The Best Money Lesson I Have Ever Learned
I respect everyone who makes a living by doing an honest job. To me, there’s no such thing as being ashamed of working: doctors, gardeners, cleaners, teachers—we are all needed in the world and play a particular role in the societies we live in.
Looking back on my life, I spent quite some years in school, including university. I held successful jobs in a big corporation, and I traveled the world with work. Professionally, I invested a lot of money, time, and energy into studying and growing in my career. I’ve gotten to learn a lot about history, mathematics, chemistry, biology, literature, and foreign languages.
Despite all that, there is one essential topic I would have liked the schooling system to prepare me for: knowing my own worth. This would include:
• Stop taking myself for granted and be aware of the value I was going to bring to any of my employers with my individual set of abilities, skills, natural gifts, and talents.
• Acknowledge the hard work and efforts behind my achievements instead of always aiming to improve myself or handle everything perfectly.
• And last but not least, understand the fact that getting paid for my knowledge and services is nothing but a fair game.
It wasn’t university that taught me the tight relationship between money and self-worth. I got to learn this lesson at School of Life, with a gardener as my teacher.
It all happened two years ago, on a beautiful summer day. At the time, my husband and I were living in Seoul, South Korea, in a house with a courtyard. Back home after five weeks in Europe, we could barely walk in the garden. The grass had grown very tall, and there was no chance for us to fix it with our basic gardening tools. We needed help from a gardener. We found one and were shocked with what he was charging for cutting the grass: $150 USD.
I wouldn’t say that was a massive amount of money. However, in our home country, Romania, a similar service would have been significantly cheaper—and that’s why we were so surprised with the price. We tried to negotiate, but that didn’t work out. “Take it or leave it; it’s totally up to you,” he said. “And if you decide to go for it, I can only come and fix it at 8 a.m. next Monday. For the rest of the week, I am already fully booked.”
Wow! That was so clear, assertive, and spot on!
We finally chose to pay the money. As agreed, the gardener came to our place the week after and cut the grass in 45 minutes. In the end, right before I was about to pay him, I saw a small hill of cut grass left and asked him to take it out of the garden. In my world, cutting the grass would have involved the complete process of cutting it and taking it out of our yard.
But things happened differently in the gardener’s world. “You only mentioned you wanted the grass cut, and this is why I am charging $150 USD. I could take it out, as well, but that’s another kind of work that comes with an extra amount of time. I could fix that for $50.”
Another shock, another insight. The guy had a very clearly defined value for every little service he was providing, and he was not doing anything else for free.
So here’s what I am taking with me from this experience: It reminded me of all the years I spent in the corporate world, offering late evenings and weekends for free in the hope that someday my bosses would appreciate it. The truth is that sometimes it happened, sometimes it didn’t.
It also got me thinking about the large number of people (and women, in particular) who give so much at work, hoping that, someday, they will be financially compensated for their efforts. So many people stay underpaid, not having the courage to initiate a money discussion with their employers, as if that was a generating source of conflict and confrontation.
In case this rings the bell for you, always remember this: Self-confident people are more likely to negotiate their salaries or ask for a raise from a place of self-respect and personal power. Blaming others for taking our money, time, love, or attention is unfair because we always choose how much we give and to whom.
For you to get the best things life has to offer, you must also know you’re worthy of receiving. And when you value yourself, others will value you, as well.