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Why A Lifetime Career Is Not The Best Option


Should your goal in life be to enter the highest-paying career possible? Years ago, I read a personal finance book that doled out advice that, even back then in my early thirties, I knew instinctively was wrong. The authors told me that I shouldn’t care whether or not I like my job. I should just get the highest paying one possible because all that matters is how big my nest egg is by the time I hit mainstream retirement age.

Recently I read a blog post that made a similar case. Of course, he hasn’t said straight out that you should work a job you don’t like for the sake of racking up money, but he does agree that you should get into the highest-paying career you can find for yourself so that you will have millions dollars more when you retire…at age sixty or so.

I don’t have a problem with the concept of working a job that is in stark contrast to your bumper sticker dream career (you know what I’m talking about: “I’d rather be skiing” or “I’d rather be hunting”, etc.). Where the authors of the book and the blog author and I part ways is the time you should spend in that not-very-fulfilling job.

Some of you know what I’m going to say.

I say you should work your butt off for ten to twenty years, live beneath your means, and wisely invest the money you save by doing so. If you do, you can retire at a much younger age than mainstream culture seems to almost require.

The problem with the long-career argument

Don’t get me wrong. If you are an employee somewhere and you absolutely love what you do and you have no desire to change, more power to you. You are in the extreme minority.

Despite how you feel about that, the fact remains: we were not designed to work eight-hour days for thirty to forty years at a job. Bible believers and evolutionist anthropologists can agree on one thing: our ancestors did not live anything close to the kind of stressful lifestyle we have put upon ourselves. Their work consisted of spending a few hours every day hunting and gathering. When the hunting and gathering was done, they spent time with their family and community.

How do we know that? By the behavior of modern-day hunter-gatherer tribes. In fact, the forty-hour work week did not even exist until factories came along and destroyed the cottage industry society a couple hundred years ago.

Aye, and there’s the rub. Factories. Factories making stuff. More cheaply than ever.

Mission: to destroy the human race

I am not going to be a hypocrite and say that I am against technology, nor that the natural human desire to better our circumstances should be squelched. But I need to point out the fact that after the invention of the steam engine, and subsequently (and consequently) the inception of factories that could manufacture goods much more cheaply and quickly than an individual working out of their home, people became increasingly more materialistic. The more new things that were invented, the more things people wanted. They even began to claim that they “needed” these things.

And so people’s focus began to change. Instead of being content with a comfortable shelter and enough food, they began to become discontented unless they had the latest invention. In order to be able to afford the latest invention, they had to work longer hours. At the same time, cottage industries disappeared because they could not compete with the more efficient factories. The blacksmiths, weavers, seamstresses, and so on were forced to close down their businesses and become part of the factory workforce.

Nowadays, this looks a little different but works the same: people think they have to work forty-plus hours per week for at least thirty years. They think this because they think they need many more things than they really do. They think they need multiple millions of dollars by the time they retire between ages sixty and seventy, mainly because they think they cannot be happy without a living at a certain level.

Then by the time they have accrued what they think is enough to retire on, their health fails and their plans to relax and recreate go down the toilet.

Working a high-paying career for thirty-plus years is the path to destruction for most people.

But it’s not just about materialism

There is another reason that people allow themselves to get sucked into the mainstream belief that the “good life” consists of making as much money as possible through an unfulfilling thirty-year career: fear.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I was indirectly discouraged from several different sources from going after my dream to be a published author. Why? Well, everybody knows that writers don’t make any money! (Everybody except James Patterson and Ted Dekker and John Grisham and Janette Oake and Stephen King and Barbara Freethy and Joanna Penn and Steve Scott and….)

When I was a teenager, there was a young man in both band and choir in my high school who had perfect pitch. He could play several instruments and obviously had a natural gift for music.

The day I found out that his parents were steering him toward becoming a doctor, I wanted to scream at them and twist their heads off.

But that’s how this modern world is. Parents believe that the only way for their kids to be happy and have enough is to finish high school, then attend at least four years of higher education, then get the best-paying job possible, then work that job until they’re well into their fifties or beyond.

They drill that into their kids’ heads, with the help of teachers, relatives, media, and a wide variety of other adults.

So by the time they’re eighteen – perhaps younger, perhaps a little older – young people are terrified that if they don’t follow the mainstream path, they will end up on the street, begging for food.

Taking materialism out of the picture…

What happens when you only want what you truly need – plus a few luxury items? What happens when you don’t need:

  1. a big house,
  2. a fancy car,
  3. cable T.V.,
  4. magazine subscriptions,
  5. ten brand new books every month,
  6. smart phones,
  7. a home theater system,
  8. new furniture every five years,
  9. the latest fashions,
  10. a boat,
  11. and on and on and on?

Here’s what happens. You don’t need as much money to live. So you don’t need to kill yourself (literally) working at the highest-paying job possible for forty and more hours per week. This means you can choose a job or career (including a business) based on its fulfillment factor, not on the income it brings (or might bring in the future).

OR…You work at a high-paying, full-time job for a limited time. You live well beneath your means as you do, and wisely invest as much of your leftover money as you can. Somewhere between your early thirties and early forties, you reach the point of financial independence. Then you have all the time in the world to do work that truly fulfills you.

Taking fear out of the picture

When your life is not based around fear, you live authentically, according to your personal bent and inborn gifts and talents. You choose work that both fulfills you and brings value to others. You don’t blindly follow the mainstream path of mediocrity and stress. Remember: that path has been carved out of fear, mainly fear of lack or fear of what others might think of you.

When my husband and I made our decision to go for super-early retirement and started telling people about it, only a couple of people encouraged us to move forward with our plans.

None of them were relatives. They were most discouraging and fear-mongering of all the people we talked to.

And the encouraging words I remember most came from a nearly complete stranger. He was some guy we would occasionally meet when he was out walking his dog and we were out walking our son, back when we lived in the suburbs. We happened to tell him one day that he might not be seeing us again, because we were moving soon.

And for some odd reason – maybe because he asked – I told him why.

His face lit up and as he poured out his congratulations on us, I could sense that he was rejoicing in our accomplishment. I don’t remember his name, and I never knew his life circumstances. But I suspect he had learned a thing or two by his time of life (he was older than we are) and had come to realize that there are more – and often better – choices than what the mainstream offers.

Choose this day

I am not going to tell you what to do with your life. I try not to “should” on people.

But I am here today to tell you that you have options. Working at a job that does not satisfy, for most of your adult life, is just one option.

Examine it closely. Is it the one you really want? If not, be sure to download my e-book in the form at the top of the page so that you can begin to design a new life.

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