Work 30 Years in a Job You Love or 15 Years in a Job You Don’t Like?

Over the years I’ve written a lot about the steps that can lead to financial success. In December of 2006, (the year I created this blog), I wrote about the best financial decisions I’d made to date.  In 2007 I elaborated on the lessons I learned, which included getting my first job early in life, attending a state college, interning, and living with roommates after college. Last year I elaborated on the decisions and events that enabled me to increase my savings. (If you plan to click through the previous links I should warn you that some of the details are duplicated across posts.)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the advice I’d give my younger self. If I had it to do all over again would I repeat the same actions and make the same decisions? Sure I’d tweak a few things here and there. If I were smart I’d buy a house in a different neighborhood or live in a group house that wasn’t infested with fruit flies. I would definitely travel more! There are a few places I really wish I’d visited before my son was born, but my regrets are actually few and far between.

The number one contributor to my current wealth is definitely the occupation I previously held. As a hard working software developer my salary rose to higher heights than it would have in most of the other professions I considered as a college student. The fact that my husband also works in software further boosted our overall net worth.

While I was in college I considered becoming a teacher. I love working with children and wanted a ‘feel-good’ occupation that would warm my heart and help me feel like I was contributing to the greater good of society. Of course, a teacher’s salary cannot compare to a position in the IT industry. As a teacher it might have taken me thirty years to accumulate the amount of money I earned in twelve.

I did enjoy aspects of my work, but it certainly wasn’t rewarding in a way that I imagined my career would be. Despite the lack of warm fuzzies software development definitely helped me put money in the bank. I now believe more than ever that the key to acquiring wealth is working in a high paying industry early in your career. Make a high income and set aside as much money as you possibly can while still living your life. I’m not suggesting that you live like Scrooge for years on end. Even while you are earning a high income you can live a life of moderation not deprivation. The goal is not to squirrel all your money aside for the future, but rather to live today and still set aside a large chunk for tomorrow.

Above all else money provides you with flexibility. If you work at a high paying job early in your career you can ultimately choose to stay home with your children, choose to travel the world for a year, choose to retire early in order to volunteer your time to worthy projects. Yes, it’s true that you can also do all of these things without money but it certainly helps to have a firm financial footing. There is simply less to worry about when there is money in the bank.

Of course, we also know that life isn’t a guarantee. Given my medical history I certainly know this fact more than most people. You could work fifteen years in a job you don’t like and then drop dead the very next day. In that case it would have been a wiser decision to work in a more fulfilling job and to feel rewarded for your efforts. Since most of us don’t know how long we’ll live you can’t exactly hedge your bets for dropping dead tomorrow, nor would you want to.

Money is not the key to happiness. Some people would prefer to sacrifice a high salary for a job they love. In fact I know a few people who would rather sell their souls than work in a job that isn’t rewarding. Others would prefer to make a lot of money in a shorter amount of time and then be able to focus their attention on the aspects of life they really enjoy. Imagine all that you can do with your life if you didn’t spend 40 hours a week working.

I realize that a lot of people don’t have the option to work in a high paying line of work, but if you did have the option what do you think? Would you rather work thirty years in a job you love or ten to fifteen years in a high paying job you don’t really like?

As I look at my young son I wonder what advice I would give him. I chose the path of high income as did my husband. I wonder what he will decide when the time comes.

2 thoughts on “Work 30 Years in a Job You Love or 15 Years in a Job You Don’t Like?”

  1. It is very unfortunate that people need to choose between having a fulfilling career (like a teacher) and those that pay well enough to accumulate wealth, or even financial freedom. My husband’s teacher’s salary cannot pay the bills for a small mortgage on a small townhome along with our utilities, car payment, etc. Perhaps the question (though obviously not the focus of your blog) is whether we want those who work with our children during such an important stage of life to have to struggle financially. In many places, teachers have excellent pay scales and are respected much more than they are in America; my sister, a Canadian teacher with 8 years of experience, makes $85,000. My husband, with 11 years of experience, makes $45,000 in Virginia. Such a shame.


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