Career Choices: Is Money Really That Important?

A couple of weeks back I met up with a few old friends for dinner. Having grown up together in the same neighbourhood we used to hang out together through our school years. While some went on to Sixth Form and then university, others decided to go and get training or went out to work either before or after A levels – we were fortunate to have been given decent careers advice and so had all chosen routes that we felt suited us at the time.

Despite our various pathways we have kept in touch and had arranged to all meet up since one of our friends was visiting from abroad. After all, if he can make the effort to fly around the world then it was nothing to nip out into town for the night!

As we swapped stories and reminisced about old times (like friends do), I noticed that there was a distinct split in our career paths - between those who had gone after money as a priority and those who had focused on finding a job that they felt happy doing. While many of us fell into the middle, there were two of my friends who had gone to more extreme edges.

On the one hand there was a friend who, having left university and struggled to find appropriate work, decided to train as an accountant. This seemed surprising to me at the time, but I remember my friend saying that if he couldn’t find the job he really wanted he may as well just earn as much money as possible!

Through no small amount of hard work he succeeded in qualifying on the job and soon found himself promoted several times over. Without being crass, it is fair to say he has ‘made it’ as far as work goes. Financially secure, he has plenty of money coming in and has certainly achieved his aims of rising to the top.

On the other hand there is another friend of mine, who after years of struggling to find work and doing odd jobs (he was always very good with his hands), is finally working his dream job building things. Self-employed and driving his van around he has worked on a number of different projects, from building stage props for theatre, creating displays for high end shops in London’s West End to renovating houses, and even helping out with some work for a well-known Premiership football club. Sure, he hasn’t had the financial success of my first friend and has worked hard to build up his reputation and trade.

Of the two, it was my wealthy friend who said that he is regularly bored at work and doesn’t seem to really enjoy what he does. On the other hand my self-employed friend said that he finds it hard not to work, as he enjoys it so much. Indeed, for him, it is not so much ‘work’ as a series of enjoyable projects that he happens to be getting paid for!

Of course, money is important – it pays your way and buys you some luxuries in life – and I wouldn’t suggest that you should ignore the financial aspects of which career you choose - you certainly need to make sure you are earning enough money to survive!

However, I could clearly see that there was a difference in how much emphasis my friends had placed on money in their own careers, with the one who took the money being less happy in his work, and therefore also less happy during much of his time each day, despite the money that was coming in. By contrast, despite not having the same earning potential, my other friend seemed happier and enthused about what he was doing with his life.

There is no right or wrong between whether you prioritise money or your vocation – but the evidence suggests you need to look for a balance that suits you. When you are looking into possible careers, training, education or other options try to bear in mind what you will be doing as well as the salary you might expect to earn. That way you can hopefully balance finance with feeling.

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