In a shareholder letter published last year, Warren Buffett gave some interesting advice to college students. When looking for a career, he says, “don’t think about the money.”
“I have urged that they seek employment.” writes Buffett, “in (1) the field and (2) with the kind of people they would select if they had no need for money.”
Of all people, Warren Buffett is certainly someone who “thinks about the money.” A guy that trades stocks for a living can’t help but think about it. Yet there’s time-honoured truth to what he’s saying, and it boils down to personal satisfaction, one that surpasses paycheques and perks.
Don’t think about the money
Warren Buffett goes on to explain how he and his friend Charlie began working in the grocery store of Buffett’s grandfather. The years were 1940 and 1942, and they performed remedial tasks that were boring and did nothing to satisfy them.
Even after Charlie took up law and Buffett began trading stocks, two jobs that certainly earned them more money than stocking shelves, they both felt dissatisfied. At that point, it wasn’t the tasks that bored them: they both liked what they were doing. Rather, it was the people they were around and the environments they worked in.
As Buffett says, it was only when they founded Berkshire Hathaway that both Charlie and Buffett began to find a deep satisfaction in their work. They started working around people they liked, people they could call their families.
What does that mean for you? Well, he makes a salient point about working around people you like. You may not have the opportunity to create your own business, hiring your best friends, but you can choose companies you actually want to work for. You can choose companies that align with your values, who produce products or services that contribute to the good of society, whose vision for the future is something you believe in and want to push.
Or maybe it’s not about values. Maybe you just want a company that respects you, treats you right, honours your personal responsibilities, gives you flex time when you need to take care of your sick kid, or understands when you’re sick yourself.
Either way, Buffett’s advice is good: don’t use money as the deciding factor. Consider your personal integrity, longevity, and satisfaction. Do you really want to work for a company that pays you more but treats you less? You do have a choice: you can say no.
What if you have to think about the money?
Buffett’s advice is excellent, but only for a certain audience: those people who have the luxury of not having to think about money.
What about those students who are deep in debt and have no choice but to think about money? What about those who weren’t born with generational wealth, who don’t have an inheritance to fall back on, or who can’t withdraw money from the bank of Mom and Dad?
When money problems plague you, when you can’t fall asleep at night because you’re worried about paying the bills, then a job that you don’t love but earns you more might be necessary. But perhaps even then you can create an exit strategy. Buffett himself suggests this. As he says in his letter:
“Economic realities, I acknowledge, may interfere with that kind of search. Even so, I urge the students never to give up the quest, for when they find that sort of job, they will no longer be “working.”
Never give up on the quest. That, I think, is good advice.