Life Lesson: Money vs Value

I made my way into the kitchen to fill my cup with java as I typically do every other hour on the hour. For the type of work I do, coffee is a must. Anyways, one of the accountants (let’s call him Larry) in the department walked in and started talking about his brother-in-law in Alberta who has recently retired, same age as him (mid-50’s I think). He proceeded to tell me how life is all about timing and decisions. In his words, life was about being in the right place at the right time.

So Larry proceeded to unload his “boo hoo me” perspective about how he, an educated  accountant, was unable to retire while his uneducated brother-in-law in Alberta was living his dream. I could certainly relate to how he was feeling, believe me, I was there! However, I grew up and frankly, I felt it was time for Larry to do to the same.

So I challenged him:

I told him it was highly ironic how an accountant couldn’t see the forest through the trees. He looked at me puzzled. I clarified, life in part is about money, yes, but what people tend to lose sight of when focusing on the dollar sign, is value.

I gave Larry an example:

Fresh out of graduate school, I moved back to PEI to appease my wife’s desire to be closer to home. We lived with my in-laws in the in-law suite for about three years. In my naïve mind, I expected every door in PEI to open to my Masters degree in economics. The reality, I was unemployed for close to a year, I worked in a call centre for a number of months, I worked for a term contract with government doing tax adjustments, and then got into insurance sales. My internal struggle: I had a masters degree from a top Canadian university and spent three years in career fucking misery in this province…yes, a tad bitter to say the least. Well tad may be an understatement…I was fucking bitter!

One day in my office, I reached a breaking point-I lost it. I ripped my framed university diplomas off the wall and fired them across the room, shattering glass all over the floor. I may have screamed too, but forget. Regardless, I turned to my laptop and proceeded to log in to a multitude of career sites applying for jobs in Ontario. I sent seven resumes that day and by the end of the week, I had four responses and two job offers, one with a major bank’s securities division. They asked me two questions: How much and when can I get to Toronto to meet management?

I was ecstatic by the opportunity and in my mind, the bags were packed and I was going-hell or high water! But I didn’t go. Something didn’t feel right so I made what I would describe in the moment, a heart-breaking decision to forego my trip to Toronto to meet my future bosses, choosing instead to stay and try to make it work in PEI. I did this for my family. Do I regret making this decision? At the time, yes I did. Now, absolutely not! Why? Because I stopped feeling sorry for myself and chose instead to be responsible and proactive in my life.

I learned a valuable life lesson: I perceived my life improving and being happier chasing the money and (potentially) rocking a financial career on Bay Street. What I failed to acknowledge at the time was the value I was accumulating in my life at the same time: I was home with my family every night and rarely missed a meal with them; I rarely missed a hockey game, a gymnastics practice, a school play and so on. Later in life, I became blessed with beautiful nieces and nephews, and was able to be part of their lives. I was able to watch my kids grow with their cousins and form bonding relationships that will last a lifetime. Being in PEI afforded me the opportunity to be part of so many peoples’ lives-people I grew to love, cherish and of course value.

Money-wise, sure I could be doing better, but if there was a way to attach a dollar figure to the perceived value in my life over the years, I’d say I’ve accumulated tremendous wealth. And all of it is tax free!

After my rant, Larry admitted he never thought of it that way. I believe he was enlightened after having shared my perspective with him. Me, I walked away, sipping my coffee, grateful to have had the opportunity to suffer a little bit in my limited thinking, which allowed me to better appreciate the value in my life.