3What Does Work Mean to You?

Like many kids, I (Steve) grew up without knowing that much about our family's finances. I knew that my dad had to work so that we could afford to live, and I knew that my mom chose to work so that we could have a little extra money for discretionary expenses. I knew some families had more than we did and that some families had less. But in the small, middle-class town where I grew up, the range I experienced was narrow. I didn't know any families that were extremely wealthy or extremely poor, and it was taken as a given that people worked so that they could support their families.

When I got to college, I saw that some of my classmates lived very differently from me. Some were very rich. They drove amazing cars and took exotic vacations with their family and friends. Others were very poor and had almost no money beyond the financial aid they received to enable them to pay tuition. It wasn't until I saw these extremes that I started to understand that work could mean really different things to different people.

For some of my wealthiest classmates, work was optional. Some counted on the jobs they hoped to get after graduation for status more so than money. Others weren't interested in either status or money and instead looked for meaning or opted to do very little. For those with more limited means, the job after graduation was a critical step on the economic ladder. While they hoped to find meaning in their work, they needed a salary to pay back ...

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