Saturday, June 15, 2013

Money doesn't buy happiness, but happiness doesn't bring money

Apparently I am now at an age where I am expected to give Good Advice to Young Adults. I didn't expect that so soon, but after over a decade in the working world, I guess I should have.

During the last month or so, I have read numerous posts on Facebook (perhaps relating to graduation?) that sound a little like this:

"I refuse to sacrifice my happiness for some soul-sucking job!"

"We have a choice: We can make money or we can find meaning in life."

Rarely do I hear the other side spoken out loud, perhaps because blind pragmatism isn't as popular a trait among the newly-graduated as idealism, but I know plenty of people who have, indeed, done the opposite: gone into medicine, or law, or business, because they knew it would pay well, not because they had much interest or aptitude for it. Whether those people actually ended up becoming doctors, lawyers, or businesspeople is a mixed bag.

There is no direct relationship between financial stability and meaning in life. Nor is there an inverse one. They are two separate things and must both be considered when making a plan for the future. Money vs. Happiness is not a zero-sum game -- or at least, it doesn't have to be.

I was one of those idealistic college students myself. I changed my major midstream from religious studies to business due to outside pressures -- and I hated every second of it. I cried in the meeting with my advisor where I told him I was changing. I attended just enough of my business classes to make the grades I was accustomed to. And I did succeed; in fact, I even won a cash award for Outstanding MIS Student. And I was a complete jerk in my acceptance speech, making sure to mention that I didn't even want to be a business student. I look back on that now and cringe.

I followed the typical path of a BBA overachiever, and that was to the Big Five accounting/consulting firms, which is now the Big Four. (Guess which company I joined.) My four months there were awful. I was a fish out of water. I carried the wrong purse, drove the wrong car, didn't keep up with sports, and found it abhorrent that people were upset over a memo that they could no longer take their clients to strip clubs. I guess I can thank Enron for getting me out of that environment and launching me back into what I enjoyed - educational technology, corporate training. I now have the best of both worlds - a job that I am good at that I truly enjoy that also pays my bills. I would have been a terrible consultant. I'm where I need to be.

So looking back at my own mistakes, here's my advice to graduates and soon-to-be graduates:
  • Do what you love. Know what you love, and do it. But make a plan. Know what the career options are in your area of interest. If you want to be a WWE wrestler, be the best WWE wrestler there is. The more "unconventional" your field, the better you have to be at it. 
  • If you want to go into academics, keep in mind that academics has as much politics - perhaps even more - than the corporate world, and that the main goal of universities is to make money for itself, not necessarily to educate students.
  • Get a job, even if it is just to fund your social life or keep you hanging in there while you "find yourself." The routine will also keep you sane. No, it won't stifle you.
  • It's better to be a first-rate botanist or writer or teacher than it is to be a third-rate lawyer or brain surgeon.
  • And if someone wants to give you awards and money for hard work or what looks like it, be a nice person and smile and say thank you.
There is money, and there is happiness. Why not both?

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