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.
I think the best paying job is one that you enjoy that also allows you to comfortably pay the bills.
I agree. If only it were that easy all the time. 😉
You spend almost all of your creative time at work — all your best hours, as it were, and if you are miserable? Then you should switch, regardless of the dollars you’re bringing in. You have to have a job for more than forty years, better make it one that makes you happy.
I agree – otherwise it’s like a prison cell for 40 hours a week for 40 years.
I’ve held jobs that were absolutely, draining, soul sucking experiences. These were jobs that paid well, too. Eventually you reach a point where you know, being happy isn’t worth that extra bit of salary – now, I’ve got a job I’m mostly happy with and a good salary too. But I’m also in a position where if my job were to change, I could accept a little less money to take the “right” job instead of the highest paying one.
Sorry to hear that – good luck launching into your career and having better choices.
This summer I took a job close to home for minimum wage instead of traveling and making more (a lot more). IT only hurts on pay day, because I like this job more, and going home every night to relax is worth something too. I decided it was worth the difference in money but I know some others might not.
Timely post Corey. I have been considering a different job this past weekend and really trying to weigh the pros and cons. It isn’t just about money and title. There is so much more to consider. Chances are I am going to stay put. I would be giving up too much.
It’s all about life balance. I actually enjoy the regularity that comes with 9-5 work. But, I balance it out with social and family fun as well as hobbies and side business activities. Variety is the spice of life!
I agree with this to an extent. It is very important to find a happy middle ground, pursuing a job that pays well enough to pay bills and invest but yet doesn’t deplete you of every happiness in your life. I once worked a job that sucked all of the life out of me — it really wasn’t worth the increased income!
I would say for younger folks, the answer is YES because once you have a higher base, the multiplier takes in affect for your next move.
When young, you have the energy to survive torture better!
I agree that young people are able to do more, but If younger folks aim for just a higher paying job, it may offer them a lot of financial security when they do have energy, but what happens when they lose energy and the inability to switch career paths?
Of course the best job is not always the highest paying one
I think it’s all about finding a happy medium. Just as low paying jobs are usually very lame, high paying jobs are usually super stressful. You don’t get the big bucks for no reason. You get them because you are counted on for real serious responsibilities. In my experience, a happy medium is one where you enjoy (for the most part) going in to work everyday and the people you work/do business with and you get paid enough to pursue financial goals in your future. If one or the other is out of whack, you may (out of necessity) need to keep looking.