Thinking About Work and Money

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work and money

“The mercenaries will always beat the draftees, but the volunteers will crush them both.” – Chuck Noll

Work is good. My good friend, Tony Evans, a pastor in Dallas says that we were created to work. “Before Adam had Eve, he had a job,” he says. Work is good. Adding value is positive. I’ve seen it time and time again: high school and college students trying to figure out what they are going to do — and why. Ultimately, it’s not really a career question. What am I going to do with my life? We all need to answer the deep questions of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment in life. But don’t be paralyzed over your career choice.

Men who have been in one line of work for over three decades are becoming dinosaurs. Even within my industry, I’ve had seven employers. What you’re doing today probably won’t be what you are doing in the distant future and possibly not even the near future. Rather than making choices on the basis of money, however, select something that you want to do. It’s great to love your work, and a blessing to enjoy it.

As the head coach, Coach Noll was concerned not only for our physical well-being but also for the emotional health of the team. He loved the quote above because of its truth. People who are forced into something will be least effective, while those with an external motivation (money, in the case of mercenaries) will be effective to a point. However, those with internal drive, who have signed on for the endeavor because their hearts are in it, will rise to the top. Money may get you started, but it won’t be enough to sustain you when the times become difficult.

Coach Noll told me repeatedly that I should “never make a job decision based on money”– first when I was a player then when I was one of his coaches. He wasn’t disparaging money or its ability to allow you to do things in life but rather making sure that I understood it’s limitations. All too often, I’ve seen players in this era of salary caps forced into making a tough decision. They loved playing for the Colts, they fit perfectly into our offense or defense, they really liked their teammates and coaching staff, and their wives and families were comfortable in Indianapolis. On top of that, they’re having fun. Then another team would offer them $2 million more than we could pay them. When those players came into my office and ask me what they should do, I have to admit, I wasn’t always comfortable giving them the advice Coach Noll gave me. I worried about it sounding self-serving — that I wanted them to stay with us and take less money because they could have helped us win. But the truth is, in most cases, it really is better to disregard the money. It’s just hard to do. They have so many people telling them that they would be crazy not to leave. What about their  future, their financial security? What about providing for their families?

It’s easy to compare dollars to dollars and, when we have the opportunity to earn more, it’s tempting to think, “This is best for my family.” or “That employer values me more.” or “That team (or company) respects me more.” The reality is, however, money isn’t really a good measure of what’s best for you or your family. In fact, the more you base critical decisions on monetary evidence, the more your children will come to believe that money is the most important thing in your life. And ultimately, in theirs.