Overwork and the illusion of a “high-paying” job

I recently read a short article in The New Yorker titled “The Cult of Overwork.” In it, James Surowiecki writes:

“For decades, junior bankers and Wall Street firms had an unspoken pact: in exchange for reasonably high-paying jobs and a shot at obscene wealth, young analysts agreed to work fifteen hours a day, and forgo anything resembling a normal life.”

Reading that, I had a thought. If you’re working 75 hours a week, is your job really “high-paying”?

Let’s say you have a choice between:

A) 40-hour-a-week job that pays $100,000 a year, and

B) 75-hour-a-week job that pays $100,000 a year.

Obviously, “A” is the better deal. And if you break it down by the hour, without holidays, “A” pays $48/hour and “B” pays $25/hour.

Suddenly, that high-paying job seems pretty average-paying.

Last year, I earned a high income. Part of my goal for this year is to earn as much money as I did last year, and, if I work 80 hours a week, I could probably make that happen. Since my layoff, I’m fortunate that things are looking up, and I now have work options, one of them being: work twice as much and make a lot of money.

But last year, my high income wasn’t based on 80 hours a week; it was based on 40 to 50. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to work twice as much and earn a lot of money. It’s an appealing option. But if my time has any value, I just wouldn’t truly be accomplishing my goal with that option.

In mulling this over, I had an unsettling thought: I don’t want to simply earn a lot of money; I want to be a high-earner. To me, earning six-figures and working 80 hours a week does not a high-earner make. It just means, essentially, you’re working two jobs.

For me, this thought was unsettling because the poor kid in me is screaming: Who the #*%! do you think you are? You should be so lucky to work 80 hours a week for that kind of money!

At my core, I can’t help but to agree. But part my agreeing is that I feel guilty for thinking there’s more out there for me. I don’t want to be entitled, after all. Plus, I’m a workaholic anyway; it’s only natural for me bend to the “cult of overwork.”

But I really don’t like the principles behind that reasoning: guilt, lack of self-worth, addiction.

So I decided to entertain my original thought: If most of your life is spent overworking, are you truly a high-earner? I’m not asking about job satisfaction. I’m curious how one’s time factors into a high-paying, quality career.

The Value of Time

Another friend of mine recently convinced her boss to give her a long overdue raise at her demanding job. He increased her salary a little on the condition that he could increase her workload a lot.

“It doesn’t seem like a raise,” she complained. “It’s just…more work.”

The value of time is an important consideration here. When most people ask for a raise, they’re asking for an increase in the value of their time and effort.

Thus, when you’re paid more money to do more work, your time isn’t valued any better. It can be a great opportunity, sure. Lots of people want more work, after all. But getting more money in exchange for more of your time is different than earning more money per unit of time.

Here’s another example. I used to work for a contracting company; the owner was an intelligent and savvy businessperson. I always looked up to her, and I was lucky to have her guidance. Once, she found out I was staying long hours for a client without charging them. I was just trying to be a good, diligent worker. But when my boss found out, she insisted that I charge the overtime. I thought she was just being nice. “No, really, it’s OK, I told her.

“No, it’s not,” she said. “If you don’t charge for your time, you’re not only lowering your own rate, you’re lowering the company’s rate.”

That advice/direct order made me realize my time has value.

But What About “Paying Your Dues”?

In that article, Surowiecki continues:

“Habit, too, is powerful: things are done a certain way because that’s how they’ve been done before, and because that’s the way people in charge were trained…’I went through it so you should’ is a difficult impulse to resist.”

But, as he suggests throughout the article, and as studies have suggested, just because something has been done a certain way since forever doesn’t mean it works.

“The perplexing thing about the cult of overwork is that, as we’ve known for a while, long hours diminish both productivity and quality,” Surowiecki writes.

“Paying Your Dues” Can Undermine Hard Work

I’m all for paying your dues if it serves a practical purpose. When you start a business, part of paying your dues is indeed constantly working your butt off in order to get things going — that’s part of the luxury of working for yourself and being a self-made person. In this case, “paying your dues” serves a practical purpose.

But working overtime simply for the sake of “paying your dues” makes little sense to me. You’d think employers would value quality and hard work over the premise, “well, that’s what I had to do, so you have to, too.”

Another on-the-job example:

I was working on a project at an engineering firm. More than the project managers wanted to do a good job, they wanted to look like they were doing a good job. Which meant that employees, freelancers and contractors were expected to work at least 10 hours a day, despite having absolutely nothing to do. Because I didn’t want to be singled out as “the girl who goes home at 5:00,” I did my work very, very slowly. Put nicely, it was a really inefficient use of assets. Put rudely, it was a big, stupid waste of time.

And I think the whole pay-your-dues mentality comes from the same place. In most cases, it’s an empty gesture — like sitting on your butt for an extra two hours just to appear dedicated. What’s more, it turns a blind eye to waste, and it undermines true, hard work. Again, long, overworked hours “diminish both productivity and quality.” Talk about counterproductive.

In contrast, when you’re resourceful, efficient and diligent, you can get a lot done.

Loss of Quality

Pick your cliché: Jack of all trades, master of none; burning the candle at both ends; spreading oneself too thin.

All of those maxims point to the same problem: overdoing it usually makes things suck. And that’s what I’ve been reflecting on in terms of my career. I don’t want to be a “work-churner.” I’m a workaholic not because I want to churn out as much work as possible, but because I actually enjoy the work. And more than I want to work a lot, I want to work hard.

I’ve worked for employers who simply wanted me to churn out as much work as possible as quickly as possible. And I’ve worked for employers who encourage me to take my time and produce something of quality. At least in my own experience, the latter paid much better.

In most cases, quality pays off in the long term, and I think that’s true with becoming a high-earner, too.

A True High-Earner

Don’t get me wrong. Again, I’m not saying that, if you have the opportunity to earn a lot of money by working 75 hours a week, you shouldn’t do it. Based on my current situation, I’m all for grinding as many hours as possible while still maintaining a quality of work, life and health — all so I can earn as much money as I did last year.

Of course, I’m also not knocking workers who don’t really have a choice. Plenty of people are struggling just to survive, and that’s brutal. I’m certainly not above it, either. If I had no money, and I was struggling to pay my debts, and I lost my job, I’d definitely take the first job I could find. I just think, if we can, we should strive for more than that. My mom didn’t have much of a choice, and it was her goal to raise children whose work was valued. When it comes to being appreciative of what you have, I’m all for looking at things against the backdrop of “someone has it worse.” But using that perspective to keep you from your goals doesn’t seem like a good idea.

I’m also not necessarily arguing that working a lot is a bad thing. I’m simply saying: Even more than a worker who simply makes a lot of money, I want to be a worker whose time and skill set are worth a large amount of money.

Personally, I don’t want it to take double my time to earn a single salary.

It’s not an easy goal, and maybe it’s an ambitious one that will take time; but I think that, in the long run, quality beats quantity.

Like I said, at my core, I revert back to the thought that I should be lucky to have any job at all. I’m not quite sure what part of myself I agree with more. So I’d like to know what you think….

Are my thoughts unappreciative? Does striving to be a high-earner without wanting to work 80 hours a week make me entitled? Is it audacious to set a value for my time?

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There are 69 comments to "Overwork and the illusion of a “high-paying” job".

  1. [name withheld] says 19 March 2014 at 04:16

    Argh! I have really strong feelings about this.

    I work at a high-paying, very demanding job. I am normally at the office working for 13 hours a day, plus 2-4 hours a day at home. 6 days a week, plus on call for the 7th. And it’s mandatory. I’ve been threatened with being fired for not picking up my Blackberry quickly enough at 1:30 am on a Friday night.

    For this, I am paid approx. 110,000 USD (once you include benefits and bonuses).

    The trouble is, most of my friends are unemployed or desperately underemployed. They have multiple degrees (like I do) and are student loan collectors, Starbucks baristas, retail clerks, because that’s the only work they could get.

    WHY?!?!

    Why not halve my hours, halve my pay, and hire a second qualified, talented person to do the job?

    It’s a win-win-win. I could have my life back, they could actually put their degrees to good use, and the company could actually get two not-completely-burnt-out people do do the job.

    • Elle says 19 March 2014 at 08:49

      Agreeing with you here!!

    • Arthur says 23 June 2014 at 06:09

      Two part answer:
      1.)It’s cheaper to work one person twice as much as two people because insurance, workers comp retirement benefits etc. are cost that are not tied to your hours. so its actually cheaper to have you work as much as possible. I’m also guessing that you don’t get overtime. Because that is usually a deterrent to overworking practices.

      2.) They don’t care about you. This usually does not come exclusively from a supervisor but a industry or company wide culture of disregard for the well being of their employees.

      The real question is what will you do about it?

  2. Tina in NJ says 19 March 2014 at 04:31

    No, it does not make you “entitled.” You’ve earned it. What it makes you is sane.

    • Kristin Wong says 19 March 2014 at 08:03

      Yay! I’m sane!

  3. Beth says 19 March 2014 at 04:59

    Wow… that hourly wage comparison puts things in perspective!

    I think it’s smart to consider the value of our time. Right now I feel like people think I should do it all: start a business on the side, date more, learn more about investing, take advantage of discounted/free professional development opportunities, volunteer… you get the picture. It’s a good problem to have, I know, but a challenge none-the-less.

    I worry about having a sense of entitlement, but I also worry about not standing up for myself and undervaluing my time — which a lot of people (especially women) do. I think as long as we can keep asking these questions we’ll find a “reality check” that will keep us balanced.

    • Kristin Wong says 19 March 2014 at 08:09

      Yeah, I’m really learning to value my time. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, or maybe it’s because how I was raised, or maybe both, but it’s been a struggle to understand that I’m not entitled–I’ve worked hard, I’m experienced, and I have value. I think we’ve talked before about how the “this is how much I’m worth” thing is kind of silly, but you’re right. It’s about finding balance. I’m finding that balance is an ongoing theme in personal finance!

      • imelda says 19 March 2014 at 16:19

        I think what you wrote about your boss saying you’re bringing the *company’s* rates down – and the fact that that stuck with you – is key.

        It is easier to demand more if we think it impacts other people. At least, that’s true in my case – when I was in a union, I argued furiously for the sake of all, whereas on my own I barely fight for myself.

        If there were some way to think of ourselves as a company – or think of our worth as tied in with that of others – it might make it easier to demand that worth.

        But I don’t know what that would be. :-

        • Beth says 19 March 2014 at 19:50

          I like that idea 🙂 I wonder if part of the problem is that people don’t think of others. For instance, many companies don’t want to pay a decent wage for freelance work because so many people are willing to work for cheap. People see an opportunity to make a few extra bucks, but they don’t stop to think that working for a low rate makes it harder for everyone to earn a better rate.

          Though perhaps it’s just the ebb and flow of certain jobs anyway?

        • Kristin Wong says 20 March 2014 at 08:42

          Yeah, I know what you mean. A while back, something similar a GRS reader wrote stuck with me, too. I mentioned how I worked for free when I first decided to become a writer. She said I should be careful about that, because free work lowers the bar for writers in general. I still stand by what I did, because I was inexperienced, and that was the only way to get experience. But now that I do have experience, I very much consider her input when I find myself deciding whether to take certain gigs. For example, I almost took a writing “churning” gig last year when I first lost that job. (Low-pay per piece, but you could churn out a bunch a day and earn decent money.)

          I didn’t think I was above it, but I still just couldn’t do it–because I felt I was contributing to “lowering the bar” for my industry. That being said, I was doing well financially, so I had the luxury of being able to make that decision. THAT being said, I’m still really glad I didn’t take that job and held out for better things.

        • Beth says 20 March 2014 at 15:08

          Getting experience can be tricky. My rule of thumb is I’ll work for free for someone who isn’t making a profit (in other words, volunteer work). I will not work for free or for cheap for someone who is profiting from underpaid labour.

          I realized how lucky I am that I can make that distinction. Having a healthy emergency fund, I’ve been able to turn down work that I knew wasn’t a good fit with my values. I’m not judging people who do what they need to do to keep food on the table.

      • Beth says 19 March 2014 at 19:44

        I think there’s a difference between thinking something is beneath you and recognizing that certain work has a given value in the marketplace. I’ve served food, cleaned hotel rooms and worked in retail and never felt it was demeaning because I was paid a fair wage and treated well by my employers. (Well, there was once job where that wasn’t true — but I was able to quit and find other work.)

        That’s very different than being paid less because you’re a woman (sadly, it still happens), because you were too shy negotiate your salary or because you priced your services too low. Some people are always going to try and take advantage of others, unfortunately.

    • Beth+10 years says 25 March 2014 at 08:06

      Beth – I don’t know how old you are, but based on what you’re saying, maybe mid/late 20s? People LOVE to give bad advice to 20-somethings. I’m close enough to that age that I remember receiving all the advice you are. Really? Start a business on the side? Date more? Volunteer? How about you walk on water while you’re at it, you know, when you’re busy trying to figure out who you are. I would always look at the people giving the advice, and 99% of the time I didn’t want the life they had, so I ignored their advice. Did my own thing, did not “get out there and date,” and am now happily married with a job I love. Had I taken their advice, I’d probably have caught herpes and would be working in a miserable 80 hour a week corporate job, totally fried because I was busy saving the world while volunteering, oh but successfully running that side business in my free time 😉 Sorry for the ranting – fortunately all the advice does go away once you hit about 30.

  4. Jon says 19 March 2014 at 05:19

    When I was in my twenties and thirties, I was in the habit of working 10 to 14 hours a day, sometimes going weeks without a day off, as I was building my reputation and career. That all came crashing down when a shady business partner sent me into business and personal bankruptcy, which nearly cost me my marriage and family.
    I’m still willing to work hard, but I reset my priorities, and I value my time spent with friends and family far more than any satisfaction or recognition I get from work.
    One of my new maxims is “If you can’t get the job done in 40 hours a week, you’re doing it wrong.” and the other which I’m sure I borrowed from someone I read along the way, “Your failure to plan properly does not make it MY emergency.”

    • Sany T says 19 March 2014 at 09:23

      I love the failure to plan quote! love it! So often people come to me last minute and tell me I have to work over because they need it done today. I always reply with that quote AND tell them if they want me to help, they need to value my input and therefore value ME and respect me enough to give me time to work on it.
      I learned at a young age that my time is VERY important and valuable. I do not live to work.
      I will say I work hard and am devoted to work when I’m at work, otherwise, I’m not working. A company that expects me to put in 80 hours a week is not the right fit for me, nor I for them. I’m ok with that. I will never think I should have worked more. So I don’t.

  5. M says 19 March 2014 at 05:44

    I’ve undervalued my work time for years but I accept that because I chose education as a profession. Some days it gets to me but I remind myself that I get to teach and learn what still fascinates me. And thankfully I’ve been fairly careful with money (no splashy spenders in education keeps the Joneses modest) so I’m satisfied that I can reprioritize my commitments soon. These are choices earlier generations didn’t have so for me it’s a good problem to have.

  6. Brian @ Luke1428 says 19 March 2014 at 05:48

    Life is too short to spend all your time working. Nobody ever looks back at the end of their life and says “I wish I would have worked more.” The regrets always come because the person didn’t spend more time with family, following passions, serving others, etc. As someone who is in the midst of raising four kids, the extra hours aren’t worth the extra dollars. My big time investments lie elsewhere.

  7. M says 19 March 2014 at 05:48

    And to the first poster: yikes. That’s tough.

  8. Holly@ClubThrifty says 19 March 2014 at 06:22

    I earned a decent income last year, but I could’ve earned more. On the other hand, I enjoy working 35-45 hours a week and spending the rest of the time doing things I enjoy and playing with my kids. To me, it’s all about balance. I would never want to work an 80 hour week. Life is too short and no job is that important.

  9. lmoot says 19 March 2014 at 07:15

    This is the exact reason why I always feel sorry for my bosses, and salaried middle management in general (speaks to your examples of working hard and earning more, but not really). When you add up the menial duties, and the extra hours, it really doesn’t add up to diddly squat. Right now I work 60 hours a week, nearly 80 during certain seasons. But it’s two different jobs, which satisfy 2 different needs in my life, so I don’t know if that fits in with the theme of this post. One, the higher paying job, is for the income 100%, the other one is for 100% experience (though the little extra income is nice as well).

    I don’t think I could do more than 40 hrs at any job. They would have to be completely different duties, which is why I’ve long ago came to the conclusion that I would never have a high-paying job, and honestly would never want a high-paying job. You see I’ve always had this fear of putting too many eggs in one basket and thus I’ve always focused my energy on creating as many different quality sources of income and rewards as possible.

    The dynamics are different when there is a mutual understanding between employer and employee that you don’t “need” the job. I feel much more appreciated in my lesser paying, part time job that I’ve been at for half the time, than I do in my full-time higher paying job where the attitude is, “we are aware this is one of the highest paying companies in this area, for this type of work, and we know most of your livelyhoods depend on this job so you better step up to whatever we throw at you.” There is nothing wrong with this. If you work for a company, and you enjoy the pay & benefits, you do what you need to do to keep that income, and the company has a right (within labor mandates) to request that of you. However I don’t want to be under that thumb for much longer. I hate HATE knowing that someone else knows, that I depend on them for everything. It changes how people treat you, whether they intend it or not.

    I agree it’s best to have a high-paying job that pays for quality vs quantity, but those are few, and far inbetween. They also tend to be reserved for industries that MAKE alot of money. Think sports and entertainment (which does include writers). Some of those people make big bucks just for showing up and smiling for 5 seconds. But I think that has more to do with what people are willing to pay for, than quality. Not to get all pessimistic, but other than those industries, most professional (and quality) type work such as engineering, medicine, design work, etc, will be stuck with high paying and long hours going hand-in-hand because quality does not earn money, demand does, and well…if “Keeping up with the Kardashians” isn’t an indication of which side of the quality scale demand swings towards, then I don’t know what is. Wanna guess how much work that family puts into their show per week? Lower production probably does 10x the work for 1/10th the pay.

    That being said, I don’t think you or anyone who is willing to put in the work to reach that magic balance of time and pay should come across as entitled. I think when you’ve reached a pinnacle in your career like you have, and with the personality type you have, it makes sense that that is something you will continue to strive towards if not exceeding, at least replicating…just now you have the experience to know what you are an aren’t willing to do for it anymore, which is a great thing.

    • Melissa M says 19 March 2014 at 08:09

      THIS: The dynamics are different when there is a mutual understanding between employer and employee that you don’t “need” the job.

      I’m working towards that at this very moment. I have my own creative/arts business on the side, but I do really enjoy my analytical “day job”, as I call it. Financially, I want to get to the point where the income from my day job isn’t mostly for survival, like it is now, but rather for easily building my nest egg.

    • Kristin Wong says 19 March 2014 at 08:29

      Yeah, I was in the same boat before I switched careers. I worked 60 hours a week, but I didn’t mind it in my case, because it was part of my plan to make the switch “responsibly.” Which meant keeping my high-paying job while trying to gain experience on the side. So that was fine with me, too!

      I have to say, as much as it might end up being be true, I can’t stand the idea of only having two choices: work 80 hours a week and be a ‘high-earner’ or don’t be a high-earner at all. There’s middle ground! I’m determined to find it.

      But ultimately, I know you’re right–those jobs are rare.

      The most important takeaway, at least for me, is about valuing time. The more work experience I gain, the more I’m learning to value my time and not accept certain things. In the past, I’ve put up with wage theft and overwork. I did it because I felt lucky to have a job at all. And some employers took advantage of that. I can feel fortunate to have work, but I have to remember that it’s not like employers are giving me free money–I’m giving them something valuable in exchange for it!

  10. Budget Girl says 19 March 2014 at 07:21

    I worked long hours at two different jobs in the past few decades. Both of them were by choice, not because I was required to put in extra hours. The first was to show I was working as late as everyone else. It was a waste of time. I’d save work just so I would have something to do after hours.

    The second was to build skills for a career I wanted for the long haul. I thought of it as investing my time for a future I wanted in that field. I stayed late if I was working on a problem and wanted to see exactly how it was resolved (instead of leaving it with my manager). Also, I’d stay late to study for licensing exams, but I really wanted to know what others in my office stayed late for (I’d say about 40% of the folks in that office would work later).

    I learned about what people in other areas of my department did and found opportunities to help out with different projects. I did a lot of listening. I gained a perspective of the industry that I would have never attained within my regular 40 hours. This enabled me to solve problems more quickly and with more savvy; I knew who to go to for specialized information and who already had a relevant project in motion, I got a strong grasp of the changes occurring in my industry and prepared our department to deal with them so that when formal instructions came down, we already had qualified people in place.

    It’s now been awhile since I’ve worked more than 40 hours per week. I’m still a high earner and I earn a lot more than I did in those days. I continue to draw on the knowledge I gained back then and my bosses have come to rely on the relationships I’ve formed. As a result, our department works more quickly, efficiently and nimbly. That has made me more valuable to them than any experience I could have gotten within the regular 40 hour workweek.

    I would say, by all means, spend the extra time if you can – but only IF you are adding to your value. It’s worth the investment if it means that eventually you’ll be back down to 40 hours per week (or however many you ultimately want) with the salary you want.

    I would not spent extra time spinning your wheels because then that’s all you’ll continue to do and it will be expected of you.

  11. PiRX says 19 March 2014 at 07:32

    Just chiming in from Europe. Here it’s quite impossible to work (a lot) more then 40h/week. Yes, you still can pull that off (mostly with working longer), but your pay will still be based on 40h week. Or your employer will have to pay (twice) higher rate for all hours which go over 40h.

  12. Brenton says 19 March 2014 at 07:50

    “Another friend of mine recently convinced her boss to give her a long overdue raise at her demanding job. He increased her salary a little on the condition that he could increase her workload a lot.”

    Tell the boss to shove it. Seriously, I wonder why people put up with this nonsense.

    • Ryan says 19 March 2014 at 11:40

      I got a promotion into lower middle-managment last year and the VP shook my hand and said “welcome to the group that works 60h/wk and gets paid for 40”.

      I smiled and realized I should have been careful what I had wished for. Thankfully the majority of my time is still 40h/wk.

  13. Finance Worker says 19 March 2014 at 08:03

    This analysis leaves out the future. No one works 70+ hours for the payoff now in hourly wage. They work for what it will make them in the future. Let’s use numbers from Forbes.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2013/03/13/how-much-do-wall-streeters-really-earn/

    A first year analyst makes an average of $113,000 a year, including the bonus. By the end of their 5-6 year of their time as an Analyst/Associate, they make an average of $210,000. They might still be working 70+ hours at that point. For a 50 week year that works out to $60 an hour. Not bad really.

    If they can make it to Vice President, they are up to $370k, and maybe hours drop to something reasonable like 55 a week as family enters the picture. Now you are talking $134 an hour.

    Was it worth it? Still maybe not. But no one is working that hard for their current paycheck, they are working for the future.

    • Grimm says 19 March 2014 at 22:38

      Tell me, did the article take into account the majority of those who work those hours and are passed over for the posistions. Afterall there are only a few possitions at the top to go around. After you thin the pool down to those who are willing to work this way, and are their for qualitfied. The decision process either goes to esentially a lottery or who your friend prosess.

    • Amy says 31 March 2014 at 12:25

      Or, you could continue to get selected for “broken” jobs because of your proven track record of self-sacrifice. I have watched this happen to my husband. He has a reputation in his career field for being the one to call if you need a job done (and often if resources are minimal). While that sounds great on the surface (favorable reputation), what it leads to is a continuous cycle of crap jobs.

      As he is a public servant, compensation is rigid and benefits are evaporating.

  14. Elizabeth says 19 March 2014 at 08:12

    Working ridiculous hours is fear-based. And it often leads to crap work/product results. Humane hours could make a real dent in the unemployment figures. Why should one person work 80 hours when two could work 40 hours each? It’s too soon to know how “universal” health care (ACA) will shake out, but many people stay in an employment situation just so their families have health insurance benefits. With greater availability/affordability for health insurance, the future employment picture should be more fluid, and workers will have more options to lead a balanced life.

  15. Samantha says 19 March 2014 at 08:30

    Kristin, I love your articles, but I find this one confusing. I agree with your overall theme – you would rather work hard and be WORTH $50/hr than work twice as long for $25/hr – but it’s being based on an odd premise. Obviously anyone with the choice to work 40 hours or 80 hours for the same salary would choose 40 hours of work. That’s not the choice that’s being offered. That article refers to “junior” bankers, who are kids just out of school – people who definitely don’t have an option of making $100k for 40 hours elsewhere. But at any age or education level, that’s still not the choice – it would be $100k for 40 hours after YEARS of rising through the ranks, or $100k for 80 hours immediately.

    It’s a good point that expecting long hours for no reason is silly, especially when most people could do their job from home, with their work laptop/work phone and be just as productive. And people definitely shouldn’t have to work slowly so they have enough work to stretch out over a 10 hour day (it sounds like we’ve all been there). I also agree that in an ideal market, efficient workers would be valued for the quality of their work rather than the hours they’re seen at the office. But I’m confused by the way the article is set up, and also by the fact that – and this is very pessimistic – the dream of being paid in accordance with your effort, results, or efficiency is… let’s say, hard to come by.

    • Kristin Wong says 19 March 2014 at 08:46

      Erg. Sorry for being confusing. I think a lot of my articles have been confusing lately, to be honest, and there’s good reason for that–I’m confused. It’s been a confusing time in my life, and I’m learning, and maybe I should wait to write about this stuff until after I’m sure of the lesson.

      True, it’s junior bankers, and to be fair, I made the same “sacrifice” when I worked 60 hours a week switching careers. Maybe that was a bad example, but that’s the example that sparked the thought about the illusion of a high-paying job. When I wrote this article, I was considering a full-time job that paid half of what I was making the last year. I could still earn as much as I made last year and be a high earner, but I’d have to keep my freelance work, meaning I’d be working 60+ hours a week. I was mulling over whether this was worth it. It made me realize that going that route wouldn’t actually make me a high-earner.

      • Caroline L says 19 March 2014 at 10:15

        Kristin, no, please don’t wait to write about this stuff! I’ve been an avid reader of your articles (ever since GRS was sold, I’ve felt the quality of articles as a whole has decreased and now wait very impatiently for new pieces from my two favorite writers and would hate to hear/read any less from you!). Frankly, I appreciate the “confusion” (I don’t think that’s right word at all but we’ll go with it) expressed in this article. JD has said that “money” (the successful pursuit, saving, investing thereof or anything related thereto) is very much psychological/emotional, and these internal debates and struggles you bring up are very important to consider if anyone wants to “get rich.”

        • jim says 19 March 2014 at 21:00

          What she said. Working thru the confusion is exactly what makes your articles compelling.

        • Kristin Wong says 20 March 2014 at 08:48

          Well, thanks, guys! I appreciate both the support AND your keeping me on my toes. I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, so I’ll try to share what I’ve learned from the confusion in the near future.

  16. Kelly says 19 March 2014 at 09:24

    This article reminds me of a comment left on another article that has stuck with me since I read it. The article was essentially about whether a person was being frugal or cheap by taking his wife out to dinner on date night with a coupon. The comment that stuck with me defined the difference between the two. If you are frugal you place your value and emphasis on the relationship with the person and then try to do it at a reasonable cost. If you’re cheap the emphasis is on the money and how much it’s costing you; the money is valued over the person.

    It’s a parallel, but in both of these cases it comes down to whether you value people/relationships/life over money or vice versa. I think money is just a tool to help you accomplish what you want in life.

  17. Diane C says 19 March 2014 at 09:31

    You are so smart to be examining this topic at this stage in your life. Here’s another aspect to consider.

    There is a physical cost to working this way. Long hours, poor food choices, no time for exercise, less interaction with family and friends, all add up. Believe me, over time, those deficits will extract a cost.

    No one gets to the end and wishes they had worked more. If graveyards could talk, they’d be telling us all to work (and worry) less, nurture our relationships with others and to keep ourselves healthy as long as possible. Do that and the happiness will follow.

  18. CPW says 19 March 2014 at 09:53

    Lots of interesting commentary.i am self-employed an although I don’t consider myself a high-earner, I’ve found from past jobs I was undervaluing my time and giving my value away, it seemed. Today, I keep more of what I make regardless of what I make, and I’m not willing to pay the price of so much time invested in work that the rest of my life (health, relationships, personal interests) are sorely neglected. I do feel we should always keep our eye on the ball b/c making tons of $$ is a blessing but it’s one aspect of a well-purposed and productive, meaningful life, and all the others can feed the soul in ways that money can’t quantify.

  19. Short arms long pockets says 19 March 2014 at 10:01

    This posting made me appreciate my boss. When I took the position I was very honest with him that after a certain point, salary was less important to me than flexibility. Now that I’m in my 50s I’ve learned that there has to be a balance between work and life and it’s up to you to communicatet what you want that balance to be.
    I’m fortunate that my boss has gone out of his way to respect this – allowing me to work from home regularly, encouraging me (and the rest of the team) to use our vacation time, finding ways to give us extra time if we have been working long hours on a particular project, and making sure that we are not working long hours on an extended basis. There has to be flexibility on my part as well because some periods are busier than others – but I willingly work longer hours when needed, because I know that my time is valued.
    I think many of us need to be able to articulate what we want out of our work lives and our personal lives. It took me years to get to this point – but now that I have, it makes a huge difference.

    • Wannabe 2 says 19 March 2014 at 10:59

      This rings true for me. I interviewed with another company in which I would have made about $10k more per year, but I would have to work at least 10 hours more per week. I was honest with the interviewer that time was more important to me than money. I did not get the job offer. I was relieved.

      As a parent of a young child (and hopefully more on the way) I value my limited time with my family, my physical and emotional well being and that of my family, at much more than the financial benefits would have been.

      If I were unemployed at the time of the interview, I would not have been so honest with myself or the interviewer. I would have been in a position where I would have had to do anything I could to land and keep the job.

  20. Tyler Karaszewski says 19 March 2014 at 10:04

    If the company will gladly pay you the same amount for twice as much work as long as you aren’t complaining, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t do half as much work for the same pay as long as the company isn’t complaining. If taking advantage of the little guy is acceptable, then taking advantage of the big guy should be, too.

    I set my goals based on tasks, not hours, and I work from home, so my employer can’t easily monitor my hours anyway. As long as assigned tasks are completed on time, then I’m doing alright. I typically work 8:30-4:45, including my lunch break, slightly longer on Mondays, but I leave a bit early on Wednesdays.

    Besides, I can’t do 12 hours of productive work in a day anyway. I’ll get exhausted and just start making mistakes or hitting road blocks that I’ll need to fix the next day, which is a waste of time. Better to just call it a day and pick up tomorrow.

    • Kristin Wong says 20 March 2014 at 09:01

      Yeah, I always try to power through burnout, and it never works. There’s a reason 8 hours is the established workday!

  21. Carla says 19 March 2014 at 10:05

    This article reminds me of the adage, “don’t work hard, work smart” or whatever variation you could think of. I don’t have the option of working 80 hours a week physically, so my challenge is to buck the trend and find a different path to the same goal. Realistic? We shall see…

  22. Lanthiriel says 19 March 2014 at 10:14

    This is a very timely article for me. I am in my final week at a job that just didn’t pay enough for the hours that it was asking me to work. I tried to make them understand that their expectations about what I could reasonably accomplish in a work week needed to change. I absolutely felt like a jack of all trades, master of none, which didn’t feel like a viable career path. My current employer seemed shocked when told them that I’d received an offer to do about 50% of my current responsibilities for 20% more money at a different firm.

    My advice is to always be looking. Loyalty to one firm doesn’t seem to get you anywhere these days. If you have the skills and work hard, there’s almost always a better opportunity around the corner.

  23. Adam says 19 March 2014 at 10:31

    Studies have shown that happiness goes up with income up to a certain point, when income then has no effect on happiness. I’ve seen that point at 50-75k, and obviously this would change based on cost of living in your area. Of course if you could make more money within the same amount of hours than it makes sense, but to kill yourself at work only to buy a nicer car than it seems like a waste.

  24. @WilliamLipovsky, First Quarter Finance says 19 March 2014 at 12:45

    “Like I said, at my core, I revert back to the thought that I should be lucky to have any job at all. I’m not quite sure what part of myself I agree with more. So I’d like to know what you think…”

    I hate this thought but I too have the same thought sometimes. It’s similar to recent college grads not hustling to their full potential because they don’t want to leave others behind.

    Somehow the idea has been placed in my generation (I’m 24) that kicking butt and living to your full potential is actually a bad thing. So many people think if you’re rich, you’re a bad guy. It kind of ticks me off that it’s socially acceptable to say “I’m broke” during a casual conversation.

  25. Teinegurl says 19 March 2014 at 14:48

    I can relate to this a lot! I have two young kids and i’m a single mom. I have very strict time requirements for work (even more than when they were little) because i have to be there to pick them up from school , I also need flexibility to call in sick. Luckily i have family support and my job has been very understanding which im thankful for.

    For me a job that requires more than 40+ hours a week is just not feasible. I would never get to spend time with my kids and that’s the main reason i’m working so hard. My mom was a single mom also and although she provided for me it stuck with how much she was not there because she was working. I never wanted my kids to feel that way.

    In a way it hurt me because im not a high earner and i really dont have time to work a second job or extra hours to bring in more income but in a way i like that because after i work my 40 hours anything after that is diminishing returns in terms of my energy and mood, productiviity. I also think it would be very hard for you to sustain that momentum over the long haul. 1 year or 2 years max in the position before you would be burnt out.
    Your lucky to be in the position where you can chose where you want to go, choose the fit of the company “that works for you” I think you should take advantage of that fact. Now if worse gets to worse different story but your not there yet.

    • Kristin Wong says 20 March 2014 at 09:10

      Working hard has given me a greater appreciation for parents. I don’t understand how y’all do it. Seriously, if I work even a tad more than 40 hours a week, it’s a struggle to plan dinner and grocery trips and date night with my boyfriend and clean the house and take care of my cats. So I don’t know how people do all that, but also pick up kids, help them with homework, raise them, etc. etc. etc. I don’t know if I’ll ever have kids, but I’m already anxious about how I’d manage my time as a parent, haha. So, yeah, I can definitely see how you’d need to create a cutoff at 40 hours.

  26. G says 19 March 2014 at 15:38

    Money isn’t everything. Being single and debt free has generally made it even less of a concern for me.

    At a job I had (I was Director of Technology and Info) we were WAY short staffed and I was always getting stuck with things WAY below what they were paying me for (things like replacing VCRs and replacing computer mice) and when I was out doing these things I’d get caught up in other things that took up my time. I ended up proposing a part time person and they wouldn’t approve the budget, but I talked them into giving me time off (12 hours a week) and we’d hire a part time person for 20-30 hours a week; we saved $10k-$15k a year. Not only we were caught up on work that I shouldn’t be doing, I was generally caught up on my job too! I was probably the happiest person there and had a 30% pay cut.

    I took Wednesdays and every other Friday off. I was well rested and less stressed and way more positive when I was at work.

    Realistically, I was making more per hour (since I was salaried), I went from 9-11 hour days (and the occasional weekend) plus having to do work at home to 8-9 hour days with very little required working at home in the evenings; I still did work at home but because I wanted to (not because I had to) and that was even higher quality.

    I wasn’t just being a bum, I’d been offered other consulting work in the past and asked (several times) to teach a class at local university but turned them down (I didn’t want more time working), now I took those offers and enjoyed the variety and freedom (they generally paid less than I made previously).

    Occasionally it was an issue at work when problems came up and I wasn’t there, but all they had to do was call…

  27. Marie says 19 March 2014 at 15:39

    Keeping better track of my hourly wage has been a real eye opener when looking for work in my field. As a part-time server, I am making more per hour than almost any full-time job I can find that uses my degree.

    Do I take a 40-hour-a-week job to know that I am “stable” in my field? Or, do I earn slightly less money working only 25 hours a week as a server, and continue my search for the Holy Grail job in my field?

    • Carla says 19 March 2014 at 17:44

      Do I take a 40-hour-a-week job to know that I am “stable” in my field? Or, do I earn slightly less money working only 25 hours a week as a server, and continue my search for the Holy Grail job in my field?

      You would take the 40-hour-a-week job now if you need the benefits, especially health insurance.

    • Beth says 19 March 2014 at 19:28

      Hmm. Maybe in the short term you’d be making more, but wouldn’t getting into your field sooner make you more money in the long run? I’m wondering if getting experience and building your skills might help you move into a higher paying job in your field faster than trying to find the perfect fit.

      Right now it seems you’re comparing serving with an entry level job in your field. Imagine two or three years down the road — would the salaries still be so close? When the perfect fit does come along, you’ll be in a better position to get that job if you’ve got more experience.

      • Marie says 21 March 2014 at 18:16

        Just to clarify: not an entry-level job. I’ve been in my field 11 years, and it’s been hard-hit by economic downturns, thus my downsizing. The salary forecast isn’t even close to what it was when I was in school.

        Thank you for your thoughts!

  28. Sarah says 19 March 2014 at 17:33

    There is great book that really gets into this idea. Its called Your Money or Your Life.

  29. No Nonsense Landlord says 19 March 2014 at 18:09

    I have multiple income streams, my job and several others. I work 80+ hours per week. My outside income streams produce more than my job.

    If someone is working too many hours, they cannot devote time to mitigate the losing of the job risk.

    Often people work 80+ hour weeks, at an employer, because they are inefficient, or do not have any other things to devote time to. Or do not want to devote the time to.

    Wen an employer mandates 80+ hour weeks, it is either bad management, or self induced.

  30. Emma says 19 March 2014 at 21:20

    I’ve never thought about it like this – that “high-earning” should be measured not just by how much you make, but also by the number of hours you work.

  31. Brad says 19 March 2014 at 22:25

    I was hoping you’d also talk about the steps you are taking or intend to take to be on your way to becoming a high-earner. Will there be a part 2?

  32. John says 19 March 2014 at 23:00

    Excellent article. I believe that it’s unethical and unrealistic for a person to consistently work 75+hr workweeks. Regardless of pay, it simply becomes unhealthy for that person to continue without time to focus on their family, their hobbies, their home, and of all things rest. It’s not laziness, it’s not a sense of entitlement, it’s called having good self-worth and making effective and efficient use of your time.

  33. Adam P says 20 March 2014 at 09:13

    I work at a huge bank head office where I have to release our consolidated financial results to the SEC and media. During the release periods I have worked until 2:30am and come in the next morning before 7. The stress can be overwhelming as 200+ page reports need to be completely perfect. I’ve put in a 114 hour week where I barely had time to eat, never mind sleep and workout.

    Finance is brutal! But yes, even with those crazy hours I can still call myself a high earner. But now that I have a sizeable amount saved, I am beginning to think it would be nice to go contract and be paid hourly rather than salary.

    And yes, it is very unethical to treat employees like slaves and work them to death. The legacy of the last recession is more productivity by fewer workers for fewer pay.

  34. Sir. Pog says 20 March 2014 at 09:23

    I do not think that desiring a fair-value exchange of money for your time is “entitlement.” I think it is simply the desire for a fair transaction. I am early in my career and am constantly thinking about this question: Do I take a job where I can make a lot of money, but have to work longer hours? As you aptly demonstrated with your comparison, if you bring home more money in a month, but at the cost of more work hours, you aren’t really earning more money, you’re simply exchanging more of your time.

    In my field, there are a couple of ways to get to a six-figure salary. Both require 40+ hrs/week over an extended time, but one requires significantly more (50 hrs vs. 80/week). If I go the route of working more hrs, I am very likely to bring home a six figure salary, but essentially, it would be at the cost of working two full-time jobs. The prospects of making six figures in the fewer-hours per week setting is a bigger risk, but if it works, I earn more per hour.

    I think the goal of having your time valued at a higher rate (i.e. more money per unit of time) is a perfectly legitimate desire & goal. To keep it in perspective, remember that your time is a constantly diminishing asset: You only have so much of it, and once your time is spent, you can never go back and get more of it. So to me, wanting more money in exchange for your time is perfectly reasonable, assuming of course, that what you do with your time results in high quality.

    Now, if you wanted more money for poorer quality work, I would consider that a sense of entitlement, but what you are talking about in this article seems to me to be more a proposition of fair-market value & exchange.

  35. Tonya says 20 March 2014 at 11:16

    I think you got it wrong when you said the choice would be between $100k for a 40-hour a week job and $100k for a 75-hour a week job. It’s more likely to be a choice between $40k for a 40-hour-a-week job (if you can find one) and $100k for a 75-hour-a-week job. Obviously anyone who COULD make $100k for 40 hours a week would go with that, but there aren’t that many jobs out there that pay that high without (as others have said) paying your dues to get up to that level.

    As for me, I’m a public school teacher, so I’m stuck in the low income bracket, no matter how many hours I put in. But I love it and the hours work well for me as a single mom, so I’ll stick with it.

  36. Jonathan says 20 March 2014 at 21:06

    I don’t think entitlement is your problem, as you seem to have a reasonable outlook. I’ve had one of those long hours, high pay jobs (corporate lawyer) and made quite a bit of money over the years. If you have valuable skills, you deserve to be paid well for them. However, I’d caution you that this type of path can earn you a lot of money but also low satisfaction. Finding a balance is the hard part.

  37. Mrs. Jim says 20 March 2014 at 22:51

    I, too, am a “corporate attorney” and back in the day I put in tons of hours, but, after I “proved” myself and because I was a mother, I set limits on my hours and asked for flex hours, when possible ’cause I’m a trial attorney which means you can flex your hours for weeks on end and then you simply can not and you work practically non-stop during trials.
    I now work 4 days a week (unless I’m in trial) and I flex my hours so I miss rush hour drives and I can accommodate my family’s needs with this schedule. It takes time to work your way into this kind of situation and you had damn well better be worth it to your employer if you hope to do so. I, personally, find a great deal of satisfaction in my job and make 6 figures plus.

  38. Ann says 21 March 2014 at 21:41

    I haven’t commented in a long time, but overwork is something I’ve been dealing with since I started my first role in my current career back in 2002.

    I used to put in crazy hours (60-80 h/wk) even though I received no overtime because I had this fuzzy idea that it would pay off in the end.

    11.5 years later, I had a couple of setbacks at work because I’m not a political animal and need to be able to look myself in the mirror every morning (make-up is really difficult to apply otherwise), but I’m currently pulling in $140k/a (not where I want to be at 34, but it’s still okay)…and I’m doing normal hours (40-45 h/wk). I’ve proven myself over the years (and learned to be really efficient) so my bosses are willing to make concessions for me, allowing me to take days off here and there without using my vacation for personal matters (when there’s an 18-month-old involved, you have a lot of personal matters that take you away from work).

    I took the long-term view with my career, willing to sacrifice my time when I was younger and had fewer responsibilities, in order pull in a decent salary while working decent hours later on when priorities change.

    …kind of like the long-term view I took with my finances that will allow me to retire very comfortably at 45 (I can do it now but I really like eating at Michelin-starred restaurants).

  39. Lila says 22 March 2014 at 18:15

    This article reminds me of my bf’s career as a software developer. At his last company, they advertised 9-5, weekends off, PTO, health/dental, 401 (k) and other benefits.

    Unfortunately it became an 80 hour/week job.

    Also in the IT industry if something is wrong, they have no problem with calling you at home or on your cell, and ask you to come in and fix whatever is wrong with the code or your program, server, any related IT issue.

    I decided to go and become an accounting clerk, pays less than IT, but at least it’s 9-5 & benefits. At some point I want to go for my bachelor’s in accounting but I will not become a CPA. Will not work for a big accounting firm.

    Since I’m debt-free with no student loans and no kids, and I live in the mid-west where the cost of living is affordable, I feel happy with my decision.

    I’m not jealous of people who make six figures, I know how much they have to work in order to make that kind of money and what they have to give up.

  40. A says 25 March 2014 at 04:52

    I really disagree with the author that job A pays more here, especially when it comes to high-paying jobs in the financial services industries. The difference is that the high hour, high income “hourly rate” isn’t determined by base salary alone.

    For example, these are actual salary & incentive figures from me and my classmates as of 2013 when we graduated. I have an Ivy League undergrad and have a top-tier MBA which explains why the numbers are a little higher than you typically see.

    Me: 40 hr a week cushy corporate job
    base salary: $97,000
    signing bonus: $10,000
    annual bonus: up to 10% ($9,000)

    Classmate A: 80 hr a week consulting job at Deloitte
    base salary: $135,000
    signing bonus: $25,000 yes before you even do anything
    annual bonus: up to $40,000

    Classmate B: 110 hr a week I-banking job at Goldman Sachs
    base salary: 130,000
    signing bonus: $10,000
    annual bonus: no limit

    If you just compare the base, it looks like I’m outearning my buddies on an hourly basis. This is kinda true if we all slacked off and were really mediocre. However, the I-banker can rake in 300%-500% of his salary in a good year; this is why half of my MBA class goes to Wall St. Also, the other 2 meet more executives from client firms that help them launch into other careers in the future. Lastly, the other 2 have the almighty expense account with very few restrictions, which I don’t unless I’m hardcore traveling.

    Yeah the work and the hours suck. Duh, it’s work. Different priorities.

  41. Name withheld says 06 October 2014 at 04:12

    I have to comment on the aargh commentator who makes $110k annually with multiple degrees working 13 hour days, 2 hours or more at home and 6 days a week with being on-call on the 7th.

    First of all, are you single or married? I can’t imagine you must be married or have kids. What husband or wife would want to be married to you? You sound so busy making money that you don’t have time to “be” with your family. Family and a home should be the reason you are working so hard but not so hard you don’t get to enjoy those precious years. Your kids will grow up and never recall good times or you being there if you work all the time.

    As for me, I worked for major oil companies over 25 years earning a paltry but decent $48-$50k a year with annual bonuses and occasional salary bumps along the way.

    Then in first quarter 2010, though I sat working for the head of the group but was at my 99% salary cap rate, I couldn’t find a horizontal career move that would not force me out of a global staff reorg and a mandatory early forced retirement at age 50. It was a shock I wasn’t ready for coupled with a new remarriage that I hoped would stabilize my family since I had suffered through a bad first marriage of 11 years and 21 of that to a hubby who turned out to have a secret mental health issue coupled with a really bad drinking issue and terrible problems with money.

    Fast forward, the second marriage turned out to be a ruse with a man whose very wealthy family came from the very large oil company I had worked for so long. It seems that Junior wanted his dad’s well earned inheritance and married me only as a prerequisite to getting it since he had an undisclosed drinking problem bigger than hubby #1 and a hidden childhood sexual trama never disclosed to anyone in his family but me. Six months into it, he abandoned me & my children and while I was still out of work, he pushed us into divorce that led to having to sell my 15 year old home.

    Fast forward again 3 years to 2014, after getting a self employed high paid consulting job that got me $72k a year working only 40 hours a week, I was unceremoniously dumped from that lucrative job when the boss had personality conflicts with his entire team and since I worked for him, the President of that oil company decided the best way to pull his power was to cut his immediate support–me!

    After spending a year trying to recover from both sudden losses out of state healing a broken heart and a devastated career loss that wiped out all my savings and forced us to lose our home, now I am back still struggling with no husband, no job, no home (just a very old 60’s apt that costs as much as my house mortgage was monthly to live in–almost unaffordable) and using 80-90% of my child support just to pay to keep that roof over the heads of me and two sons (one in elem & one that just started middle school).

    I have interviewed little (tough to get job callbacks), I don’t date (no sitter money), almost no living family (just a 90 year old mom with no $ herself and a 65 year old sis preoccupied with caring for her dying 80 year old hubby).

    I have one 62 year old ex that tries to see his kids when he isn’t running off with his 43 year old live-in girlfriend (who never wants marriage or kids) to fun places out of town.

    I have another 57 year old ex (Junior) who has inherited the wealth of his father after his Dad quietly passed due to cancer complications and yet he will not have anything to do with the children who are really his own flesh and blood. Even when we were briefly married, he was selfish and never wanted to really be in my sons’ lives so they have been hurt the most with selfish dads who just don’t want to be there–no matter what our economic conditions are like.

    Aargh should do himself a favor–put your family and kids first and not the job or making the high income.

    Your family needs you and besides you can always get another job but it’s harder to get another new family.

  42. g says 18 April 2019 at 05:29

    Well, I feel the same. It always makes me wonder why most people blindly strive to have MORE HOURS of work instead of striving to have MORE DOLLARS per hour? :(( Partly perhaps due to slave mentality . . .

    I used to earn 8 dollars per hour and surviving on that. Then, I got a job that pays $14 dollars per hour and gives me 33 hours a week. At present I have the latter job and I can afford to live very comfortably on that money without even working 40 hours a week, which I love! I pay for rent and food and save up for vacation/days off for whatever reason up to five weeks a year. And just last week, I was being offered a job that pays $14 per hour (what I already have now) PLUS benefits (401k, paid vacation and sick days, and paid holidays and paid overtime, which I don’t have) BUT requires me to work 40 minimum hours per week, which means basically 40+ hours……..So, I’m in a dilemma. Extra benefits means extra money, but then I lose my precious free time…… If in my current job I worked extra hours, I would have earned more money enough to invest in the exrta benefits myself (I could open IRA retirement account and add dental and vision insurance on top of my regular obamacare…)…..so, it’s not much different… I live comfortably now and wish not to change my job simply for more money/beneftis and hours at the same time. I would rather get another job that has the same hours but more money/benefits – then and only then it would be progress to me…..

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