I should have been rich by now. Isn’t that the plan? I should have discovered my life’s calling, found work that I enjoy and make enough money to more than meet my needs. Either that, or win a lottery jackpot.
Instead, I take jobs which seem to suit some of my qualifications but are not really what I enjoy doing. To earn more money, I would need to learn new skills for technology which didn’t exist when I was in college decades ago. My father tried to tell me that it was not important to enjoy one’s job, that work is work and you get enjoyment from the people you work with instead. Our culture makes it seem like people should not settle for that, and indeed there are people who find a career which fulfills them and gives their lives purpose and meaning beyond a paycheck. Right now, I’d settle for the paycheck.
The other day, I went to my regular local coffee shop. It is an expense which I allow myself for as long as I can afford it, offset by saving money in other ways. The lady behind the counter knows me very well, not by name but by my appearance as well as my medium cappuccino. This particular day, I came up five cents short. Somehow I had spent every last bit of change from my wallet. I gave her the dollars I had left and apologized for coming unprepared.
I could have gone to the ATM in the plaza and come back with a twenty dollar bill, which she would then have to break to give me a fistful of change. (I hate doing that to cash businesses when I can help it, because they must go through a lot of coins in a single day.) She knew me, she trusted me, she let me owe her the nickel. I said, “You know I’ll be back tomorrow, I’ll pay you back.” And I was, and I did.
This isn’t a small town, it’s a sprawling urban area. The coffee lady and I do not know each other’s names. We never see one another in any other context or location. There was no reason for her to trust me, and perhaps she weighed the odds against the risk of losing only five cents.
I remember a similar scene from countless years ago, when I was commuting between cities. I had stopped at a fast food place for dinner and came up four cents short of the bill. The workers did not know me, and yet they let me pay what I had and take my food. I promised to return to pay them the rest, but they shrugged and told me not to bother. I did anyway, a day or two later, or tried to. When I visited the place again, different workers were there and no one knew anything about a four-cent debt. They thought I was crazy, trying to hand them four pennies without buying anything.
Some day, when I do become rich, I would like to round up the cost of all of my purchases and tell people to keep the change.