How to Get a High-Paying, High-Integrity Job

ymoylOne of my favorite sections in what is undoubtedly my favorite personal finance book, Your Money or Your Life, discusses the process one can go through to find a job that is both high in integrity (meaning it’s actually in line with your values – you’re not selling your soul or killing your spirit by doing it) and high in pay.

A lot of people, quite frankly, view this as an impossibility. The general equation seems to be that following your passions means low pay and following the bucks means ditching your passions. From my perspective, this feeling usually results from too many years working thankless jobs that are incompatible with personal ethics and passions. Others have made themselves comfortable with a low-paying job that gives them the freedom that they want, but not the financial resources to create a strong personal safety net.

Your Money or Your Life argues that there is a third way (and, frankly, so does What Color Is Your Parachute?, which is a brilliant guide solely focused on careers). From page 228:

There is no Job Charming. The people we’ve met in these pages have had to do a lot of soul-searching, risk-taking, experimenting, and challenging of old beliefs in order to move forward into jobs with higher pay and high integrity. They’ve had to see that their lives are bigger than their jobs. The parts of themselves that had been suffocated by their paid employment had to be given room to breathe again. Visions from childhood of how life could be had to be excavated from under the status, seriousness and self-importance that masquerade as adulthood. They had to tell themselves the truth about whether or not their current employment was really doing what paid employment is supposed to do: earn money.

In other words, Your Money or Your Life argues that it is very difficult (not impossible, but difficult) to spend significantly less than you earn and build a financial foundation for yourself if you’re working in a way that’s at odds with the person you are. The solution? Get your spending under control, then find a job that pays well and lines up with your values.

Job Hunting Checklist

But how do you actually find that job? The book offers a checklist, and here it is, with some of my notes.

1. Purpose

What’s the purpose of the job? Obviously, a big part of the purpose is to get paid – you need money in your pocket, right? But ask yourself this: is the task you spend many hours of your life on each day actually have a purpose that you find valuable?

This is trickier than it seems, especially since jobs that seem to have purpose early on eventually grow to not have that purpose later on. I felt this to some extent with my research job, where I felt a great deal of purpose when I first started, but that feeling waned as my project matured, eventually leaving me still enjoying some aspects quite a bit (the people in particular, and some individual pieces of the work), but being nervous and going through the motions in other respects.

For now, almost all of the work I do earns some money, but perhaps more importantly to me, it has a purpose – I’ve somehow been blessed with the opportunity to write about things that actually help people and this stuff is read by thousands upon thousands of people every day.

2. Intention

Do you have the internal motivation to actually make good on your goals? Procrastination and a lack of focus are your enemies. Self-motivation, on the other hand, is a huge ally.

To put it in a more tangible sense, think about the career you dream of having – the high-paying, high-integrity job that you’ve always wanted. That’s your goal.

What are you doing today to get there? If you’re not doing anything at all, you’re not actually motivated to get there. If you know what you need to do but keep putting it off, procrastination is keeping you where you are.

3. Willingness

It’s one thing to know what you need to do to make it happen. It’s another thing entirely to put your foot down and actually do it.

For years, I dreamed of being a writer, particularly one who could reach a lot of people with stuff that actually affected and helped them, and made enough from it to at least survive. I held that dream in my head – and I let it flounder.

It wasn’t until I actually started trying to make it happen that it actually happened. And it didn’t happen immediately. It took years of constant effort, eating a lot of my spare time, to make it happen.

The most important step is the first one – and the willingness to follow that step with another one.

4. Consciousness

Keep your eyes open. The world around you is full of possibilities. It sounds sort of trite, but it’s true. Our days are loaded with opportunities to stand out from the pack and do something exceptional and interesting.

Look at every interaction you have as a meeting with a potential customer. Look at every experience as a possible source for an article. Look at every shop you visit as a potential retail location. Look at every moment as a source for ideas and opportunities.

The more you step back and look at your daily life through this lens, the more opportunities will bloom into view.

5. Recognition

When do you know you’ve been successful? Most of the time, it’s not a clear demarcation.

Your Money or Your Life argues that the only real way to tell if you’re successful comes from inside. You can’t use income or recognition from others as a metric – it comes from you.

Some people feel successful immediately, with only a bit of success. Others never feel successful. The truth, though, is somewhere in the middle – you’re successful when you wake up, realize you’re happy with what you’re doing and what you’re getting paid for it – and you can’t imagine doing anything else.

You can get there. Today is the day to get started.