20 December 2006

Cash Flow, a Career & a Calling

I think that an inordinate amount of grief is caused because of confusion between cash flow, a career, and a calling. All three represent very real needs and all three can be ignored - for awhile.

It still amazes me that our school system can keep children in class for 12 years and not bother to teach cash flow. It's my opinion that failure to understand this is the cause of a host of problems. A bill for property tax or car insurance or car repair suddenly comes at you, seemingly from nowhere, and that flush feeling you had just last month is suddenly and abruptly taken from you. You go from a feeling of financial relief to a feeling of dread. Why? You had no decent mechanism for seeing these things in advance. Cash flow is also key to building wealth. The person who resorts to financing a purchase with a credit card and subsequently pays it down at 18% over a period of, say, 3 years is going to have much less wealth accumulated than the person who waits 3 years to make that same purchase, accruing interest at, say, 8%. People who pretend that cash flow doesn't matter usually have a safety net of some kind and foist onto others their needs for money.

A career is different from cash flow. Probably the simplest example of the difference between the two is this: a 19 year-old who subordinates his career to cash flow will drop out of college in order to stay out of debt. His career will be set aside as he works a job in order to meet the demands of cash flow. He's being responsible, in a sense, and should be applauded for his good intentions. But he's being irrational, sacrificing a career path that could make his pressing cash flow problems fairly insignificant in about five to ten years. Ideally, a career represents the intersection between three things: what he's good at, what he does well, and what there is demand for - what someone would pay for. It does little good to ignore any one of these three because to do so is unstable - it's like sitting on a two-legged stool. Properly done, a career addresses the demands of cash flow. That is, the very real demands of cash flow will be met when career needs are properly addressed. Initially, however, the demands of a career conflict with the demands of cash flow.

Finally, we come to a calling. This is not merely a ringing in the ears. This is to career what career is to cash flow. What distinguishes it from a career is that it may well represent something that you don't do well and something for which there may be little obvious demand but it is something that seems inescapably fascinating, unavoidably alluring. Buckminster Fuller said that your purpose is to do what obviously (to you) needs to be done that no one else is doing. You may not be great at this, but this is what you need to do. Just as the need for cash flow seems to conflict with the needs of a career, so does the need for a career seem to conflict with the needs of a calling. Perhaps the way this most obviously shows up is when people take assignments or jobs within their career that preclude them putting their creative energies into anything other than work. The good news is that they make a little more than others; the bad news is that they never get time to reflect or define something bigger, something that feeds the soul. In Po Bronson's book What Should I Do With My Life, he quotes Sidney Ross who says, “The moral is to not set yourself goals which don’t leave you any freedom to maneuver.” Just as a college kid accumulating debt may seem to be sacrificing too much to his working class friends, so might a career guy passing on promotional opportunities seem to be sacrificing too much to his peers who think that a calling is just for professional actors or singers.

I'm of the opinion that you should only marry a person if you can't live without them. A calling seems to me similiar. If you can't pull yourself away from this thing, you need to do what you can to feed it, explore it, and somehow work it into your life. The important thing to remember is that even though each of these - cash flow, career, and calling - needs to be met, you want to subordinate them in the proper order. Don't be afraid to sacrifice the demands of cash flow for your career and don't be afraid to sacrifice the demands of your career for your calling.

The bad news is that this takes a long time to all work out. The great news is that you have your entire life in which to do so. And really, what else were you going to do with your life?


Ron said...

This posting, having lain dormant for some time, was triggered by a great posting at

Dave said...

I'm glad it got triggered. When I get done with this comment, I'm going to read the post again. Initial thoughts: I have been slow to make the transition to each of your stages, if I may call them that. Worse, I am stuck at career. Thanks for some stuff to think about.

Life Hiker said...

It's the calling part that gets me...the sad fact that so few people ever find one.

Most people seem to understand that career can solve cash flow, and they act accordingly. But few are lucky enough to find a career and a calling in the same activity, and too many forget there is a third step to life.

I found out that perpetual golf was not my retirement calling, nor is the Appalachian Trail although it calls me every year. I think a calling is the thing that makes your life seem fulfilled when you do it, and maybe I've made some progress there...but as Ron says, I have my whole life to find out.

1138 said...

When you say cash flow I get the impression you're talking about what they taught us to be budgeting.

In school we were required to learn to budget and encouraged to take the concept home and participate in our family's budgeting.

My parents already did and I learned much.
My younger siblings were not introduced to the concept and suffer from it to this day.

Your calling need not be your career - you are not what you do, are are what you love.