When you set out to choose your occupation, should you choose a higher paying job or work that you love? I never questioned it myself. I couldn’t imagine spending eight to ten hours a day for thirty years doing work that I hated or merely tolerated. I looked for work that if I didn’t love it, I at least liked. I started to wonder about how other people choose work, however, after a friend recently spent a ton of money on pharmacy school and then informed me that he hated it.
“I hated pharmacy before I even applied to school,” he said. “But I knew I wanted to make a lot of money and, with the aging of the senior bracket, I knew that there would be a big market for pharmacists. I could write my own ticket, make a ton of money, and retire young.”
I asked him if it wasn’t torture spending all those years studying a subject he hated and now to be working in that same field. Didn’t it kill his soul?
“Sure. But I can put off my happiness for ten to fifteen years. That’s how long it’ll take me to save up my retirement fund. I’ll only be forty-five, at the latest. I’ll have many years ahead where I can do the things that make me happy.”
I just shrugged. If that strategy works for him, I can’t argue. But it’s not a choice that I could ever make. I could take a job that I hated if I were in dire financial straits and that job was all I could get. I could do work I hated on a temporary basis to get through tough financial times. But I could never choose something that I hated as my primary career just because it paid a lot of money. Money is great, but when you’re talking about spending fifty weeks a year for ten years doing something you hate, well, life is too short for that, in my opinion.
I didn’t ask my friend this because it isn’t my business, but I really want to know what he’ll do if he gets sick before he gains his freedom. Or if his wife gets sick and can no longer work and he has to be her sole support? What happens if he reaches forty-five, retires, and then gets sick and can’t enjoy his retirement? What happens if some calamity hits them and forces him to work longer than expected? Will he still feel like he made a good decision?
Personally, I doubt it. If you worked for years at something you hate just for the money and then, for whatever reason, you couldn’t enjoy your freedom and money on the appointed schedule, I think you would feel bitter, angry, and that you made the wrong bargain with the devil. It’s great if he retires at forty-five and has thirty healthy, happy years to spend with his wife doing fun things. The deal will have worked in his favor. But if it doesn’t work out exactly as he’s planned, well, frankly, it’s going to suck.
I also don’t think he factored in the collateral damage his decision might bring. Working at something you hate is stressful. Unless he’s very good at compartmentalizing his life, he’s going to spend the next ten years stressed, angry, and bitter, which won’t be good for his health. That could come back and bite him just as he’s ready to retire in the form of high blood pressure, heart problems, or other chronic disease. He may not be a nice person to live with, either, which means his wife might come to hate him and decide to divorce him. I doubt she signed on to ten years of living with a miserable man when she said, “I do.” She may decide that no amount of money is worth that and bolt.
I say choose balance when you’re looking for work. You want work that is going to pay the bills and let you earn enough to get ahead, but you don’t want to spend years of your life in misery. Life doesn’t always work out neatly. There are too many things that can mean those ten years of misery are all you get. You may not get a chance to reach the finish line because of an illness, an accident, market forces beyond your control, or any one of a hundred other problems. It’s better to be able to say you enjoyed each day rather than holding out for some date in the future when you can enjoy your life. Try to find work that you like. If it doesn’t pay that well, cut your budget down or take on some other work to bridge the gap until you can reach a good payment level. Don’t spend years in misery just for money. It’s a risky bargain that may not work out in your favor and you don’t get a “do over” on all those lost years.