the adults around us, especially the unspoken ones. Before starting kindergarten, children already have a strong sense about money, richer people, poorer people.

Even if we change our opinions about money in adulthood, strong feelings that get instilled in childhood are deeply rooted. And few things touch on our feelings as powerfully as money. This is especially true in American culture, where money holds a central place and we evaluate each other by how much of it we have.

What beliefs did you develop about money at a young age, and how do they affect your current career position? You can get insight about this by thinking and writing about a few questions:

  • What did your father believe about money? Your mother?
  • How about your aunts, uncles and grandparents?
  • The kids at school — who was well off, who wasn’t, and how did you feel about each?
  • Was your community middle class? Affluent? Poor? A mixture?

In the coming weeks we’ll be looking at the story of a woman named Cheryl, whose early lessons about money had everything to do with her career. Cheryl’s family members were outspoken about money and wealth, and their actions spoke even more loudly. And they certainly had their opinions about work.

We’ll join Cheryl just after she is laid off from a career that has been draining her energy. She’ll move from there kicking and screaming to an exploration of what she really wants to do with her life and a new sense of freedom.


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