Work vs. Life, Fun vs. Money

Sometime opportunities present themselves that put a big monkey wrench in the works! You decide to pursue one dream but then “adult” life comes calling—which is the right path to choose? One reader asked me this question:

Dear Sarah Von,
I recently made the decision to leave my current employment. The original decision was to leave in late October, do some traveling and go back to school in the winter. But before making the decision to go back to school, I applied for public servant positions which pay 10K more than I currently make and would allow me to have a stable income to start my “adult life.” Now after three months they are calling me to do interviews! I am completely conflicted and have no idea what I should do – pursue the high paying career or go back to being a student and work in something that I adore?
Oh, giiiiirl! That’s a tough one – and I think I might just shock you with my incredibly pragmatic answer to this million-dollar question about pursuing dreams or money.

Should I pursue my dreams or a steady paycheck?

Here’s the thing about dreams: they usually need funding. Traveling the world, going to school, starting a business, buying a house, dressing your dog in exclusively brand name gear – all of these wonderful things require dropping some change. How you choose to earn that money is up to you. I have a friend that house sits and tutors (in addition to her full time job) to finance her summer mountaineering expeditions. I know people who have taken jobs because of the tuition waivers that come with working at a university. And don’t we all know an artist/writer/actor who’s waiting tables on the side? I would never, ever advocate pushing your dreams aside in favor of an unappealing, soul-crushing ‘stable grown-up career’ just to make a few bucks. But who’s saying you have to commit to this job for the rest of your life? Or even for more than a year?

Why not take the job for a year, keep living with the ‘rents and sack that big, grown-up salary away for future dream-funding? You’ll be able to travel for longer, fund your education or save it for a down payment on house later in your life. I’m not sure what you’re planning on studying in school, but perhaps it’s not the most money-making of majors? If you’re not going to be pulling in six figures in your future job as a social worker/teacher/nurse, you could use the money that you make at this public servant position to put down on a house/car/set of braces, as you might not have heaps of disposible income once you start working your dream job.

I think the trick here is not to get sucked into this job, if you do, in fact, take it. Remember that you took this job to finance other things and as a means to an end, not to start climbing up the ladder of public servantry. Many of us have experienced the phenomina that is the expandable budget – no matter how much money we make, we somehow seem to save the same amount. $2,000 a month and you save $400. $4,000 a month and somehow you’re still only saving $400. What?!

So look at the way you spend your money now (which I imagine is a significantly smaller paycheck) and continue to spend like you’re earning that amount, even when you move up into the next tax bracket. Post pictures around your room of that places that you’ll travel with this money, read books about your chosen career, smugly check your bank account balance and think about how many classes/flights/Indian saris that money will buy you.

If you’re concerned that you won’t be strong enough to walk away from the money and the stability that this job offers once your one-year anniversary comes round, there are steps you can take.

Don’t get drawn into drama at work and keep up with friends that remind you of the greater goal you’re working towards. Really, this all adds up to just a bit of delayed gratification. But aren’t most good things worth waiting for?

What advice would you guys give our would-be traveler and student?

12 Comments

A

Super advice, Sarah.
I think we often find ourselves in situations that we think are "one or the other" when the best course of action is a compromise.

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Jessika

Fortunately life isn't static, there's trying things out, there's compromising. There's leaving one phase for entering another. Taking up employment doesn't rule out travelling or school at a later date.

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Kylie

I like your advice as well, Sarah. Having enough funds to travel and get back on her feet when she returns will make the year or so postponement worth it in reduced stress, I'm sure!

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akb

I;d add to this to say: do the interviews, get the acceptance, then talk to them about a formal postponement of enrolling.

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Amelia

I just had this exact same issue, except I have the opportunity to set up a business! If I choose business and cash over travel, it means I can't go to South America for at least three years – my dad runs a similar business and he managed one week a year skiing for the first few years. I want to volunteer in Peru for a few months, and soon.
I have a few months to make up my mind, but i'm currently erring on the side of…travel. We shall see…

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Katie

My advice would be take the job.. Like you said you can leave anytime and everything needs funding. Unfortunately… Especially in this economic downfall where employers seem to be paying LESS if you can get a decent paying job it will make things a lot easier to have money behind you in the future. Wherever you decide to go!

x

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Kitty

I think this is VERY sensible advise. If you are lucky enough to have a job right now, hold on to it! Stash that money away, and adventure on at a time when you might actually have a chance of getting a job when you return. Good luck!

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ana

The same advice you gave her… Its so cool to have a well payed job that you like but most of the time it doesn't work that way… I know two guys who were working in a factory as administrative assistants (they hate their job) but when they had enough money they open a hostel for students and people who don't want to spend all their money in hotels… so now they are very known , they are part of hostel international and get to know people from all parts of the world everyday… you need money to pursuit your dreams 🙂

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Melissa from Welly

This is really excellent, practical advice. I agree with it all and I totally wish I had the creativity and linguistic skills to be able to write a response like that too!

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Danielle

I would also recommend direct deposit into your savings account. You never see it, so you're never tempted to spend it!

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A.T.

I agree with everything that you said – it's so important for people to remember that they.are.not.their.jobs. Jobs are fluid. I think people forget that they have the option of finishing a job, of leaving, of trying something new, once they're in a 'career' job.

Work towards something, instead of just working!

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