One of my good friends in middle school — I’ll call him J— came from a poor family and lived in a trailer park with his mother. His parents had divorced at an early age (I later found out his father was abusive).

I’d often go over to his place after school. Dinner most nights would consist of Taco Bell and the only time he would spend money on entertainment was for the $1 movie theater. Otherwise it would be skate boarding and riding our bikes around town.

Through knowing him it was the first occasion in my life where I came to understand the terms “child support money” and “food stamps.”

At that time we were just kids and having fun, so I didn’t put too much thought into the large discrepancy between his circumstances and a lot of my other friends, who all lived in nicer houses with pools and big TVs. I’d hang out with them too, of course. But in my eyes we were all just friends that lived in different places.

One day I remember distinctly thinking, “Wow, J. lives in this really shitty place and doesn’t eat well, never met his dad, and doesn’t have any money. But I’ve never heard him complain. He’s one of the nicest guys I know.”

He really was one of the nicest guys I knew.

Later when we got into high school, contrary to what you might expect, a lot of the rich kids around me started selling drugs.

They had their parents money and were bored out of their minds (I lived in southern Arizona so I suppose there wasn’t much to do). They’d also throw wild parties that totally got out of hand. The first time I heard of the term “date rape” was from one of my richer friends. Some of them overdosed on heroine.

My friend J, on the other hand, was too busy trying to make ends meet.

He was a hustler.

He was already working 2 jobs as a waiter and car mechanic. He’d have the occasional beer on Friday’s but he didn’t have the time or money for drugs. He wanted to support his mom and cousin.

His dream was to open a small car shop modifying sports cars. A legitimate business that he could pass on to his kids.

Eventually, J started the car shop. It took him a while, but he did it. He’s doing what he wants to do.

And despite all of the crap he’s been through, I still haven’t heard him complain once.

Ok, so how does this relate to salaries?

J’s character was of course formed by a myriad of social factors and influences that we can’t totally account for — from his genetics, childhood and experience with friends.

The point I am trying to make — and I do have a point —  is that when you’re coming from the bottom of the ladder, you have to learn how to navigate the world. You have to depend on others and learn how to build trust. You need the support of the community.

According to one study, the less money you have the more empathetic you are. Here’s a quote from the research paper.

“Lower-class individuals have to respond chronically to a number of vulnerabilities and social threats. You really need to depend on others so they will tell you if a social threat or opportunity is coming and that makes you more perceptive of emotions.”

Does that mean the higher your salary, the less empathetic you are?

Of course not.

Some of the financially wealthiest people dedicate their lives to helping others and donate billions to philanthropic causes.

A higher salary only becomes a problem when you attach your value and self-worth to it.

The typical logic is if your salary goes up, that must mean you are more valuable to the company and consequently somehow more “important.”

Well, you might be more valuable, but it can start to get to our heads.

We think:

“No way I’ll accept a lower salary, it’ll be a step down!”

But there it is — we’re just attaching our value to money.

This is usually not intentional and it’s just our ego that’s taking. Remaining humble can be difficult for people when you throw money at them.

When this happens, then power starts to corrupt.

Or people get sad.

This is usually not intentional and it’s just our ego that’s talking. Remaining humble can be difficult for people.

When this happens, then power starts to corrupt.

What happens if that salary number suddenly goes down? Do you lose your sense of self worth?

Or what happens if your salary goes up and then plateaus, does it make you feel like you’ve stopped growing?

Or what if you become a millionaire, but you haven’t figured out your own personal problems? Does the money do anything?

Ultimately, the money you get isn’t going to drastically “change” you or your values.

The Point: It only amplifies what’s already inside of you.

If you are an impulsive spender and drinker, then expect those things to come out with more money.

If you love to build things, you’ll probably spend more $ on building stuff. If you love to give things to people, expect that you will probably give even more with money.

And so on and so forth. Mark Manson wrote a good article on this.

The moral of the story is — figure out your own shit first — your values, goals, and principles. Why? Because having more money is not going to make you inherently a better or worse person.

Once you do this, you can do something meaningful with your money and live happily.

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