Who Do You Work For?

Yesterday, I made a feeble attempt to explain what I now do for a living to an eighty eight year old woman as we stood in line at Fareway. The line was pretty long and I had helped her earlier in the store to put some cat litter in her cart, so I said hello to her and we struck up a conversation. When she asked what I did, I told her I was a writer, but when she asked “For who?” the only answer I could think of was my audience. That didn’t seem to be much of a good way to make money and so she basically just started pretending I wasn’t there, thinking I was some sort of crackpot or something.

Me being me, though, I couldn’t help but think about her question. Who do I work for? It’s a question that seems to have an easy answer, but it gets complicated really quick and it gets into some interesting personal finance territory.

At First Glance, I Work For…
When I first look at the question, the answer seems fairly obvious. I work for my readers. You guys are in many ways my boss – if I don’t keep writing compelling stuff, you stop visiting. In that sense, I aim to please – I usually try to select ideas that will interest you guys and try to curb at least some of my tendencies away from that (and towards quirky humor or my own personal beliefs).

For most people, it’s also very easy to answer this question at first glance – it’s whoever your employer happens to be at the moment. I work for Ford. I work for Chevron. I work for the Iowa Department of Transportation. I work for the law firm of Dewey, Cheatum, and Howe.

At Second Glance, I Work For…
But that’s not really who we work for. Almost everyone has to exchange some of their time or some of their personal value for money. We make that exchange because we get something in return out of it. Among them:

Money This is the biggest thing that many of us work for. That money translates into a roof over our heads, food on the table, and things we enjoy.

Fulfillment Some people are personally fulfilled by their work – I know I am. Their jobs bring them personal joy and make their lives better. Writing is a huge creative outlet for me – most of the time, it leaves me feeling invigorated as a person. There are many others, though, that don’t get this kind of fulfillment from their work.

Prestige Others work for the prestige of their job. They like to be seen as prestigious by others and often that becomes a major factor in what they choose to do. “How will this affect my image?”

Other needs There are countless other reasons why we do the work we do. Perhaps it’s because of our significant other – we’re forced to find work in a certain area because of their job. Maybe it’s because of your own specific talents and skills, whether you enjoy the work or not. Some people even choose jobs because it makes their parents happy.

In the End, I Work For Me
These reasons all lead back to a handful of key sources. Maybe the sources are personal in nature, like fulfillment and prestige. Maybe you need to work at this job to keep food on the table for your kids. Maybe you’re working to make your parents proud.

Those reasons all have one thing in common: you. Never, ever lose sight of the fact that you’re the one in control here. It is your choice.

You work for yourself. You make the decision to work at your job because of a collection of positives and negatives that led you to believe that your current place is the right one for you. If another offer came along with a better balance, would you not take it?

Looking at your job through this lens brings some new things into focus. What are the things you value most in your life? For me, I value my wife and children the most, followed by personal fulfillment and also a desire to help/uplift others. Other issues – personal prestige, the opinions of my family and others important to me, and higher wages – didn’t really mean that much in comparison to the big reasons. Once I realized that, I found that switching to becoming a full time writer from my previous attempts at writing on the side while maintaining another career was the right choice for me.

What are the core things that are most important to you? Is your current career situation maximizing those core things and minimizing the negatives? If they’re not, isn’t that alone a good reason to switch?

Try this exercise. Consider the three most important things in your life. Your spouse? Your children? Your prestige in the community? Enough income so that you can play on the weekends? A flexible schedule? What are the most important things for you?

Then list the positives and negatives of your current job in comparison to these things. For me, my current job leaves me feeling very fulfilled (positive) and it gives me more time to spend with my wife and kids (positive), but it doesn’t earn as much which worries me a bit about the long-term future (negative). How big are each of those things? For me, it was an overall positive, because I believe my fulfillment and passion will carry us through.

What about your other career options? What sorts of positives and negatives do they hold? Consider everything – even switching to a convenience store clerk has some advantages (basically no stress and no overlap between job and life). How do those advantages and disadvantages match up with what’s personally important to you? If you have an option in mind that’s an overall positive compared to where you’re at right now, look very seriously at making a switch.

In the end, you work for yourself. That means you call the shots in the end. If there’s a better opportunity for you out there, take it.

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