Do what makes you happy, and always think very hard about any decision that will affect a major change in your life. That's a lesson I've learned the hard, hard way over the past three years or so. It is absolutely amazing how a single bad decision can overshadow your life for years to come.
No, before you panic, I'm not talking about my marriage. Julie and I are fine; I love my wife and she loves me and we have a strong partnership, even through dark personal times such as we're going through at the moment.
No, I'm talking about the decision I made three years ago to leave my job at CIDDE. It's amazing how hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. In this case what I'm talking about is how I had a good gig going, with people I didn't mind seeing every day. The job was easy, rarely stressful, and I had time to pursue education and other projects and interests. Best of all, I never had to think about work when I wasn't there. For some stupid reason, I convinced myself that I needed to make more money above all else, and secondarily be doing something "important."
As a result, after I got my bachelor's degree, I jumped at the first job that came along which offered me more money. I've had three years of relative misery ever since as a result.
I'm not complaining or looking for sympathy, nor do I want comments from superiority-complex-ridden people who wish to make it known that in this economy I should be grateful to have a job. I'm grateful to be paying bills--a bad economy doesn't mean you are required to love what you're doing. No, my current situation is my own dumb fault and I'm working to repair it, but because of that difficult economy it's a long, hard road.
See, I walked blindly into my own bad situation. I bit at the bait of better pay dangled in front of me at a time when I hadn't yet learned that it's just not all about money. I had convinced myself that because I wasn't making at least 30 grand a year, that meant I had to be dissatisfied and not content. That was wrong thinking, and I feel sorry for anyone who thinks it is about the cash.
It's about happiness and contentment. If you think you're looking for something better, stop and have a long, hard look at what you've got. Are you really unhappy where you are? Are you really discontent and do you really need that change? More money is nice, yes, but is it worth high levels of stress and a job that is equally dissatisfying, but a world more stress and which occupies your thoughts when you're not at work, when you're trying to sleep at night, and interferes with the rest of your life? If you say "yes," then God bless you and good luck.
So what to take away from this--it's not me feeling sorry for myself, it's me offering some unsolicited advice that should be common sense for everyone, but which too many of us forget in this society. It's not about the money. It's about happiness, or at least contentment. If your daily vocation isn't satisfying for you, but also isn't overly stressful, then don't walk away from it. Use it to pay your bills while exploring something that is satisfying on your down time. If you have a vocation that is satisfying to you and fulfills you, then stick with it, no matter what it pays. Struggling to make ends meet isn't the end of the world--it may mean you have to tigthen the belt and make a few material sacrifices, but almost universally the people who make those sacrifices later say they're happier for it in the end.
I'm here to tell you, the moment I get some major debts under control, I heartily plan to take my own advice on this issue.
I had a conversation at a cafe recently where a girl said she was thinking about going to grad school just because she thought she should be making more money. I told her not to waste her time and money on the education if that was her reason, that a Master's degree is far from a guarantee of wealth, and when you get your degree and can't find a job, all you've got is extra debt. Instead, I advised her to forget about making more money and seek a vocation that would be personally satisfying. And it's true--my Master's degree thus far has not opened any doors, and has in fact closed a few due to being "overqualified." I still hold out hope and am working diligently to make use of it, but the truth is, a graduate degree pursued for its own sake can (though it doesn't have to) be a huge waste of time and money that could be spent seeking happiness in your career along different paths. Few of us have only one talent or one road to happiness. My advice is to take the road less traveled--the one that may not pay the most, but also won't put you in the most debt and won't cause you undue stress and suffering along the way.
Just something to chew on.