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CAREERS CAFÉ

Time well spent

By LIZ KOBLYK | April 30, 2012

Tax season always seems like a good time to talk about money. Regarding money, career advice tends to range from “do what you love and the money will follow” variety to “get a practical degree and earn good money.” Money is extremely useful at paying for stuff, and sometimes life or health circumstances mean that financial stability and benefits are, at least for the time being, more critical to your overall happiness than finding satisfaction through your work.

That said, I’m making a plea for setting assumed income levels aside during an initial career exploration. That’s partly because the high-income clients I’ve worked with seem to have felt boxed in by their income. They’ve sought out career advising because they don’t like what they do, but they’ve often acquired so many fixed expenses that they feel they can’t afford even a temporary drop in income to pursue another career direction. It’s also because many people rule out general career directions based on false assumptions about the potential income associated with different jobs.

So, when you’re thinking about career options and potential income:

  • Know what you actually spend right now, how much of it is fixed, and how much is discretionary
  • Know how much you want to have at your disposal; the meaning of “just enough to live comfortably” differs radically from individual to individual
  • When considering typical salaries for a career, also consider the typical income earned per hour; that management consulting position might not pay as much as you think, when you consider its hourly wage

Should you be considering an otherwise unappealing career because the pay is good, give your plan some serious thought. I’ve seen people pursue careers they don’t plan on enjoying, because they think they can buy enough enjoyment in the hours outside of work to compensate for the 9 to 5 misery. The problem with most high-paying jobs, however, is that the 9 to 5 is typically more like 8 to 6 or 7 so, no matter how that money is spent, the bulk of time is still spent in an unsatisfying job.

If you’re determined to try a path that’s likely to be both high-paying and unsatisfactory anyway, here are some tips:

  • A job you hate is better than a career trajectory you hate, so make sure you have a clear transition plan in place to move from your hated job to a more enjoyable job
  • Attach dates to each step of your transition plan
  • Don’t let your expenses grow with your paycheque; keep your fixed expenses low, so that you retain the flexibility to change careers
  • Meet with a career counsellor before you commit to your path, both to review the career decision-making process and to have someone who isn’t personally invested in your decisions act as a sounding board

And keep in mind that, in careers, personal satisfaction and financial stability needn’t be mutually exclusive. If none of the options you’re aware of meet both criteria, a visit to your university’s career office may be time well spent.

ABOUT LIZ KOBLYK
Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is a career counsellor at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, and an instructor for a career course at McMaster University.
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  1. Nancy Ceresia / April 30, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Fantastic and practical advice to get the ball rolling. Having tangible steps to work through really seems to help make such a scary transition a bit more manageable. The perspective you present here is invaluable: ” I’ve seen people pursue careers they don’t plan on enjoying, because they think they can buy enough enjoyment in the hours outside of work to compensate for the 9 to 5 misery. The problem with most high-paying jobs, however, is that the 9 to 5 is typically more like 8 to 6 or 7 so, no matter how that money is spent, the bulk of time is still spent in an unsatisfying job.”

    I’ll be writing a post on relating to this topic, and will include a link to this article. Thanks!

  2. Liz / May 4, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Thanks, Nancy! I appreciate your kind comments and the link to this post.

  3. SM / May 5, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Another issue is -uncertainty- about income. An academic path is a good example, since it can lead to an above average and reliable income, or a period of poverty followed by starting another career with the rumoured disadvantage of being over-educated. Other professions, like engineering, provide much more reliable prospects.

    I notice that many people’s advice matches their own experience (if they like their path, they recommend it; if they don’t, they recommend what they wish they had done) and not many give advice on how one can choose the strategy that fits one’s temperament.

    • Liz / May 9, 2012 at 9:18 pm

      Hi SM,

      You’re right—income levels can still be uncertain, no matter how thoroughly you’ve done your research, and some careers see a greater discrepancy between the low and high ends than others. And, of course, there’s the uncertainty that results because there are no guarantees of employment. Some degrees bring with them a quicker entry on average to related career paths, and may have lower unemployment rates and higher average incomes (www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/81-595-m/81-595-m2008065-eng.pdf).

      That said, I wanted to address the topic of income because it has come up so frequently in meetings with clients. Sometimes, clients have encountered misinformation about salary ranges. Sometimes, they’ve been overwhelmed by advice to follow “practical” degrees, despite the fact that no degree can guarantee or doom one’s employment or salary prospects.

      So, if you have access to career advising at your institution, I’d encourage you to make use of it. A career advisor will accomplish what a blog post can’t: to work with you to determine what criteria you’ll use to make career decisions you can trust.

      • SM / May 14, 2012 at 4:41 pm

        Thank you Liz. I agree that income seems to be overrated by many people, and that nothing in life is certain.

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