I won’t tell you how much money I make, publicly. In private, though, you can ask me and I’m likely to divulge because I just don’t think it’s a big deal. Some people believe talking about money is tacky, but I wasn’t raised that way. And I figure if you’re asking, I have the discretion to know why you’re asking. Meaning, I can gauge if it’s to gloat, or just for curiosity’s sake.
My family is very open about money, maybe too much so. My dad would boldly inquire about someone’s salary and not think twice about how it might offend (but then he’s Danish, and we all know how they are). Money is not necessarily important in our family in the superficial sense, but it is a topic that most readily comes up at the dinner table.
I don’t know if people are put off by our openness or not. I think most of my family is fairly discreet when we engage with others, but that’s largely because people are so often squirmy about financial matters. I once knew a guy when we were both in our early twenties and working our way through school who bought a twelve-year-old Tercel. I looked over the parking lot as he pointed it out and commented about how clean it looked and how good it was that he’d finally found a car to his liking. I then asked how much he’d paid for it. Big faux pas, apparently, because he stopped short and primly stated that he didn’t like telling people that kind of info. I was kind of stunned – I didn’t really know how to respond. I mean, we were both poor students and it was clearly not a new Lexus. What’d it put him back, like eleven hundred bucks? Which unflattering conclusion was I supposed to have made with that knowledge? Would he have been equally cagey if I’d asked how much he’d paid for the chicken pot pie he’d eaten for lunch? I still don’t know.
See, when we’re all just starting out in the real world and we’re establishing our careers and finding out who we are, we have a lot to prove. And admitting you don’t make as much as one of your peers reflects poorly on you because, as we all know, the less you make, the less valuable, intelligent, and interesting you are.
But when you get older and everybody’s evening out and you realize that all your cohorts have their hardships and virtually nobody gets an easy ride (except that guy who won the lottery) and reality sets in, you stop being so hung up about it. You stop believing that your paycheque is directly related to your self worth. I mean, we all want more money and it’s easy to get full of ourselves if we get it – but we understand that it’s essentially a crap shoot. What isn’t a crap shoot is how GOOD you are with money. In my mind, that is something one can be proud of.
One thing I’ve definitely learned in my adult life is that compensation is very often not directly proportionate to one’s skills set. And it’s certainly not always the smartest folk who earn the big bucks. Yes, we should all work hard, be resourceful and educate ourselves. But that does not in and of itself determine who becomes financially successful. I think it’s largely a matter of what’s supposed to happen in the Grand Scheme of Things. All things being equal, two people can work similarly hard and achieve two very different outcomes. However, you can bet that the one who becomes successful will say that it’s because he is exceptionally bright and worked his fingers to the bone. Like Andy Rooney said, the more successful you are, the more likely you are to believe you deserve it.
I don’t think it’s weird to not want to publicize what you earn. And really, those who make good money might want to consider their audience, and their intent, before they disclose something like that. That said, if I’m having a down-to-earth conversation with somebody I trust and they ask me about it, I’ll tell them. However, my lips are sealed if I’m asked how much I forked over for my nine-year-old silver bullet with the cracked windshield and slow-leaking tire.