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I’m Getting Ahead By Working For Free


Do you consider yourself a short term thinker or a long term thinker? When it comes to finding a new job, what’s on your list of things that matter most to you in your new position? Is it benefits? Salary? Flexibility? Based on your list, I can tell you immediately whether you are thinking about your immediate wants or your long-term goals.

Short-Term Thinkers

Typically, those that are selecting jobs with a short-term mentality look at nothing other than the hourly wage that the job offers. If their current job pays $12/hr but there’s a company offering $15/hr down the road, they’ll immediately drop their current job and work for the other company because there’s higher pay.

Short-term thinkers also make employment decisions based on medical benefits. They know that they’re in need of some sort of surgery soon, so if they could find a job that offers great benefits, they’ll be able to save themselves a few hundred bucks in the short-term. Since there is no real thought about the job or the environment where they will work, this is extremely short-term thinking and will only lead dead-end results in the future.

Long-Term Thinkers

Do you select a new job based on a matching 401(k) program, a chance for advancement in the company, or the opportunity to improve your leadership skills? If so, you my friend, are a long-term thinker!

Long-term thinkers typically look ahead at least 5-10 years into the future – and some even think 20+ years ahead. Even if you’re only 25 years old, if you’re thinking long-term, you might be gauging the company you work for and deciding what career path is right for you in order to have the most satisfaction in your life (and maybe that comes with a decent sized paycheck as well). The paycheck today doesn’t even matter if you are learning valuable skills now and have a great chance for advancement in the future.

That’s Why I’m Working For Free

Before you get on my case about needing money to survive, it’s true, I’m working for free, but it’s not my regular full-time job. I’m still getting paid there. It’s in my spare time that I’m deciding to work for free. So now the question is, “What am I doing? And why?”

About a year ago, I decided to seek out a mentor in my company that would help me with my long-term thoughts and goals. Lucky for me, I made friends with one of the top dogs in finance. The best advice he gave me so far was to get involved in an organization outside of work – more specifically, to get on the Board of a local organization. I didn’t really understand why at the time, but I decided act on his suggestion anyway.

Within a few short weeks, I found a non-profit organization that was looking for a Board member with experience in finance. I quickly applied for the position, went through the interview process, and was ultimately accepted onto the Board. The salary was a whopping zero dollars, but I actually enjoyed being part of a worthy cause so I didn’t mind much.

Turning Weaknesses into Strengths

When I’m working at my regular job, I rarely venture outside of my cubical. I talk enough to know my co-workers names, but I am shy by nature and it’s clearly evident when I’m at work. I know that I’m an intelligent person and I’m able to lead projects, but because of my shy nature I’m not often selected for these roles of leadership.

There was a Board meeting the other day, and I was just listening intently to what was going on. Then the unexpected happened. The current Treasurer (who sits on the Executive Board (that’s the highest level team in an organization) announced that he would be retiring from his position at the end of February and that they needed to fill the position ASAP. At that moment, the Treasurer and everyone else that belonged to the Executive Board turned and looked directly at me. To my surprise, I was officially nominated right then and there.

If I were to accept the Treasurer position, I would still be working for free and I would increase my responsibilities, which means that I’d have to put in more time. Sounds terrible doesn’t it? But, think for the long-term a second. What is my major weakness in my career right now? Leadership. With this new position, I will be heading up all of the Finance Committee meetings, and I’ll be summarizing our actions in front of the entire Board each month! If this won’t kick my butt into leadership, I don’t know what will. With this new skill, I’ll be more effective in my day-job, which will provide me with a huge benefit for the long term!

Are you a long-term thinker? Would you be willing to work for free to achieve your long-term goals?



My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. Congratulations! That was a great tip your mentor gave you. I am looking into a charity to get involved with, but haven’t decided on one yet (though I had not thought about being on the board).

    • It’s a great idea to sit on the board. Not only do you still volunteer your time, but you learn so much more about the organization as a whole. Plus, it could be good for your future career!

  2. Nice work!

    I am a 5 year block thinker, so definitely long term. I’m willing to endure thick and thin to get to the promised land.

    Blogging is one such way. Easy to make nothing for the first two to three years. But once you break through, it’s glory!


    • Yeah, I’m starting to focus a little more on my blogging as of late. It is pretty close to glory! 😉

  3. Congrats Derek!

    So much can be gained by giving away your time, even if you don’t intend on receiving anything in exchange. Just don’t let them bully you into donating too much of your time or doing everything on your own.

    Personally, I think in both the long- and short-terms. To me, there needs to be a balance between what I want to achieve later with not losing out on living and experiencing life today.

    • Yep, there always has to be that balance. There are some that think only about what they’ll do when they retire, when they retire, when they retire…. and then once they get there, they realize that they’ve wasted 40+ years of their life! We do have to think about both the present and the future. Thanks for the comment!

  4. First off congratulations on your new nomination and position. Looks like it will benefit you greatly down the road. I am a long term thinker myself but I do it in tiers 1yr,5yrs, and 10yrs.

    • Sounds like you’re a very strategic long-term thinker. Even better! Stay awesome Marvin! 🙂

  5. When I downsized 15 years ago and moved into a townhouse. I started to go to our board meetings and got involved. The next year I was elected Treasurer. I have been Treasurer for the last 14 years and have help steer our HOA. I constantly tell my children to prepare for the next position whether it is years away or not. If you are not ready when opportunity occurs you won’t get it. Good job, Derek!

    • Thanks Krantcents! Yep, by accepting this position I figure I’m opening up many doors and windows for the future! 🙂

  6. This is a great tip. I’ve seen it play out in my own field; many dietitians I’ve met at small regional meetings have moved up to state board positions and some to national. It helps with networking as well!

    • You’ve got it Jessica. I’ve had quite a few job possibilities come my way already too. Non-profits are a great way to meet new people outside of your normal network.

  7. I am a long term thinker. I’ll will take a smaller salary to start if I see lots of potential in the company for promotions and profit-sharing opportunities.

    • Sounds like you definitely are a long term thinking Jon. Taking a job with less pay is not easy to do in our world today, but if you think that you have a better chance to move up in the company then it’s probably the way to go!

  8. I have done the treasurer for a charity board thing. It is a ton of work, but you get tons back in experience and making relationships. Just be careful that you learn to say no. Otherwise, it keeps growing until you have taken on too much and you lose some of the benefit.

    • Great point Kim. I’ll make sure that I don’t take on too much!

  9. This is a fantastic opportunity, congrats! Not only are you gaining leadership experience, but you’re creating a pretty amazing network for yourself. Definitely not working for free if you take those concepts into consideration. 🙂

    • Soooo many opportunities. It’s going to open up a ton of doors for sure. Plus, I get to help the community out with my efforts! It’s a great win-win!

  10. I think it makes a lot of sense to be willing to work for free because you know it will pay off eventually. Blogging is like that. Much of the work is done for free, but in time it does start to have some payoff, not to mention other perks.

    • Very true Pam! Especially when it comes to blogging! I have made a nice chunk of change over the years, and I now have an idea that could be worth over $100k – all because I started blogging for free. 🙂

  11. Congratulations to you. It also feels good to work for free especially when you are able to help other people. And things will eventually pay off.

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