Too often our society places the highest value on that which costs the most money. Somehow we have come to learn that the most money means the best product and ultimately, quality of life. We convince ourselves that life would be better if we had more money. While it is almost always easier, it doesn’t mean better. Quality of life should be determined by more than just the number of bills in our wallet or the number of zero’s in our bank accounts.
This often transfers to how we understand our ideal job. Because money provides so much more freedom, we become convinced that the more money we make, the happier we will be. There have been recent work to resist this materialistic trend. One most notable is the Wall Street Journal’s article, stating that $75,000 is the happiness threshold income. In other words, anything over this amount in income will not make people significantly more happy. They are clear to point out that this is just a rule of thumb and not a universal standard, but the point is sharp: more money is not always better.
Yet, our obsession continues. We understand promotions not in terms of increased responsibility or recognition for hard work, but merely in salary increase. A performance bonus means more to us in the dollar amount than respect for the quality of work. While I would like to attribute the problem to materialism and be done with it, if I am honest with myself, I believe it also results from the natural transition to a real job after graduation from college.
How We Understand Job Employment: Coming to Grips with the ‘9-to-5’
One of the most difficult transition periods in someone’s life is when they have to get a “real job”. This often refers to the time following their last education – be it high school or college. While I worked through college, it was hard adjusting to a full-time gig. My aspirations from college of making a difference in the world and being able to follow my dreams quickly faded. I was faced with the reality of having to make ends meet.
Many young adults face this same challenge. Whether it is paying off college debt or paying for your new car that you just financed, the bills add up. You could be paying for rent for the first time as well. I remember when I thought my parents were loaded, only to discover that the monthly bills (mortgage, insurance, car payments, etc.) gave them little cushion. Young adults face this same issue and it alters how they see their job. Instead of seeing a job as a place to excel, follow your skills and passions, it is instead a place to earn a paycheck. You put in your time and in exchange, you can pay your bills and continue with your lifestyle.
Working the 9-to-5 job is not just a challenge for young adults. Before you know it, the job becomes monotonous and you start to wonder why you committed to this. One response of this is to change your job, in hopes that you can find something more interesting. According to the bureau of labor statistics, research suggested that people born in the late 50’s/early 60’s changed jobs on average 11 times between the ages of 18 and 44. Another response would be to understand your job strictly as earning more money. Because the job is no longer important in and of itself, you focus on the money.
Is a Higher Paying 9 to 5 Job Always Better?
If you are working your job and considering switching careers, it is always important to take compensation into consideration. But, should this be the most important aspect. Is a job with a higher salary always better? In order to examine this more closely, let discuss two situations.
First, let’s assume that you have some pretty aggressive financial goals like retiring early. In order to accomplish your goal, you understand that you have to get a high paying job. You work hard to get a promotion and move up in your field, thereby increasing your salary even more. Yet, it comes to a point where you get burnt out because the job you settled for was motivated solely by income. As a result, you end up buying more stuff to keep you happy. Before you know it, you realize that you need to keep buying more stuff or doing expensive hobbies to justify your sacrifice. Ironically, the job you settled for based on financial reasons is actually hurting your more than the alternative.
Secondly, let’s imagine you decide that money isn’t everything. You make some lifestyle sacrifice in order to follow your dreams. You go through several years of low-paying jobs before getting a mediocre-paying job in the field that you enjoy. Instead of focusing just on salary, you understand your job as a means to fulfillment. It’s not just a place to punch in at the beginning of the day and punch out at the end. This inevitably means that you have to work longer because it is lower pay, but it means a lifetime of happiness.
I think it would be naive to suggest that it always happens in either one of these situations. I am sure that both of these do happen every day, but the majority is probably somewhere in the middle – some sort of compromise between following your dreams with no interest in a high salary and completely disregarding your passions for the salary. What I hope to illustrate however is that having a high salary does not equal happiness. It often leads to other areas in life that counteract pursuing a high-paying salary. There are some situations where a high-income job and your passions can coincide (they are not mutually exclusive), but it’s not always the case. All I know is that when we view our job as a place to earn a paycheck, it becomes easy to confuse it with a prison cell – doing your life sentence 40 hours a week.