Looking back over the decades, which have slipped by as inexorably as grains of sand obeying the call of gravity, I am dismayed that I have neglected for so long the importance of earning a high quality income. I believe that working in a job often falls well short of the mark in this respect. The security of so-called permanent employment has become a myth in the modern age.
In recent years I have directed more focus onto this critical theme and do so now with a far greater sense of urgency. As our perception of the diminishing supply of time intensifies, we value it ever more highly, as we would any precious commodity.
How can we assess the quality of an income that we are earning? Given the special significance of the number to The Knot Garden, it is not by coincidence that I have selected four criteria for this purpose. These are cost, reliability, scalability and self-fulfilment. As with any activity, we can also apply The Knot Garden’s fundamental framework in order to determine its relevance to the four universal values.
If you work for someone else, whether directly or as a contractor, you may be incurring a high cost in exchange for the remuneration you receive. This cost is exacted as a time commitment that is typically both large and inflexible, giving some credence to the term “wage slave”. Security, which along with money is meant to be a reward for one’s sacrifice, is often illusory. When the Credit Meltdown reached its crisis point in 2008, I was working for a major bank in New York. Ironically, after rescuing one its newly bankrupted competitors, the bank was obliged to lay off thousands of its own staff as those of the stricken entity were welcomed, cuckoo-like, into the nest.
When we compute the time cost of being an employee, we need to include travelling time, overtime and the need to provide out-of-hours support that can, at least in the IT world, result in rude sleep interruptions. I have attended my fair share of emergency conference calls at two-thirty in the morning following the failure of some “critical” system. It is hardly surprising that people sometimes look upon paid employment as a sort of prison sentence.
Job security is not something that an employer offers but rather it is a function of the skills and experience that we have acquired. These alone determine our value in the marketplace. This has nothing to do with employment status. We do not look down our noses at cleaners and roadsweepers, whose personal qualities may make them better human beings than many so-called “successful” individuals. But it is beyond dispute that their value in the marketplace is lower than that of a brain surgeon, a top corporate lawyer or the conductor of a famous orchestra. The latter are able to earn a more secure income.
Scalability is usually more viable when we work in our own business, although this depends on the nature of the services that we provide. It is not so important for the few people whose actual income is already high compared with their target income. For the rest of us it is a significant factor.
Finally comes self-fulfilment, which is also related to time – or opportunity – cost. This is where we need to apply The Knot Garden’s framework so that we can determine the extent to which our income generating activities are moving us towards the balance we seek between health, wealth, relationships and creativity.