The best work you ever do is for nothing. You may spend your life making excellent bridges, or cars, or books, or government policies. But it will usually be for a wage.
Imagine Jesus Christ being paid, during his lifetime, a fair wage for what he was doing. Imagine Buddha’s efforts being assessed by a pay tribunal. Imagine Mohammed receiving a pay rise because of excellent performance in wise negotiations. Your common-sense brain will tell you that this is nonsense: that a person, doing their most important work, is not doing it for the wage, but because it is a path of discovery, and the right thing to do.
I don’t mean that you will never be paid for good work. That is a different thing. If someone wants to pay you for the good things you do, then lucky you. You will be able to use that money to feed yourself and your nearest and dearest. Good on you.
But a good life comes from the goodness first. Wake up in the morning, decide what good feels like, and walk in that direction. Plenty of people suffer depression because they feel trapped in lives that don’t make any sense to them. They believe that there is no choice in the matter: that they are bound on a wheel of unthinking harshness. Some people even continue on such paths until they are unbearable, and they collapse under the strain.
But the best work you ever do is for nothing. Never mind what you are paid for it, just do what seems right to you. Or if nothing seems right, look for small opportunities to help someone, or to be kind, and work upwards from that. Even if you are in a joyless job, see what you can do that reinvigorates your faith in humanity, and helps you feel that you are connected. The same thing can be done by one person for money, and by the next person for faith. It is the intention that matters.
There is something uncomfortably mercenary about translating actions into monetary value. For one thing, it causes resentment when the value does not arrive; or guilt, when the money arrives, but the action falls short. Before you know it, you may be on a money treadmill. Don’t take the financial reward too seriously. Live simply, do what matters, and let the rest take care of itself.