The Need for Recognition

Nearly all of us work hard for a living. We go to work, throw at least some of our heart, soul, and energy into the task at hand, and go home depleted of some of our energy, but with a paycheck in hand. Some people enjoy this routine and others do not.

Having worked a lot of jobs in my own life – and witnessed many, many other workers at various stages in life – I’ve realized a few things about the nature of work – and whether or not people love their jobs or not.

The biggest factor, as far as I can tell? Recognition.

Over and over again, the same pattern repeats itself. A worker decides to go the extra mile at work, doing a particular task with aplomb. Perhaps they’ll even do it a few times.

Sometimes, their supervisors and/or peers will recognize this hard work and compliment the worker on it. That’s good. Perhaps they’ll even talk up that hard work to others. That’s even better. Perhaps this hard work will be rewarded with a perk or two – a better parking spot, an “employee of the month” recognition, perhaps even a promotion. That’s great!

People that get a bit of recognition tend to keep pushing hard on their tasks. They like being seen as successful – and they want more of it.

At other times, a person’s hard work will be ignored – or perhaps it’s viewed as expected behavior, with no extra recognition. For the most part, that person will regress to doing the minimum needed to keep the job. Rather than seeing it as a challenge with a tasty carrot, that job begins to be seen as a burden.

This need for recognition runs through our lives. It feels a lot better to get positive attention from other people than it does to be met with indifference or with negative attention. It drives a lot of the little choices we make, too.

That drive for recognition is a big reason that many people make poor financial choices. Buying a late model used minivan won’t wow the neighbors, but a new Lexus SUV will get their attention. A small house won’t get attention – but a beautiful, big, exquisitely decorated one will get you some positive comments. I’ve fallen into this trap myself as a young adult, often buying gadgets partially for the ability to impress others and earn me some short-term recognition.

The painful truth, though, is that such recognition is fleeting. After the impressed people have gone away and your big purchase is forgotten about, you’re left with some big bills and a budget that’s being stretched to its limit to cover it. The recognition is over but you’re still paying for it.

Consider another path. Go for the low end on your purchases. Get that late model used car instead of the new one. Buy a smaller house. These purchases won’t get you that immediate recognition, but it does earn you several other things. You’re not stuck with the big bills, giving you breathing room to save for the future. That can directly lead you to an earlier retirement or to other things that you personally value – travel, financial security, and so on.

Perhaps more interesting is that I’ve found that good financial choices end up earning you recognition in unexpected ways. We’ve saved a lot of money by buying a reasonable home and holding onto our older cars. This has enabled us to do a lot of other things in our life. I’ve been able to switch careers – without our frugal choices, I would have never been able to choose to become a writer. We’ve also been able to become more involved in our community, donating money to worthy causes and finding other ways to help out.

Not only have those things earned us recognition, they’re also very much in line with our core values. Most importantly, though, these choices haven’t left us facing a pile of frightening bills and a subsequent shackling of our lives to a strong need for income.

The take home message? Recognition is important to all of us – it often drives the choices we make in life. But if you take some time to step back from the appeal of immediate recognition and look at the long term, it’s often much more worthwhile to make the financially conservative choice instead of spending more than we should.

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