Money creates most of the tensions in the workplace. I’m not questioning the importance of money but how, in our society, we’ve allowed money to dictate our emotions. “I deserve more”, “I’m not fairly compensated”, “People in other companies value (pay) people more”, “why is X making more money than I do?” — these are some of the most common phrases that you hear in the workplace. Money has turned into emotional currency that directly correlates to self-esteem.

Don’t get me wrong, getting paid for doing work is rewarding. The challenge is that most of the workforce sees money as the main source of recognition. But at what point does money get in the way?

According to a Princeton study, your emotional well-being — or happiness related to day-to-day experiences — doesn’t get any better after your household is earning roughly $75,000. When people earn more, their expectations rise at a higher proportion, feeling less happy about their life and accomplishments.

Throughout my career I’ve encouraged people not to put money first. To switch their focus on learning and building the right foundation rather than being obsessed about getting their next promotion. I normally get a lot of push back: “It’s easy to think that way from your position” — I’ve been told. Actually, it’s because I’ve put my beliefs into practice that I’m in this “position”, whatever that means. Hope my journey can inspire you to reflect on what your relationship with money has been.

Checks, Life and Milestones

I fell asleep and was late to my first day of my first job. Luckily, I wasn’t fired. Getting my first check was a huge accomplishment because it was my first real job, the means to pay for my college education. But it was also a reminder never to be late again.

When I was 18, an independent publisher helped me bring to life a book I wrote. Self-publishing wasn’t an option back then, I had to go to bookstore after bookstore to get my book in the shelves. I was very shy, so having to “sell” the book was really hard for me. Following up to see if any books were sold made me even more nervous. When the sales started rolling in, I felt extremely proud to collect the proceeds of my own creation (my first a entrepreneurial act). It wasn’t the money that made me happy, but the realization that I could overcome my own limitations and fear.

Fast forward in time, I sold a portion of a digital shop I’ve created to Havas Group. I remember my wife taking a picture of the upfront payment check to preserve that happy moment. Once again, it wasn’t about the money. To start my own company, I had to jump from the very top of the ladder. I quit a comfortable very-well-paid-job in the largest advertising agency in Argentina at the time. The picture didn’t just captured a check but also my will to abandon my comfort zone and start a new venture when Digital Marketing was just getting started. My wife and my six-month-old son fully supported my decision: that check was a collective reward.

I still remember the first time I was paid to speak at a conference, to write for a publication or to run a change leadership workshop. All those first-time experiences were full of joy: crossing that line that drove me into the unknown. Opportunities are not doors that are opened but the doors you cross. And nothing’s more rewarding than realizing that the greatest risk would have been not to cross them.

Don’t Let Money Decide For You

Receiving a nice paycheck for doing work that is not challenging enough for you, won’t offset your personal frustration. Actually, some of the best-paid workers in the U.S. are actually quite miserable in their jobs.

You don’t need to ask for a raise to get one. I never did in my 25 years as a professional. The less I asked for, the more opportunities I got. When I focused my energy on getting something (a new opportunity or role), nothing happened, I felt dry. It was only then, when I stopped looking for things, that opportunities started showing-up surprisingly unexpected.

If you feel you want to leave a job, quit. Don’t use a job offer to get a salary raise in your current job. It will backfire on you. We tend to believe that broken links can be repaired with money but, soon enough, we realize it was only an illusion.

If you have clarity on what you want to do next, do it. It’s easier than you think: just listen to your internal voice. When I quit a job to move to a new position, I was offered one new thing after another on a daily basis. It was flattering to say the least, especially considering that the transition-off took a month. Luckily, I had the clarity not to fall in the money trap and followed my gut. I don’t regret any decision. Looking back can only bring remorse when you start building hypothesis of what might have happened if you took a different path. Always look forward, always move forward.

Be clear on what you want. The reason why people leave a job is not the same that motivates them to take another. Organizations try to “retain” talent without realizing this difference. Don’t let counter-offers, additional benefits or, simply put, money get on your way. Ask yourself, is “ fixing” what’s not working at your current place, good enough? Is there a new thing that’s igniting your curiosity about the new opportunity? If that’s the case, pursue it.

If you want to start a new career path, don’t let money be the excuse. If you want to do something, do it. Downsize, reduce your fixed costs, adjust your lifestyle to get where you really want to be. It’s better to sacrifice small stuff in the short-term than to postpone your happiness forever. You have to crouch before you can jump.

Don’t Give Your Work For Free (except occasionally)

Don’t get confused, that paychecks have been close to your achievements or milestones, you shouldn’t allow money to drive yours emotions. Don’t wait to get paid what you deserve to start feeling proud about your work. Don’t let money be an indicator of your success or define the quality of your work. Doing something that is purposeful to you, that’s what matters in the end.

Enjoy what you do and take risks. Make sure that what you do is meaningful to those who will benefit from your work too. Don’t give your work for free to those who don’t want to pay for it because they simply don’t care or just see what you do as “just work”. Don’t give your work for free to those who will take the credit but would never share the credit.

Don’t give your work for free, except for those who don’t have the resources to pay you. Give your work for free to those who are starting up and need a hand in kicking-off their venture. Be mindful with your “free” work. Avoid helping cause-driven organizations if you don’t believe in that cause (don’t do free-work for selfish reasons). Don’t over commit: it’s frustrating when you can’t deliver on your commitments but it’s even worse for those who depend on your free-work-promises.

Most importantly, don’t sell your passion for free. Having to give up your soul to get paid for something you don’t like could feel worse that not being paid at all.

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