You’ve heard it a thousand times in the context of a thousand scenarios: Money isn’t everything. And you’ve probably heard it a whole lot in the wake of Visa CEO Charlie Scharf’s resignation last month—a resignation whose purpose he said was to be closer to family.
For Scharf (and for all of us), the old saying really is much more than a platitude. The problem is, we tend to leave it at that and walk away, feigning a state of enlightenment when, really, we don’t quite know what it means. Money isn’t everything—yep, sounds great! Most of us agree. A deeper consideration, though, reveals an important truth:
Money isn’t everything precisely because value is.
Value Is Everything, Because Everything Has a Value
And I mean everything. Money in the form of salaries, pension plans or fringe benefits is only worth something because we’ve attributed value to it. Consider the example at hand. Scharf quit Visa because, though quitting meant less money, it also meant more of something else that also had value to him—family. High-paid quitters often cite things like love or more free time because these things hold real value in a very literal sense.
If you think I’m pointlessly stating the obvious, it’s likely because you’re assuming I’m referring to the sort of “mystical” value we place on things like free time and love (i.e., the value of the poet’s variety: “Oh, the beautiful value of love,” and so on). But I don’t mean that at all. Don’t get me wrong, love and free time indeed have value in that mystical sense, but I suggest that, if we quit a job for one of these, it’s not for this mystical value as much as for a much more practical value, even if subconsciously. That is, love and free time have monetary value. As do friendship, engaging in sports, eating great food and all other manner of niceties life offers.
The Monetary Value of Happiness and Contentment
These things have monetary value because they increase our dopamine, serotonin and T-cell levels—and all kinds of other levels of “good things” our bodies produce which contribute to feelings of happiness. In a very real, biological sense, happy means healthy, and, in the long run, better health means more money. But these undercover currencies don’t stop there.
Many people I’ve known who’ve quit high-paying jobs for lower pay have done so to relieve burnout or to escape the clutches of a maniacal micromanager. In either case, these folks have jumped ship to find peace because peace has a monetary value as well—and for the same non-mystical, highly practical reasons as love and free time. “I’m at peace” is just another way of saying, “My brain chemistry is very well balanced, and, because of this, I can think straight.” A mind capable of operating efficiently is one capable of finding ways to make more money in the end.
What it comes down to is this: A fat salary is, admittedly, pretty awesome, but we’re destined to top out there if we fail to understand one important fact of life. It’s not only a big social mistake to focus our minds on cash money, we’re also making a huge financial error if we put all our eggs in the “literal-money” basket while neglecting those less obvious baskets—like investment in friends, family and ourselves—which may, in the end, have even greater ROI. Take a cue from Charlie Scharf and figure out the everywhere you really want to be.