Career Choices: Choosing a Career You Love Doesn’t Always Pay the Rent

CN_Marc_v1_eMy neighbors are moving today. And not because they want to. Their career choices – really wonderful career choices that make them happy and that took a long time for them to make happen – just don’t pay enough.

And the place they’ve been renting – a small, less than 600 square feet apartment – is being sold for a ridiculous amount (even more than what you’re thinking probably), because our Brooklyn neighborhood has gone crazy when it comes to real estate prices.

Dealing with the reality of career choices

Now I know that rising real estate prices, especially on homes you own, is a “curse” that most people would wish for. But it also means that even people who make a decent living in what used to be the real world, are being priced out of where they want to live.

Not that they’d ever go back to what they were doing before, but I just hate that they worked so hard to find what they want, and just couldn’t even come close to affording to buy the apartment they had been renting.

Now I know this is an old story. Musicians, actors, writers, artists and all kinds of folks have made career choices that were not about the money. But these are lawyers! Oh … did I leave that out?

We have come to a time, at least around my neck o’ the woods here in New York City, where even lawyers – at least those that don’t want to play the corporate law game – are having trouble affording a good place to live.

The tip of the career iceberg

As I said, many folks have made career choices that meant they couldn’t have all they want. That’s nothing new. It’s just that more and more, especially in this last decade or so, it seems that the percentage of people in this category is growing quickly. And if these two lawyers are now part of the group of “can’t affords”, what can this possibly mean for people who are making minimum wage or close to it?

My heart goes out to everyone who is making tough choices just to survive. A huge number of folks are not even lucky enough to think about career choices – they think about jobs to pay the rent. Rents that keep rising faster than the rate of inflation and faster than incomes have been rising. And with this socio-economic trend, a daunting thought takes hold: even if I have a job, will I be able to afford food and rent – not to mention healthcare.

I think we are starting to take this thought in as a nation – and especially young people just graduating, many of them burdened with huge student loan debt. And it’s raising fears and doubts about the future. Can I even afford to think about careers that I really want? Shouldn’t I just get a job with the highest salary possible?

Why I’m not crying for my friends

OK. So I painted the picture of my friends’ situation with a dark brush. But the thing is … although they are sad about having to move and not being able to live in a neighborhood of their first choice, they are really happy with their career choices.

There is not one part of them that would choose to go back to the corporate law world just to live where they want. And compared to many people out there, they are extremely lucky.  And they know it.

I have had jobs where I make really good money and I was miserable a lot of the time. And I had low-paying jobs – and volunteer jobs – where I was much happier. Not that you can’t have both! The thing about miserable jobs is that you usually wind up increasing those career skills that will get you to more miserable jobs.

And the jobs you like, even if low paying? You get to increase those skills and build a resume that can get you to higher-paying jobs you actually like. I have no doubt my friends will do fine, growing in careers that they care about.

What’s the alternative?

So what if you decide to push down those things you value just to make money? In the end, the cost may be higher than you imagine – on your health, quality of life, and eventually the careers that are still open to you. You can always start over, of course, and career transition is possible any time, but ah those lost pathways and years of agony.

If student loans require you to take jobs you aren’t thrilled with, I get that. But, having seen so many people trapped by careers they hate, and emotionally unable to make that change because they built their lives based on careers they dislike and resultant obligations, it may pay in other ways for you to think twice (and then once again) before rushing to accept the job with the biggest money, especially if your heart isn’t in it.

And you never know where else the right choice may take you that you never could have imagined!

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