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Are We Really Doing What We Want To Do With Our Lives?

Posted by Thirtysomething Finance on December 10, 2009

I was just E-Mailing with my friend J. Money over at Budgets Are Sexy, and I had a profound thought, one that has occurred to me before, but which I’ve never verbalized — and I decided to verbalize it to you:

Are we really doing what we want to do with our lives?

Think about it. Except for the independently wealthy, we’ve all got to worry about paying down debt, living comfortably, and saving to retire comfortably. Look at all of us here in the PF blogosphere: there’s a whole culture devoted to dealing with these issues! When you think about it, it seems that almost every decision we make is driven by money.

This occurs to me in particular when I think about myself and my job. Let’s just say that a lot of the time, I’m less than enamored of it. But I do it. Why? Because I have to. Why? Because I have to pay down debt, make enough to live comfortably, and save for retirement.

If it were up to me, I’d go to music school, learn the nuts and bolts of music theory, and spend my life working in music: maybe I’d compose, maybe I’d perform, maybe I’d teach, maybe I’d do something else altogether. Or I might like to work in non-profit. Or I might like to get into public service. I really think there are higher and better uses for TSF than what I do now, but alas, I’ve got to accept that I can’t just do what I want because I have these obligations.

Interestingly, I’ve known a lot of independently wealthy people who have been very flighty when it comes to what they do with their lives. Maybe there’s something to be said for the struggle that we all deal with. But as I think about a career change, I’m forced to accept that I must do something that’s going to pay the bills.

In a sense, this reminds me of Baker‘s post over at Man vs. Debt: would you kill a stranger for a billion dollars? I believe that the fact that we even consider this question demonstrates the extent to which I’m right (and kudos to Baker — what a great post and exercise in getting to the root of PF and human nature).

Am I bumming you out? I hope not — seriously — but I’ve been particularly down on the job this week and resigned to my station in life. Am I wrong about this? How do you all get past these kinds of doldrums? I’ve read a lot about being grateful for what we have and not focusing on what we don’t, but I can’t help but wish I had the freedom to just do what I want and, more importantly, to not have to do something I don’t particularly like (and something that I completely hate at times). Isn’t that what we’re all really after?

9 Responses to “Are We Really Doing What We Want To Do With Our Lives?”

  1. Baker said

    You bring up a great point!

    It’s such a tough call to find that balance between pursuing your passions and just throwing caution to the wind.

    For the last 1.5-2 years we’ve been strictly responsibility based. Creating a business, working jobs, paying down debts, etc… The last 6 though, we’ve delayed paying down our student loans to begin traveling.

    Finding that balance now is an intense part of our journey. There’s no right or wrong answer for everyone. Well, except doing either extreme I believe is probably selling yourself a little short! :-)

    • To me, it all comes down to a balance of 3 main factors: (1) compensation, (2) how much you like doing what you’re doing, and (3) how much time you spend doing it. Though some might say my factor #1 is pretty good, factors #2 and #3 throw my balance way out of whack. Following my music or non-profit fantasy would be great for factor #2, and I’d be glad to spend a lot of time doing it because of my passion — but surely #1 would be lacking.

      I must say I envy the people who don’t have to worry about #1. But because I am not one of these people, I’m trying to find something that provides me with a better balance of the factors. I’ll admit that I have a price to do something I hate, but it’s a lot higher than I’m being compensated now!

      Would love to go into small business, but I need to figure out what first… :)

  2. When I’m not feeling great about my career choice, I remember that I have a life outside of work, and I choose to focus on the good things outside of work. If you’re working a ton of hours, though, I would think it would be harder to do this.

  3. Jeff said

    I too struggle with this question almost everyday. The compensation is good, and it use to be what I wanted. I got promoted, and hated it REALLY BAD. So I took a step back and I know now I will not be doing this much longer. The only thing that keeps me going is paying down my debt. I count the days until I can live on less than 1/3 of what I currently make. Once that day comes I can quit and start my next adventure.

    As long as your making money and paying down the debt, suck it up and look forward to being able to change directions-I can hear your music from here. If you like/love your job, this phase will pass quickly- FYI, I suck it up everyday so I can say that :)

    Thanks for the post, Jeff

    • Thanks, Jeff. I’m realistic that absent some unlikely windfall, I’m not going to be able to just do what I want without worrying about how much money I bring in. Sad but true. But I’d like to find a better balance of my 3 factors (compensation, enjoyment/fulfillment, and time spent). I’d love to find something I love that pays me double what I make now and requires me to work half as much! But in the meantime, I’m trying to keep my head down and focus on my goals. I’ve got flexibility now: I actually like the people I work with, for the most part, and my job is otherwise secure — so I’m contemplating leaving this job (basically “selling high”) and trying to parlay it into something a step removed from the law: something that will build my business experience (and my resume) and continue to position me to pay down my debt and save for retirement. I’d love to be able to save a chunk of change to invest in some form of self-employment down the road, but I think I’m going to have to wait for that 1% inspiration to channel my 99% perspiration to!

      Thanks for your comment — I wish you the best in your adventures!

  4. The main point I’m trying to make is one that I’m not sure I’ve articulated yet: if our decisions are motivated by money, it’s almost like our decisions aren’t our own. And when you do things not because you want to, but because you have to, it might be tough to know who you are. Then again, some might say that makes you exactly who you are.

    Ruminate on that :)

  5. Mrs. Micah said

    I guess I’m very lucky to be in a job I like and in a field I like and want to advance in. I’ve been working in libraries for 1/3 of my life & still like it. Obviously it’s work, there are parts I don’t like, coworkers I don’t like, but on the whole I’m part of what I want to be doing.

    When I was in a job that was making me truly miserable (not library), my husband made me quit…or reinforced my own strong desire to quit. It took me a while to find a job I loved, but in the interim, I worked jobs that I didn’t hate and did consulting/blogging to fill in the cracks.

    I think the most important thing about living is to remember that it’s not all about the future, it’s also about the present. Like Rainy Day Saver said, you have a life outside your job and you have to make that be something you enjoy & something worthwhile. If you’re working crazy overtime, I don’t know… The blessing of a true 9-5 is that we still have the rest of the time to ourselves. Overtime kills that.

    One book I’ve found useful is “Work as a Spiritual Practice.” It’s a Buddhist guide, but I think it can be used by people of other faiths or no faith at all.

    • I think you are extremely lucky if you’re in a job you love and can make ends meet. I was talking about this with my brother — he’s had jobs he’s hated before, but he’s currently in a job where he jumps out of bed in the morning because he’s so excited to go to work. Granted, he has an extremely cool job — but he’s compensated well and totally loves what he’s doing. This is somewhere I aspire to be some day, and I’m glad to hear you’ve found the balance.

      Like your husband was with you, my girlfriend is very supportive of me. She’s actually suggested I speak with her dad about transitioning from one career into another — that’s what he did many years ago, and very successfully (though to be fair, he went from owning one small business to owning another). Of course this opens a whole other can of worms because I’m planning on asking him for permission to marry her within the next few months…so maybe I’ll wait until after we cross that hurdle before burdening him with my job woes :-/ Just hitting you with a little stream of consciousness here..don’t mind me :)

      Very interesting that you point to a Buddhist book — when I was in law school, I took a class on meditation and learned that a lot of lawyers meditate. I’ve had a hard time keeping up a practice, but it was something I found to be extremely beneficial when I did it. I’m going to have to get back into this…

  6. Money Funk said

    Thirtysomethingfinance… must be at the same point that I’m at in age… feeling that itch to do more with your life.

    I used to love my job. Now, I realize its a job. There is so much to do on my bucket list – that I am starting to feel a deep regret if I don’t jump for it. I think we will have to determine owning our life by how we want to live it. If you want to work nonprofit – your living situation may have to downgrade considerably to make ends meet. What are we willing to sacrifice to make our dreams come true? How are we going to make our dreams meet our finances.

    I think Baker’s a great example of it. Saved, saved, saved and now they are throwing in a mix of freelancing and teaching to make their travel dreams happen.

    Perhaps, trying to shake routine and making plans for owning our life is what we need to do. I know that I would love to be a nomadic writer and traveler. I am toying with the idea of taking my Teaching English as a Foreign Language diploma as a first step. Sure, I am tied to my debt for another 4 years – but after that – I’m FREE TO OWN MY LIFE! Great post. :D

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