Day 16: The 3 Ms of Compensation

How does your job compensate you for the work you do? The obvious answer that comes to most of us is: money. But did you know that there are three forms of compensation? And what if I told you that these forms of compensation matter more to people at different stages in their lives?

I was listening to The Art of Charm, Episode 381 which is an interview with Adam Braun, the founder of Pencils of Promise. Adam outlines three Ms of compensation, one that is most important for those starting their careers, one for those who have important responsibilities beyond their careers, and one for those who have been in their careers for a while already. And obviously, these are soft divisions. Ultimately, all three forms are important to everyone.

The first M of compensation is money, as you might have expected. But this is actually the easiest form of compensation to come by, and, after obtaining enough of it, matters the least. Adam says that money is a tool, not the goal. It helps you do things (like pay your rent, buy gas for your car, put food on the table) but doesn’t provide a lot of fulfillment by itself. That’s why Adam doesn’t recommend just chasing after the highest paying job, especially if you’re just starting out. This is most valuable for someone who is a bit more seasoned in their career, but life outside of work (and there is such a thing!) is creating more financial demands. Buying a house, getting married, having kids, etc. are all things that require increasing amounts of money. But if you’re not at that stage in your life yet…

Pursue Mastery, the second M. Mastery is skill. It’s filling out your talent tree, particularly as it applies to your career. As an Operations Analyst, I’m constantly developing my skills with Excel, and will eventually need to learn much more about data analytics, SQL, supply chain, and more. I also need to continue to hone my interpersonal skills, because I’m constantly interacting with people as I try to communicate how I feel we can better optimize a system or process. And I’m sure there are more areas that I’ll need to develop, but I’m currently too inexperienced to even be aware of. When you’re just starting your career, more than anything else, you need a job that will help give you mastery. And the great thing is that mastery naturally leads into getting more money, because masters are highly valued assets.

Finally, that brings us to the third M, Meaning. Meaning is a tricky one, because it’s not as easily measured as the other two. Money is fairly straightforward to measure. Even mastery can be measured by the number of skills and the depth of skill you’ve developed. But meaning is deeply personal. It changes for everyone because it is linked to each individual’s idea of legacy. Typically, this type of compensation comes after you’ve mastered your craft and you’ve earned enough money to be comfortable. That’s when the mind naturally drifts toward impact. What do you want to be known for? How do you want to influence the people around you? How are the people coming after you going to be better because of you? As you find the answer to these questions and others like them, you find meaning.

So there they are: 3 Ms of compensation. Money, mastery, and meaning. I’ll be honest, I’m mostly balancing somewhere between seeking mastery and money. I’m relatively new to the workforce, so I’m compensated most noticeably through the development of skill. But I’m also seeking out meaning as I regularly challenge myself to look beyond the daily grind.

What stage are you at?

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