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My parents once did an awful and wonderful thing to me. I was, let’s say 11-ish, and I really, really, really wanted a Nintendo. The price of a Nintendo at that time was $99. I earned a base allowance of $5 a week, plus a quarter for every load of laundry I folded. My parents told me that if I wanted something as frivolous as a Nintendo, I was going to have to earn it myself. And so, I started saving. And folding.

It seemed like an eternity of saving and folding (months! and months!), but eventually raised the entire $99. It was the end of November or early December, so my family would be soon taking a trip to “the city” for Christmas shopping. Yes, we were country folk. Not much beyond groceries could be purchased without an hour-and-a-half drive to the city, and that definitely included video game systems. I remember waiting, with my $99, and looking at it, thinking, “Wow. What an incredible amount of money. I can’t believe I earned all of this. I made this happen.”

I marveled over my wad of cash all the way down to Saginaw. I thought about it all day as we marched from store to store, getting all of our Christmas shopping done, as well as purchasing our regular city provisions. By the time we made it to Sam’s Club, where, for all I knew, Nintendos were exclusively sold, it was dark. Mom said she wasn’t sure if it was still open. We checked. It was closed. I was heartbroken. All the way home I looked at all of that money that I’d saved for all of that time. It was an overwhelming amount of dollars, but I didn’t want to do anything with it but get a Nintendo. We would not be returning to the city until next year.

I don't even know if this is the right Christmas. I just chose this one based on how much I think my sister is going to kill me.

I don’t even know if this is the right Christmas. I just chose this one based on how much I think my sister is going to kill me.

Of course, that was all a rouse. My parents were getting me a Nintendo for Christmas and didn’t want me to spend my money on one. The point was that I had earned it, and I was so excited to open that Nintendo Christmas morning that my brain just about fell out my earholes. And I have no idea what I did with the money.

The point is that 20 years later, I weigh and judge whether or not an assignment is worth taking or a gig is worth doing based on, largely, how much it pays. I measure my job success by how much I make each month. These measurements are typically made in $100 increments, or in other words, Nintendos. In other, other words, months of 11-year-old saving and laundry folding.

I think about this each time I turn something down or mull over a rate and decide it’s too low. It’s just a hundred bucks. Or, that should be at least a hundred bucks more. Something seems valuable in remembering how I stared for so long at those $99 dollars of mine two decades ago, in awe of that amount and of all the time and effort that had gone into earning it. It doesn’t mean I say yes to everything, but it does make me assign a real value to every $100 that I consider exchanging some of my thoughts for. Because I could get a Nintendo with all that.

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