Updated on 09.22.09

What Is a “Good Job”?

Trent Hamm

During my senior year of high school, after I had learned that I had received enough scholarships to attend a major university, I sat down and studied all of the majors that were available to me. Two of them really stood out, due to my personal interests: English and mathematics.

Unfortunately, as soon as I told anyone about my goals, they’d almost always tell me the same thing. “You’ll never get a good job with an English degree.” “A math degree? The only way you’ll get good work with that is with a Ph. D.”

And I believed them. Instead of paying attention to my natural interests, I started focusing instead on which majors offered high paying jobs and, from there, I picked a major in the hard sciences that seemed to interest me the most. It was a compromise.

Flash forward to thirteen years later and what do you have? I’m not using that degree in the hard sciences. Instead, I took a pay cut to become a writer – the job I wanted to have from the start.

Too many people focus on salary as the sole definition of a good job. I’ll be the last to argue that it’s not good to have a healthy income. A great income opens many doors if used properly – savings for the future, a higher standard of living, and so on.

But what good is that higher standard of living and savings for the future if you’re living a significant chunk of your adult life in a state of unhappiness.

A friend of mine – let’s call him Dale – had a factory job a few years ago. The job didn’t pay particularly well, but it was a solid hourly wage, somewhere in the $13 range. Dale didn’t love the work, but he enjoyed it. He was one of the most competent workers there and enjoyed a lot of cameraderie from the people he worked with and some respect from the foremen because he did his job well. He got his choice of shifts and overtime options because of his status there.

Then, suddenly, an opportunity of sorts opened up for Dale. He could take a $30,000 a year job with solid benefits – but he would be the low man on the totem pole there. Plus, the work was fairly dangerous and psychologically wearing.

Choosing between the two wasn’t an easy decision, but Dale chose the higher-paying but less-enjoyable job.

After about a year of it, it’s pretty obvious that even with the substantial increase in income, Dale is less happy. He now works a shift that keeps him from seeing his kids in the evening. He’s gained a bit of weight and seems to spend most of his spare time involved in escapist activities – for example, he’ll often spend hours upon hours just riding around on his motorcyle or his ATV. He sleeps quite a bit more, too. In conversation, he just simply doesn’t seem nearly as happy as he used to.

Yes, his salary went up substantially, but was it really worth it? I think few people would argue that it was.

Given my own experience – as well as Dale’s, and the many readers who have written to me along similar lines – I’d argue that salary is of only secondary importance when finding a “good” job for you. I’d argue the following factors are at least as important – if not more important.

The work itself If I’m going to spend eight hours (at least) per weekday engaged in an activity, one’s personal happiness is going to hinge significantly on how personally enjoyable the work is. Does the work fulfill you – or does it drain your soul? Do you end your work day (most of the time) happy and alert, or do you go home empty and exhausted? Do you find yourself happily thinking about your work on occasion during your free time – or does thinking about it make your stomach turn? One side of this coin connects to a happy life – the other connects to a much less happy one. How high of a price is stress worth?

Flexibility of time The more flexible the hours, the better. Are you worried about getting fired if you attend your daughter’s dance recital? Are you constantly yanked away from family events by your digital leash… excuse me, cell phone? Are you constantly missing quality time with the people you care about because of your work? That has a very real cost – and it’s a very steep one. Every time you miss something important with your family, it’s an opportunity that never comes back and it’s a trust that can never be recovered.

Peers Are you respected by your coworkers? Do you have a good relationship with them? Or is the workplace filled with constant mistrust, intrigue, and gamesmanship? Again, it’s all about the stress – what kind of price can you put on a stressful environment?

In the end, ask yourself this simple question: how much sustained misery is an extra dollar worth to you? For me, such misery isn’t worth it, particularly when you consider the multitude of methods a person can use to shave their spending without really altering their lifestyle.

I’d rather live frugal without a miserable job than have a few nicer things and spend all of my time loathing my work. Something tells me that when people step back and take a serious look at their lives, many people will feel the same way.

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  1. Shannon says:

    Trent this is only part of the story and applies to you because you had scholarships to go to university. If you had taken on a typical debt load (50K-60K), then you too definitely would have needed a job with a decent salary to service that debt. Classic case of YMMV.

  2. wanzman says:

    This is something I struggle with daily. I am happy with the career path I am on, but not with my current position.

    I am currently a credit analyst for a large bank. This means the majority of my day is spend at my desk crunching numbers, with little customer contact. I interact with my coworkers, but that is the extent of it.

    For me, I am focuses on the next step, which would be to become a commercial loan officer. This job is basically a sales position that involves tons of outside contact, getting out of office frequently etc. I know this is the type of job that would ultimately make me a happy person.

    The hard part is dealing with being rather unhappy now so that I might achieve a position where I will be happy in the future. It is tough to remain focused on the future when currently most of my days are long and very boring.

  3. sara says:

    A research done among Dutch students showed that those who chose their studies because of either money or prestige where the first to abandon those studies. The caption in the paper read something like “Choosing the sensible study is pulling a dead horse”. This said, the point you are making is that you should follow your passion, and many eightteen-year-olds don’t have very permanent passions yet, or perhaps they have and do not know it. so what do you do then?

  4. Bill in Houston says:

    I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up!

    Mind you, I’m 48 and have two degrees in Business. I’m a writer by trade who does some forecasting.

    The pay is good, and I don’t dislike my job, but there is little opportunity for advancement unless I move to management (which is why I got my MBA).

    You have to like what you do. While I do like writing, I NEVER expected it to be a career. My first two years of college were as an Electrical Engineering. That, and the ability to write a sentence launched me into technical writing.

    As I said, I do like what I do. That BEING said, if a manager position opened up I’d jump on it like a pack of wolves takes down that last buffalo in the herd. I’m paid well, but I’d really like it if my wife could quit her job.

    I have twenty years before I retire. I still look forward to what my future holds, what opportunities I can create, and what I can do.

  5. Sandee says:

    I encouraged both of my boys to major in something that they loved and not to worry about the salary. When my first son graduated with a degree in Sports Management I was worried about the job prospects. He has a great job working at a municipal golf course and teaching golf at the local university. My other son will graduate this year with a degree in Construction Management. Not exactly a hot bed of jobs available. He is still certain that he can turn his skills into some type of construction job that makes him happy.

  6. Jessica says:

    I made my mistake a different way – I had decided on my future career in middle school and stuck with it. Honestly – who *really* knows what they want when they’re 12? I wound up with a degree in education, only to find out that I hated the job.

    I quickly moved on and got a masters degree, and am now doing something that I love. Sure, the pay isn’t the best, but I am *really* happy. :)

  7. almost there says:

    Michelle Singletary of the Washington Post has her latest article about young people drowning in debt of education loans. Wah wah. It tries to angle of the unfairness of it all. These students, for the most part followed their hearts and took degrees in knowledge that was unemployable, soft skills. Colleges/Universities are businesses that take in tuition to advance thier bottom line. They care not if a person gets a job afterwards. If people treated the schools as a business like a normal consumer and voted with their feet by not attending the overpriced institutions, more schools would close and the price would come down. The reason costs continue to rise is that lending banks, etc. that give high interest loan and pass the loss on to Uncle Sam if one defaults. The federal government should not make loans through middle men it just drives up the cost of education.

  8. Melissa says:

    I majored in English and history, despite many relatives saying that it was irresponsible and that I’d never get a job. Maybe it was. I think if I had to do it again, I’d major in English and something a little harder.

    But it worked out: I started out as a legal researcher at a software company the Monday after I graduated, and 2 and half years later, I’m a project manager at the same company. The correlation between major and what you actually end up doing can be pretty weak.

  9. Johanna says:

    “Too many people focus on salary as the sole definition of a good job.”

    I disagree with this premise – I don’t know anyone who focuses on salary as the sole definition of a good job. (After all, how many people’s salaries do you actually know, other than your own?) Instead, I’d say that as a culture, we attach different levels of prestige to different jobs – in a way that’s loosely, but not perfectly, correlated with salary – and too many people focus on THAT as the sole definition of a good job.

    For example, from the moment I started grad school, it was assumed that I, along with all of my classmates, was on track to be an academic researcher. A few years ago, I realized that that track wasn’t for me, so I left it to take the job I have now. My salary is at least as high as it would have been if I’d stayed in research – perhaps it’s even a bit higher – and yet many of the people I know who stayed on that track consider me to have “dropped out” and taken a “less good job.” And yet, I’m ridiculously happy that I have the job that I have. (I’m not always ridiculously happy with the work I have to do on any given day, but that’s why they call it “work.”)

    Also, I’d argue that Trent’s list of factors that are at least as important as salary is far from complete, and can vary hugely from person to person. Some people would add job security to that list, or the flexibility to live in the town/region of their choosing, or recognition for a job well done, or the knowledge that their work is making a real difference in the world. (Those last two might fall under “the work itself,” but I’d argue that they don’t – you can dislike the actual task, but still like the effects it has.) Conversely, people who don’t have children don’t have to worry about missing their children’s dance recitals, and so forth.

  10. Christina says:

    Riding around for hours on an ATV sounds great to me…maybe he needs his alone time to recharge himself, do some thinking, etc. That doesn’t have to be a side effect of unhappiness.

  11. Ramona says:

    I understand your point, but I’m having trouble with the Dale saga – “his salary went up substantially”. If he had been earning $13 an hour at a 40 hour week over 52 weeks, that’s $27,040. In addition you say that he qualified for overtime hours. How is earning $30,000 a substantial increase? There must be more to his jump then detailed here.

  12. Amy says:

    Good Lord Johanna…I get so tired of reading your argumentative negativity on EVERY post that Trent makes. It must be exhausting to be so sour all of the time. I have yet to figure out why you read his blog if all you do is bash it every day. Why don’t you start your own if you have all of this knowledge to share?

    And, by the way, I know MANY people who have chosen their careers based on money. It’s easy to get information on different jobs…it’s called salary.com, career counselors, etc. While I might not agree that this is the best way to plan your life, that’s their decision and they pay for the tradeoffs they’re willing to make.

  13. JonFrance says:

    The great fiction about degrees and majors is that they don’t have all that much to do with what career you end up having anyway. Ask around among people with various professions–a surprisingly large number, if not a majority, have degrees in other subjects than what they do now. It’s certainly my case, and Trent’s as well.

    This cuts both ways, too: I see a lot of students taking majors with the assumption that when they earn the degree, that job will be waiting for them. This is totally false, especially with a lot of popular majors like psychology or archaeology. Every time I hear a psych undergrad saying they’re going to find work as a psychologist I see another person who is in for a rude awakening about how the real world works…

    @almost there (#7) I understand your frustration, but it’s simply not true that the schools would close. Colleges and universities are not run like businesses, but more like charitable institutions: they have endowments from the donations and bequests of alumni, and their budgets come primarily from the interest they earn off of those.

  14. Esther says:

    I was JUST thinking about this yesterday. Our society is so caught up on finding a job to make the big bucks, buy a big house, fast car and so on. What happened to doing things because you LOVE doing it? Because you’re passionate about it? I’d rather live in a cozy little cottage and enjoy my life than be stuck with a mortgage for a mini mansion that looks just like my neighbors feeling as though I can never take a vacation cause my boss will kill me. Phew.

    I’m also a big advocate of the gap year. Whether it’s in between high school and college or in between the first and second year of college. More American kids need to do that.

  15. Trent T says:

    I find myself in this exact situation (selected a job based on job prospects, but would like to have a different job today). It is a fine line. I have friends that didn’t get a degree for a specific job and have had a rough time for years earning any money.

    Our lives are made up of a series of decisions. You never know where you would be if you had made different choices!

  16. Debbie M says:

    @Amy, weird, I always get the impression that Johanna loves these posts and just wants to expand them a bit.

    I work with college academic advisers, and based on what they’ve told me, I have to agree with JonFrance–your major has very little to do with specific jobs–with some exceptions such as the MBA and engineering majors. Similarly, you don’t have to major in biology to be pre-med or government/political science to be pre-law. These advisers (who are much, much more competent than any advisers I ever had) generally recommend that people major in what most motivates them.

  17. Cindy says:

    I often tell people that you have to like your job, but you must be cautious about turning something you really like into a job. After all, no matter how much you like your job, somedays it is still just a job. I absolutely love my job that has nothing to do with my college major. It was a major I fell into because I loved the subject.

    Another thought that paralells this is if you turn a passion into a job you may not have any activity in life to be a hobby and pure enjoyment. I love to quilt but if I opened a quilt shop it becomes a job not a hobby. Of course, some careers, sports, performing need the passion to succeed.

    This is from a tax preparer who majored in Spanish and loves to quilt.

  18. b says:

    @ Amy.

    Would it be better if Johanna commented every day about how wonderful the post was? And what would be learned from that?

    The point being that if all you do is agree with what is being said, then why comment at all? Instead, knowledge is shared by discussing the areas in which people disagree. I don’t find Johanna sour at all, instead, I find her willing to share her opinions and experiences that may be different than Trent’s. I imagine that you would find there is plenty in Trent’s posts that she agrees with, but enough that she does not to keep reading the blog, since it is our differences that make things interesting.

    Of course, that is just my read on the situation and I could be way off base about her motivations, but I, for one, find her comments to significantly enhance the entries on Trent’s blog.

  19. Chelsea says:

    I think there has to be a compromise between thinking about what you love and thinking about your job prospects (salary being a part of that). I have a good friend who became an English teacher because she loved it, but she was not happy because she was ALWAYS stressed out about money and the hours (sure she taught from 9 to 3 but then there was grading and planning and coaching and she had to find a different job during the summer). And she was getting paid very little. It wasn’t a case of pure overconsumption.

    I’m not that far out from 18 (well, 9 years, yikes!), but when I started college I had an idea of what type of job I wanted but I didn’t know how to direct that into a major or profession. I knew I enjoyed medical science and I knew I enjoyed helping people. There are several careers I could have chosen to allow me to follow that passion, and having an adult to help me do a cost/benefit analysis for each of them would have been very helpful.

  20. Jonathan Vaudreuil says:

    Trent, after giving me your feedback on this topic not too long ago I’d like to add to you opening this conversation up.

    We have a limited amount of time to live. Time is the only thing we all have, and it’s going to run out at some point. The question everyone has to ask for themselves is “what do I want to get out of the time I have?” There is no right or wrong answer here.

    All you have to do is pin down what’s most important to you. Time with your family, making money, traveling, fishing Saturday morning, high-end coffee, a huge backyard, loving your job – whatever you pick as the top priorities, base your decisions around them. Ask the hard question of “what do I want?” first, plan second.

    My thoughts on prioritizing in life: http://jonathanvaudreuil.com/blogs/jonathan/priorities-marathon-life

  21. Jenny says:


    How is it that you seem to know JUST what I need to read at a given time? Thank you for this; you’re affirming things for me as I’m considering looking for a new position.

    I’m going to be spending more than half of my life working. Why would I want to spend half of my life doing something I wasn’t passionate and excited about?

  22. JoeAverage says:

    I think that the whole model of “finding a job that you like” is wrong. The model assumes that you will find that job and then proceed to work 1) at that specific job, 2) for the rest of your career. Instead, for most jobs, the job changes and shifts. Even if the title and position stays the same, with advances in technology, new laws, growth in your corporation, etc. the “job” is constantly changing – it’s not a constant. Also, the model that the job will persist your entire career is way off. Just ask around – jobs and positions come and go all the time. This model is also really passive – the worker just waits and gets money – there’s no connection with other financial goals like early retirement, etc.

    Here’s an alternative for your consideration. I’m currently doing it, but instead of advocating for it, I am just interested in people’s reactions. Here goes – take the job that helps you reach financial freedom fastest – and then enjoy your freedom for the rest of your life. By financial freedom I mean that you accumulate enough assets that they pay for all of your lifestyle expenses at a 4% withdrawal rate (i.e., your invetments are 25 times your living expenses). This approach is also more risk-tolerant that the standard model because you start saving a lot right away, so you have more to fall back on if the unexpected happens.

    I don’t like my current job, it stresses me out and makes me work 80-90 hour weeks week-after-week – but I make mid-six figures. In three years I’ll be 40 and, as long as we don’t have a big decline again, my assets should be at the “freedom” level. It’s not that I won’t work after 40, but I figure that I’ll take some time with the family and not do anything significant for a while.

    So tell me, do I have a “good” job?

  23. Craig says:

    It changes for everyone, could mean a better work life balance, more money, better location, better title, or different reasons. Everyone has their reasons and everyone would like to have them all, but that is not reality so if you can find something positive about your job, I’d consider it a good one at least right now.

  24. Leigh says:

    This was a lesson I learned early in my career. After graduating from a prestigious private law school with more than 70K in student loan debt I took a high paying job at a large firm. I hated it! I worked every weekend and worked such long days that I had no social life or no life outside of work at all. After about a year I took a huge pay cut to go into public sector work.

    Ten years later I’m still a public sector employee and I love it. After ten years I’m just now making what I was making as a first year attorney at the big firm but I’ve never regretted my decision. I actually like my job now and it’s actually a job. I don’t work crazy hours and I don’t take work home from me. Plus I have great benefits and vacation.

  25. Michele says:

    My youngest son chose an area that he has loved since he was a little boy- computer graphic design. He’s been drawing and designing on the computer and designing video game graphics since he could sit at the computer at about 3 years old! He will graduate in May ’10 with a Fine Arts/Graphic Design degree and has already had several job offers. He’s also not burdened with debt, since my husband and I have been committed to his education and are paying for college- but he also chose to attend an excellent state college with manageable tuition.(about $2500 a semester) He has also worked part-time all through college to pay his own expenses. Hi older brother has also been into computers since he was a tot- today he’s a software engineer with a major company that handles military contracts…after 4 years in the Navy as a network intervention specialist. Our older son makes a bundle, but he absolutely LOVES what he does. His wife is also a software engineer- I guess great minds think alike :) The bottom line is that we supported their decisions, but helped them to make good choices to support the field they love. They both got a good, fair start in life because we made a very early commitment to make sure that education came first.

  26. Hannah says:

    I have to say I really disagree with this post. This “advice” is really unrealistic. Not to be too hard on you Trent -I like your blog and I am glad you are able to make your living from it- but the only success you have as a writer is as a personal finance writer. Just because writing novels is your dream doesn’t mean you will find any success at it. If you had gone to college as an English major, you would have been throwing money away because you obviously didn’t need a BA in English to do what you are doing. All your life experiences would be different and you wouldn’t have the same material to write about in your blog.

    If your passion is writing, write something. Don’t waste your time getting a BA in English. Not only is it a pretty worthless degree to a writer, you can’t fall back on it to use in another profession if you don’t succeed.

  27. Maureen says:

    Amy, I have also found Johanna’s comments to be thoughtful expansions on Trent’s posts. Discussions are pretty boring if no-one expressed different views.

    I agree with Johanna’s suggestion that job security is a very important consideration, especially in a struggling economy. I think you also find that as people grow roots in a community they are less likely to be open to uprooting their families should their dream job be less stable.

    I know my husband would be very reluctant to take a job that would take him far away from his ailing widowed mother. We are fortunate that he has a wonderful job in his chosen field close to extended family.

    I would think that Dale’s position is likely temporary. Given his competence, people skills and good work ethic, it is likely that he will advance in his new job and once again be able to choose shifts, etc.

  28. Kai says:

    Money is of secondary importance – once you have enough to get by on. Had you done that English degree, what would you have done until you had a self-supporting job as a writer? Few English majors start a paying job, or sell a book right out of school, and without your excellent research job, what would you have done to support all the efforts you were able to make? And if you’d had student loans, it would have been an even more difficult situation. and would the English degree have even helped you out any more than the talents that have got you this far?
    It’s necessary to balance optimism with real life.
    Too many kids these days have been told to ‘follow their passion’, and are graduating in severe debt, with a degree that gets them no benefit.
    I think it would be better to encourage people to pursue any opportunity they get to further their passion, but make sure they consider the financial expectations in the meantime.

  29. Nil says:

    I think most often one’s inclination towards a particular field is developed through influential people in one’s life. Work practices/places often change over the years and work that seemed interesting to begin with ceases to challenge/interest you. To add to this, one’s priorities change over the years as well, which forces a change in preferences. Ultimately, I think a well paying job offers a person more opportunities for change, if necessary. It would be more difficult for Trent to transition into a hard sciences job if he did not like the writer’s job, had he pursued his passion to begin with. I believe it is prudent to pursue the highest paying job with due consideration to one’s talent/capability.

  30. Tyler Karaszewski says:

    My office has foosball and pingpong tables, a real espresso machine, and fresh fruit delivery. Also we’ve got an unlimited vacation time policy, some of the best health insurance you can buy, and no standard work hours (everyone sets his own as long as he shows up for scheduled meetings and is available to converse with co-workers reasonably often).

    I doubt I’d be able to find a job like this had I *not* gone into an engineering field, so it works both ways. We don’t have a lot of people with English or History degrees here.

  31. Hope D says:

    My husband, though a talented artist, was constantly told not to go into fine art. He didn’t. He wanted a profitable career. He went into technical illustration and worked for a defense contractor. He then developed narcolepsy. A disease that makes it impossible to do mundane, focused tasks. That means technical illustration. He cannot drive either. He’s now a self-employed graphic designer and photographer, who works at home. He still wonders how life would be if he had taken the other road. He knows he still would have narcolepsy but some careers aren’t as negatively affected by it.

    Two of our children are very talented artists. We support them and try to empower them to excel and do what they love. We don’t want them to “settle” for a career they don’t love, whether it is in art or not.

  32. ML says:

    Sticking temporarily with a poke your eye out job which pays well may provide extra motivation to make every hard earned dollar possible available towards getting out of a hole for example. In such a case it becomes tricky knowing at what point to quit…. Is it once consumer debt has gone, an emergency fund insitu or once caught up with retirement or education contributions savings. Life could pass by while reaching towards these goals unless a stop put in place in the planning process.

  33. John S says:

    It sounds like your friend Dale learned one of those hard life lessons that only the experience of making the wrong choice can teach. I agree wholeheartedly that money isn’t everything in a job.

    I would rather take a 5% pay cut and keep my current job, than double my salary and get a job I didn’t like. Why? Because I’m happy the way things are. I can work from home most of the time, in my rural hometown close to my family, doing something that challenges and stimulates me. I have plenty of vacation time and can take flex time at will. Those benefits are like pure GOLD. The LAST thing I’d ever want to do is trade them in for money, and go back to being an 8-to-5 commuting stiff like I used to be.

    The only point of more money is if it could buy me a better quality of life. If I have to take a huge quality of life hit to get the money, it’s not worth it.

    I will have to disagree with you, Trent, on the college degree thing. In my view the ONLY thing college is for is to get a degree that will set you up for a career you can live on. Personal enrichment can happen on the side, while you’re there.

    The worst advice I ever got from my guidance counselors and parents is “don’t worry about what job you’ll get, just major in things you love and the money will follow.” That is HORRIBLE advice because it isn’t true.

    I graduated with a degree in French and a minor in Music Theory, and found myself barely employable as a result. I had to temp in order to get my foot in the door at a salaried job.

    Now I’m lucky as hell to have a job in software engineering, but my poor choice in degrees set me back literally YEARS career-wise compared to where I would be if I had gone after a Computer Science degree.

    Folks, tell your college-bound kids that college is for one thing, and one thing only: getting a job you can live on. Once you have that, you can afford yourself all the indulgent self-enrichment in the world. Without it, you’ve got nothing.

  34. friend says:

    Amy & all,

    I was thinking the other day, reading Trent early in the morning: “As sure as the sun will rise, Trent has something bland and sincere to say. And Johanna will be there to poke holes in it.”

    This is part of the rhythm and texture of the blog, what makes it fun to read,for me. I’m even disappointed when Johanna doesn’t chime in. I usually groan when I see her name, ’cause I know it will be negative; but I always read what she says and think about it. (But only Trent gets invited over for a beer.)

  35. David says:

    I agree with Trent on this one, but I have an extra corollary. The problem with choosing a career that just pays the bills – above other considerations such as the work itself and benefits – is sustainability. If you choose a job based on just money, the problem isn’t that money isn’t an important factor. After all, when choosing a career path, you should think about the WHOLE PACKAGE, and realize that your ability to make money in the field is a formula with talent, training, passion, and markets as inputs. The problem is, if you just choose the easiest job to get that pays a high salary, will you be able to keep up the pace if you hate the work or if the hours are terrible?

    Yes, you can make the tradeoff to do something you don’t really like. But if you don’t like it, your ability to continue to excel in that field will be low over the long haul. Conversely, all the passion in the world won’t necessarily make you a world-renowned artist if you don’t have talent to back it up. But you CANNOT do something you hate until you retire without it taking a toll on your physical health and your eventual career prospects – not to mention your very humanity.

    As Chris Rock says, “People will tell you that life is short. They’re wrong. Life is long…especially if you make the wrong choices.” When you are young and youthful, it’s easy to overestimate how much “energy” or “effort” or “hard work” you can put into a job when your heart is not in it. For a while, debt will motivate you, but only just enough to get by. So yes, think about the money equation – but realize that it’s not the only necessary component – work that excites you is the ultimate necessity. Figuring out how to make money from some sort of work you like is still necessary, but it is step 2.

  36. I think there are two schools of thought here.

    If you need to be passionate about what you do for a living, then you need to find work that you enjoy, the type that you could do and be happy with even if you don’t make much money at it.

    But if you’re the kind of person for whom your true passions are non-work related, and your job–what ever it is–mostly just supports those passions, it’s OK to do a job you don’t love or even like.

    We’re all wired differently, and for some people, work just isn’t where it’s at for them. I know many people who are in the 2nd camp, and they often do a very good job at the jobs that they have but don’t feel too much passion for.

  37. Kevin M says:

    A good job to me is one that pays the bills, has reasonable flexibility for personal life and you feel good about more days than you dread going in to the office. Whatever form that takes, however you get there is up to each person. Sometimes it takes a few tries (as your friend Dale learned) to find it.

    Some people aren’t happy with “good” and want “great” so they make a change – like Trent did with his blog.

  38. Jim says:

    I don’t really understand the people citing student loan debt as a reason against Trent’s point. If you’re already in a pile of debt then that is unfortunate, but it shouldn’t be the plan or a reason to change your career goals from the start. People should avoid large piles of student loans that they can’t pay. It shouldn’t require $60k in student loans to go to a public college. Trent isn’t saying forget about money and do whatever you want even if you have loans, he’s talking about basic career planning ideas here.

  39. I am glad that you brought this up, and i’ve enjoyed your article. I would like to say that this definition will be different for everyone, but you mention some of the common factors.
    Today, many people believe that you need to go to college to get a “good job”.
    I have to disagree with john because going to college will not ensure you a position that you can live on. I have 2 degrees, 1 Masters, and still have yet to find work at all. I’m aware this is a recession and all of that, but I want to drive home the point that going to college is not necessary for a meaningful job.
    For example, you dont really NEED to go to college to become a car mechanic. There are alot of people I know that enjoy working on cars in the spare time they have (myself included) and can make a living doing it. It’s also mighty easy to stake out on your own if you have the skill of a mechanic, and odds are, your job is not likely to be outsourced.
    Too many people see college as the End-all be-all for obtaining gainful and meaningful employment in this day an age — While that’s true in some cases, it’s not a hard and fast rule. It has gotten alot of people into a heap of debt that they will struggle to repay.
    Everyday, I find myself wondering if going to college was the correct thing to do, and I find myself yearning to do real work on the railroad, in the coal mines or oilfields. Something that takes alot out of you, but to me, is highly enjoyable.
    But like you said trent, the work is about how much you enjoy it. Some people would probably enjoy working behind a computer, some enjoy working outdoors, and some still enjoy working with people.
    To each his or her own.

  40. Meg says:

    “Folks, tell your college-bound kids that college is for one thing, and one thing only: getting a job you can live on. Once you have that, you can afford yourself all the indulgent self-enrichment in the world. Without it, you’ve got nothing.”

    I’m inclined to agree with John S (#28). My parents believed that telling your kids to study whatever they wanted in college was the height of irresponsibility and went as far as believing that parents who didn’t push their kids toward practical majors didn’t love their kids enough to care for their future well-being. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do see the wisdom of using college to gain employable skills. It’s hard to care about self-enrichment when you can’t pay the light bill.

  41. Lauren says:

    This post hit me at a great time. I took a new job this past February, and I can say that I do not like it as much as I did my old job, even though I am earning $25,000 more each year. Mostly because I used to have a 5 minute commute, and now I have to drive one hour each way. I don’t really have any friends at my current job, when I had lots of people to talk to at my old job.

    However, my new job is a lot more flexible that my old job. I work four 10 hour days, so that does at least save me one day of commuting. And in 16 months, I will be able to work from home two days each week! (Yes, I have a countdown going — only 70 more weeks.)

    I’ve thought about asking for my old job back (I’m 90% sure that they would re-hire me in a minute), but then I think of the 5 day work week with no end in sight, coupled with the much smaller savings and vaction funds due to the smaller salary, and I decide to stay here. I just know I will love being able to work in my PJs from my living room.

  42. If you’re not making enough money, salary is the most important thing.

  43. Stan says:

    Definitely agree with Jenny (#18) here…thought it was a great post and a good way of thinking about just what constitutes a “great job.”

    Thanks, Trent!

  44. IRG says:

    In an ideal world, it would always be better to do what you love for your “primary” income generating work.

    But it’s never an ideal world, or rarely.

    We do need to have time to do what we love, but it may not be in our primary “employment.”

    The most dissatisfaction comes today from all the exhortation to “do what you love” and then the frustration when you realize: Oh, but I can’t make enough to feed my family by doing what I love.

    The situation many find as a solution is a job where they can use skills they have and enjoy (maybe not LOVE) in a decent workplace (those few that exist).

    If they’re working in a place that does not demand all their soul/life energy, and make enough to stay out of debt, then they can spend free time pursuing what they love. And maybe even making money on it. That seems to be the way for part of most of many people’s working lives.

    When I was a journalist, I didn’t imagine ever loving any kind of other work. But I ended up using many of the same skills (interviewing, writing, editing, research, etc.) in positions within PR and corporate communications. When you work for a company with solid products and responsible, ethical management, you can actually make some decent money and not sell out.

    Those years in PR and Corporate communications allowed me to pursue other interests and passions without having to try to generate income from things that weren’t able to keep the family going.

    It’s genuinely tough for everyone to find any kind of balance today. And no one should stay in a job where they hate getting up each day (the stress on the body will destroy your health, sooner or later). But somewhere there is a compromise.

    I worked with a very intelligent, well-educated guy for several years in what was a good-paying job but one that in NO WAY reflected his skills and talents. I was amazed that he could do it. But he had a plan–and a family. My concern is that he’ll become so accustomed to not doing what he wants that he won’t ever break out, even when the kids are gone and he’s still a young guy.

    You have to always ask yourself: Is this the best use of my talents? Is this what I was brought to this world to do?

    Sometimes, the answer, no matter how seemingly “mundane” your job, is “yes.”

  45. sir jorge says:

    i did the same thing, i got a degree in interactive media and hate the work i’ve gotten

    I most recently got fired from a job and haven’t been able to find anything

    however,i hated working in office

    What drives me now to get a horrible job I hate is the student loans. I can’t go after my choice of jobs because finances stand in front of me.

  46. Anastasia says:

    In my experience, students are more motivated when they are doing something which interests them. When I advise students, I do encourage them to think about their interests, what they enjoy, and what kind of career they think they might like. But… there’s a second step. Investigate the career. Learn what kind of opportunities it has, what are the pitfalls. Shadow someone in the field if you can. Learn about salaries and job availability.

    Then a student can make an informed decision.

  47. fairydust says:

    It doesn’t necessarily follow that the degree you choose will lead to the work/career you have later in life. My degree was in journalism, my current job is in accounting, and in between those, my highest paying and most miserable job was as a human resources generalist. Not everyone knows going into college, or even coming out, exactly where they’ll end up or how much money they’ll make along the way.

  48. Diane says:

    I’ve spent a lifetime searching for a job I liked. Every now and then I would find one only to eventually grow to hate it. I have reinvented myself so many times I have reached a point where I feel there is nothing left to try.

    Still, I agree with the article that the work itself should be enjoyable to you, your peers should be people you want to spend time with and you should have the flexibility to live a life outside of work. Whenever any one of those things were lacking in my job, no amount of money could make me stay there for long.

  49. BD says:

    “Too many people focus on salary as the sole definition of a good job.”

    There’s a damn good reason they do, and I’m living proof. I ‘followed my dreams’ and ‘got a job at what I did best’ which was art…specifically Graphic Design.

    Most graphic design jobs are located in big cities, and pay very little compared the the cost of living index. For example, I lived in SoCal (Orange County), and had a job as a graphic designer in the $33,000k range back in the early 2000’s. After the enormous cut of California and Federal taxes, it was just barely a living wage.

    Due to life problems, I had to quit my job there and move out of CA (could no longer afford living in SoCal) in 2005, and have been unable to find work since, because the economy slowly started to tank and the graphic design field is severely saturated. Now I’m working part-time freelancing and part time at Home Depot and making about Poverty Level wages, and sorely wishing I would have NEVER “followed my dreams” and rather, chosen a career that would at least *always* be able to put a roof over my head and food on my table.

    I’d rather work a job I didn’t quite enjoy and make a REAL living wage that offered me a stable life, than work at a job I absolutely loved, but made so *little* that I live in fear every day of ending up on the streets (and having to move every year or so due to having to move where the work is, or because I can’t afford the rent increase). “Frugal” only goes so far, and then you have to somehow increase your earning power. Those well-meaning people who think salary is everything know this.

  50. Chris says:

    The irony is, most people are oblivious to the fact that, with a math degree, you can get some of the most high paying jobs available to you.

    Actuaries: This is pure math, and every actuary I know doesn’t work more then 30 hours a week and make more then 100K a year.

    Traders/Analyst: Most people do not realize that the most successful wall street traders are math, physics and engineering majors. The only class I ever had that actually taught me how financial derivatives actually work, was an MBA class taught by a former wall street trader and, you guessed it, math major.

    One of the more highly paid saleswomen I ever knew, was a philosophy major in college. Here she was selling Corporate Bonds to Insurance companies and probably making half a million a year.

    Unless you are an accountant, I have yet to see any major that truly prepares you for the entry level jobs in business. In reality, its all about personality and initiative.

  51. Wendy says:

    When you have a full scholarship, I think you can take a lot more risks than if you have to take out loans. You definitely have to be concerned about salary when you expect to end up in debt up to your ears when you graduate.

    That said, I would never recommend studying what you enjoy studying in college. I know many people who loved college, but didn’t like the jobs their degrees got them into. You have to have a goal of a job that will keep you going for the long run, and plan for the degree that will be the most help getting there.

  52. chris says:

    I majored in English – University of Iowa. Pretty worthless on its own, that is for sure! I had no marketable skills except for typing! If I had to start over and had the years, I would be a mortician…..

    All the while when I was young and looking for a path, my mother kept telling me, “…get a good job…be a secretary.” Her definition of good job was security and some type of benefits package. So, of course I became a secretary and was miserable until I became a teacher – after going back to school.

  53. chacha1 says:

    I’m with the camp that says, use college as a career tool and follow your passion on your own time. College is just too big an investment to use it self-indulgently.

    Speaking as a master’s-degree holder in History, working as a legal secretary … having a degree made it easier to get an entry-level job in a law firm. But it could have been any degree, and if I had studied engineering or science or math instead of history (something I can and do study on my own anyway), I would have had many more available career paths.

    That said, personality and initiative are indeed essential to success in finding and keeping jobs. A good employee is going to be presented with opportunities that a mediocre employee will never see.

    A good job is one that pays the bills with a little (or a lot) left over AND doesn’t suck the life out of you!

  54. Lisa says:

    I think that if one is free and footloose (of loan debt & being tied to a region), that any major can be turned into a fulfilling and livable wage. In most cases, though, it will take time to evolve (decades even). Just like boyfriends, we can’t know what we want until we try a few out. Unlike husbands, we can change jobs.

    Regarding Johanna, I look forward to her comments. I credit Trent with starting the discussions, but Johanna usually adds the depth of insight that interests me.

  55. Chris says:

    I think most people are dissatisfied with some aspect of their job. If it’s not the pay, it’s the commute; If it’s not the type of work, it’s the hours. That said, it’s important to find out which of these are priorities, and which you’re willing to compromise on.

    I majored in Journalism, just as the field was beginning to die. I became a glorified typist, and used that to parlay into the web.

  56. plonkee says:

    @Chris (#42)
    I’m glad you said that so I didn’t have to.

    I have a maths degree, and earn probably the lowest salary amongst my peers, and I make more than average. It doesn’t surprise me that people don’t realise that maths is so useful it’s well paid – most people don’t realise maths is that prevalent.

    I’m fairly sure maths as a major is on average more lucrative than biology, at least in the UK.

  57. MikeS says:

    I think the best advice a parent could give their child for college is to get as broad an education as possible. Make sure that they expose themselves to as many fields as possible.

    I was lucky when I went to school, Temple University, had a lot of required courses outside my major. They have certainly helped me in my working life as I don’t have a job in my major.

  58. aoineko says:

    Very thought provoking post.

    I do think it is hard making those decisions early in life. So many things can sway us.

    Even not having scholarships and all, if a person can afford at least a community college (and there is still lots of financial aid for that) they do have some latitude of choice. I wish I had stuck with what I liked. Lack of support, knowledge and mentorship pretty much blew that.

    However the choices don’t stop there as you say. Starting out we may have to take jobs that aren’t the best to build up work history. But still, we do have choices, if we give ourselves the freedom to make them.

    And it’s true about working a job that is not what we want to do. It is draining, can affect our health and mental state negatively. Beyond that, I would guess the odds of quitting or getting fired go up. When we are happy with our work we do better, are more productive, which would mean we are more likely to show up to work, get more done and want to stay there.

    It’s too bad in this world we don’t give more support to people doing what they want (in a good way). The outcome would be remarkable I bet.

  59. Keri says:

    I majored in English in college and thought it was amazing. I loved studying literature and writing and when they added a creative writing minor my senior year, I took four writing classes in one year (not recommended). I would never have been as happy if I had majored in biology or business.

    That said, if you’re going to take on a major with a career path that is less than obvious after graduation, you need to be the kind of person who is going to go out and get what you want. Internships, graduate school, professor mentors…all that is up to you. If you graduate with the degree but have nothing else going for you, you’re going to end up in a bad job that isn’t advancing your career, salary, or happiness.

    I went on to get a degree in library science, got a local student librarian position and interned with one of the most respected librarians in the state. I’ve only applied for two jobs since I graduated (in 2005) but I got both of them.

  60. Rosa says:

    It’s not just salary – work conditions & family-friendliness are just as important to me, and that kind of information just wasn’t available to me as a working-class kid going to a state college. If my parents had more professional friends, I might have had a clue…but what the college had to offer was a skills test that always told me to be a truck driver or a florist.

    The other thing I’d like to see available to kids, aside from salary, is a kind of culture of the profession – like, tech workers usually have relaxed dress codes, many CPAs temp or work part time but while they are getting established most work overtime every quarter, teaching jobs are a political football with lots of people waiting until just before each school year to find out if they have a job, etc.

  61. Kelly says:

    I knew what I wanted to do since I was a little girl. I always wanted to be a nurse(RN). Started out at a hospital-based diploma program. Flunked out with two semesters left to go. I then transferred to a local public 4 yr University and completed my Nursing degree over the next 5 yrs. I took out loans(which are now paid off) plus worked 32hrs/week while carrying a full course load.

    I’ve been an RN for over 13yrs now. I LOVE it! The human body is fascinating and the field is always changing. There are SO many opportunities in the field. I currently work in the hospital setting as that pays the best in my area. Or, I could work in a Doctors office, Nursing Home, workplace…anywhere really! The hours are flexible.

    I currently work 3rd shift by MY choice since the money is just a little bit better. Right now, I am enjoying my first of five days off in a row and didn’t have to use any vacation time to get that many days off! Sure, I sometimes have to give up holiday time with my family but I knew that when I signed on to be a nurse.

    The money in nursing is pretty good. I bring in about 54K/year. That was another reason I chose nursing but not the primary one. I also know that I can go anywhere in the country and will have no problem getting a job. I’m not happy with where I work right now but it’s not bad. I also know that I am GOOD at what I do. Really good, My superiors respect me and trust me. They know I get the job done. That means a lot.

  62. guinness416 says:

    Count me as another person not getting the criticism of Johanna. There are many blogs whose comments are nothing more than an amen chorus, which is completely useless – blogs are less about the posts than the conversation, debate and range of opinions that flow from the posts, to me and many other people.

    Anyway, I know it`s somewhat trendy for blogs to run down well-paying work (and sometimes all corporate work) and the `good` example is never the high payer but I don`t get it. While I agree of course that money isn`t everything, I don`t understand how this ties in to the high school advice – you can`t know at that point what sort of working environment you`ll find awful or where you`ll end up. And the same high-paying job for two different employers can have wildly differing flexibility, colleagues, physical environment, etc. It would be a shame for kids to read stuff like this and discount some good options career-wise!

  63. Des says:

    I’d like to throw my name on the I-heart-Johanna bandwagon. Her comments are always very logical, coherent, and thoughtful – a breath of fresh air. And given the choice, she would be the one to whom I’d be offering the beer.

  64. Paula says:

    What a great post! I agree with a lot of people here in that I know plenty of people who followed their passion and majored in something they loved, only to find the jobs not there or they end up in huge debt.

    My husband is one example. He went to art school in our hometown part time (he worked full time because we were living together at the time and needed to pay bills). He went past the four year mark and still needed some core classes to get his degree, but the money ran out and he couldn’t afford tuition anymore. Depressed, he realized that he didn’t even want to be an artist at this point as he was more interested in computers. Fast forward more than five years later (we now have a family to support), and he wants to finish his degree as he absolutely despises his current job at a nursing home as a dietary aide. From there, he wants to go on to a community college to take some computer programming classes.

    I, myself, went to a community college and got my associates degree in medical assisting about ten years ago. I knew that I wanted to work in the medical field since high school. I have never regretted this decision and like the nurse who posted above, I can work in a variety of settings. I currently work in an ophthalmology practice where we do cataract surgery and LASIK (yes, I do scrub in and assist the surgeon). I enjoy the work, but I also know that if it gets mundane, I can always do something different or get my nursing degree. The money isn’t terrific, but it pays the bills and the hours are good, which allows me time to spend with my son, who has special needs.

  65. Marcy says:

    I have always felt that a “good” job is made up of the following factors:

    – The sort of work you do and how stimulating/enjoyable it is 35%
    – The people you work with 35%
    – How much you are paid – 20%
    – Schedule, Location factor – 10%

    If one of these things is terrible – say you get paid well at a convienient location and enjoy your work, but your coworkers are jerks – you can probably live with it and consider it a good job. But if you are also paid badly…. plus then maybe you work funny hours… well, the balance starts tipping and you probably should find another job.

    I don’t like the idea of focussing just on one thing. Somebody earlier said they’ve encourage their kids to “just do what they love”. I think this is OK – but only to a point. One just can’t ignore the realities of life. You need to be paid a living wage. You need to be working sociable hours. (By sociable hours, I meant hours that do not adversely affect your quality of life – this means different things for different people). Don’t crush your child’s dreams, but don’t support a complete delusion and have them wake up at 30 and realise they might “love their job” but they can’t afford all the things they want in life (like owning or renting a decent place to live, investing for retirement, having kids) or other things.

    The same thing goes for families and cultures where it is all about prestige and money. Here in Australia the two university courses that require the top marks at school (top 1-2%) are medicine and law. I have the greatest respect for doctors, but I do not think it takes a genius to do this job. One needs a capacity for a lot of route learning, logical problem solving and a desire to work with people. Yet every year the kids who are in the top 1% are encourage to study medicine straight out of school when it may not fulfill all the factors I listed above.

    I get paid pretty well. I could probably be paid more and have actually turned down a job offer that was $5K more than I was making because I

  66. Java Monster says:

    A *lot* of this has to do with personality. My husband and I both attended art school. He majored in animation. It took him a while to understand he’d have to move to California because that’s where the jobs are. Eventually, he got a job there. Another friend of ours couldn’t make the transition to computer animation, though. He just didn’t want to do it. His earning style is also very different: he’s a bachelor, too. He works when he can find cell animation jobs, and lives off of unemployment when he can’t.

    In the meantime, my husband moved up the ranks of CGI animators and now earns a lot for his field AND is working with partners in their own business.

    So there you go: two guys who went to the same school with vastly differing experiences and willingness to learn new things experiencing life within animation very differently. Me? I ended up staying home with the kids, but that’s okay. I do my own thing at home.

  67. Amateur says:

    Another point not mentioned is job longevity, not all occupations are created equal. Some jobs have very obvious unwritten age discrimination factors to them as we progress into our careers. If the occupation does not yield much financially, though it may be a deep passion and there is definite longevity, like teaching, it could work out very well in the longer tail of things.

    I haven’t met a graphic designer over the age of 45, I’m sure they exist but at elevated job titles, as managers and directors of creative firms. It would not shock me if one did not reach that status by that age, getting decent paying work would be difficult as the company cultures of those places for designers tend to be fresh grads.

    I think better college advice would be to choose a major that would yield the results a person desires a few years after graduation. If leaving the home town for a big city is an aspiration, a degree towards higher paying work is a must, a person can slowly change their career after a year or two of working to their desired interests, careers and people evolve.

    As usual, if one hates a specific subject, it would not make sense to major in it unless the desire and love for potential* earnings is truly that great to pursue it. Morally, sometimes we end up pursuing lucrative careers to help our family, the ones who helped raise us up, to live better lives with us. It’s not as black and white as choosing money or happiness, for some people it may overlap.

  68. Kathy says:

    Your work environment does have a lot to do with your happiness. I can relate to this post somewhat. I love my job. I love what I do. It’s a entry level clerical job, but there’s a lot of brain work and problem solving involved with it. But the department I work with is run so horribly and my supervisor is so unprofessional, I dread coming in to work. That does take a toll on you after awhile. I think that was the point Trent was trying to make. You have to then make the choice that I am faced with: do you stay, biding your time, and hoping it will get better? Do you ask for a transfer out and into another department that you may not like? Or do you take a chance in a tight job market and go somewhere else?

  69. Hogan says:

    I know so many people with a liberal arts degree who are living in their parents basement and waiting tables.

  70. I sure hope I can make a decent salary as a financial planner. Then again, I had a couple of hopes for the job I’d like to end up with: 1. ability to be self-employed, in the event I end up somewhere that I wouldn’t be able to get a job otherwise (military life = transferrable skills are a MUST) and 2. potential for high earnings, I’d like to at least be able to earn a high salary, if that’s what I’m after. I hate the thought of closing doors for future opportunities based on what I feel like today.

    Personally, I want to be able to pay off my loans and then fund the life I’d like to live, complete with all the time off to be able to live it. I’m thinking I’d love to keep blogging, work on freelance writing a bit and teach budgeting/money management classes for kids and adults, while taking on a few clients or so as a CFP. Sound like a decent plan? I’m happy with it, just excited that in the next few years I’ll FINALLY be able to start on it…. I’m getting impatient.

  71. Shevy says:

    If Johanna was a little less relentlessly negative and didn’t so often have to pick nits in order to have something to be negative about, I’d be less irked by her comments.

    Even when they’re accurate (as they were for the most part above) they tend to grate on me. I don’t think the comments area should be a chorus of praise, but I’d like to see her post occasionally to point out something she agreed with.

    Funnily enough, I say this as I make my second critical comment in a row here on TSD tonight. I very often agree with Trent. I have mentioned his content and linked to it a number of times on my own blog.

    However, I think he’s missing something here. Finding a job you enjoy or picking a major that reflects your passions isn’t so much the right or wrong thing to do as it is irrelevant to many people.

    When I was a single mother of 3 young children receiving only $100/month in child support from my ex, it didn’t matter that the job description of the position I held for several years turned out to be the blueprint for my “job from Hell” (an exercise I did from one of Barbara Sher’s books). I needed to keep a roof over our head, food on the table, and so on. And, stressful as that job was, it provided a good salary with excellent benefits. In that, I was actually lucky. Many single parents find themselves working multiple minimum wage jobs just to hold things together.

    If you have several dependents, are the sole care for an elderly parent, have health issues or serious amounts of debt you cannot afford to be picky in the short term about the “enjoyability factor” of your job. Neither can you afford to be choosy during an economic downturn when people are losing their jobs left and right.

    In the long term, yes, I think it’s valuable to follow your dreams. But you have to be practical too.

  72. Lori says:

    Keep it coming, Joanna!

    And, if this is the first time you’re talking with your kids about the future (really talking!), you’re going to get… all of the above.

    When kids understand about finances, about insurance, about homeowning, groceries, and that the first time out on your own, it’s not the rent, but toothpaste and toilet paper that’ll bankrupt you every time! They are better equipped to handle a budget, make good decisions in their everyday… that will roll over into their decision to choose their career of choice.

    Having ‘passion’ about something and being passionate about something is a semantics thing. If they KNOW who they are, they have a better chance of being all that they COULD be.

    What are their goals? Stay home with the kids? Travel? Have a doctorate so they can make their kid brother call them Dr.___, whatever it is, if they are prepared in a well-rounded manner, they’ll be able to handle… all of the above.

  73. Serena says:

    I certainly appreciate all of the comments on this subject, both negative and positive. We are currently involved in helping our daughter make career and college choices. I find this to be a very emotional task due to the fact that I “followed my heart” and ended up stuck in a career that I hated to support the career that I loved.

    I believe that college should be about a degree that will earn you a good living. I would have been much happier if I had focused on a career that I could tolerate. Instead I wound up in a career that caused me no end of misery and the loss of the desire to pursue the dream that started the career to begin with.

    I am still trying to recover.

  74. Johanna says:

    Now that I’ve seen a bunch more comments, I think that I read this post differently from everybody else. To me, “What is a ‘good job’?” does not mean “What factors do (or should) people take into account in choosing a job?” but rather something like “When people say stuff like ‘You have to do ABC and XYZ to get a good job,’ what do they really mean?” They’re both interesting questions, but they’re subtly different. And in the latter question, in my experience, they’re *not* talking solely about money. For example, there’s often a subtle (or not-so-subtle) bias against blue-collar jobs involved. For another example, a lot of professors at research universities seem to think that the only “good job” that there is is being a professor at a research university – even though many other jobs pay at least as well. That was what I was trying to say in my first comment.

    Also, I don’t drink beer.

  75. Elizabeth says:

    @ Johanna How about wine? I’d drink a glass with you :-)

  76. Stephanie says:

    It took a while to read through the comments, but this thread was right on track with something that we were discussing in the context of “talent” planning where I work. Putting the degree – job discussion (which is another topic) aside, one thing that we have been focusing on is what is each employee’s value proposition. It’s different for everyone and recognizing and playing to that is a struggle as each organization gets bigger. However, if you back it down to the individual I think you would also find that stage of life also plays a big part in this – when you are early in your working career and perhaps have school debt or do want to do something else, you may decide to sacrifice time/flexibility for salary in the scope of being able to make different choices later. Sometimes you can find something that you “love” that achieves all those things, but what you “love” at 20 may not be what you “love” at 40. And maybe what you “love” is reading to 1st graders but you wouldn’t love it so much if you were getting paid to do it, but that office job allows you some volunteer time. ?Fundamentally, I think a lot of people really would not be “miserable” in their jobs if they felt they were respected and rewarded for their contribution.

  77. guinness416 says:

    That’s a great point regarding longevity, Amateur. In many fields it’s “move up or move out”. I’m only 32 but already the kids coming out of college into our office have vastly better skills with the CAD/BIM/etc that we use, so if I hadn’t already moved to management I’d be starting to get in trouble.

  78. Randy says:

    “@almost there (#7) I understand your frustration, … Colleges and universities are not run like businesses, but more like charitable institutions: they have endowments from the donations and bequests of alumni, and their budgets come primarily from the interest they earn off of those.”

    Sorry – I must disagree, at least for public colleges. I’m on the Chemical Engineering advisory council at the local university. Individual colleges within the university are funded directly based on the number of students taking their courses. You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to adjust the required curriculum for a degree if it means fewer hours taught from a particular college (Fine Arts, etc) – politics at its worst!

    It is irresponsible at best that colleges are not required to give ALL students a realistic view of job prospects and starting salaries as soon as they declare a major – while students still have a chance to consider their options.

    An ill-conceived degree choice plus huge student loan burdens caused by ‘follow-your-dream’ thinking places many graduates in a terrible position.

  79. BHeine says:

    Thank you, Stephanie, for your comment, “Fundamentally, I think a lot of people really would not be “miserable” in their jobs if they felt they were respected and rewarded for their contribution.” (#61)

    I once took a 50% paycut to go from a job that I hated to one that I loved. And the difference wasn’t the type of work I was doing but the atmosphere of respect and teamwork that I entered in the lower paying job. I have since moved to another job in a field that I like, but I am again miserable because of the work environment. I don’t think any amount of planning in college or post college could have prepared me for what a difference colleagues can make in job satisfaction.

    I’m working in the nonprofit sector and even with a BA and grad work, I only make about $50K annually. And with $40K in student loan debt, I can’t just walk away to follow a passion.

    I also like to keep my passions separate from work. I suspect that if I decided to go into business as a seamstress (I LOVE sewing as a hobby), it would no longer seem like fun.

  80. Ellen / MoneyLounge says:

    I think that a ‘good job’ is something you enjoy doing that you can support the quality of living that makes you happy. I know people who love being lawyers and make a lot of money, but don’t necessarily live like it. And I know people who are farmhands who make small wages, but love the feeling of being outdoors with animals.

    Throughout college I could never understand why some people majored in things that they hated. Even if it’s a little harder to get started down a career path that you will truly enjoy (sometimes it is, sometimes is isn’t) I don’t think anyone should aim for a career simply because it will rake in the dough.

    That being said, I’m sure some of our best doctors and the such do it just for the money, and I’m thankful that we have these people to use their skills, even if I would not necessarily agree with their motives.

  81. steve says:

    The problem with listening to “everybody” is that everybody really doesn’t know that much about what is possible.

    As to a degree in mathematics, for example, it is true that only the academic stars have get good teaching and research positions. But are you seriously telling me that a math major, particularly one with an M.A. or higher, is not sought after in industry after industry?

    The best people to speak to about job prospects related to a degree are people who understand and are familiar with the field, possibly professors, who will know what some of their students are doing for work.

    This reminds me of the commonly heard canard “I don’t see how I’ll ever use any of this (math) in my life”

    To which the response is “That’s probably because you haven’t met or really spoken to any engineers, scientists, or mathematicians, statisticians, economists, or actuaries.”

    In other words, if your refernce point is only those around you, and you don’t come from that kind of a background, you don’t see that lots of people understand and use those skills and concepts in their day to day living.

    As for English majors, how about publishing, publicity, public relations–you name it.

  82. Bill in Houston says:

    Actually Randy, most colleges are run like the federal government: inefficiently and always at a perceived deficit.

    I’m a huge college football fan, but I really believe that most universities spend WAY too much money on these programs (part of this is, believe it or not, due to Title IX). I dislike the mondo practice facilities and enormous stadia that seat the population of Delaware. All to get the right prospects so the team wins, so the aluimni donate more money, so they can get the right prospects…

    Very few colleges are run like businesses (Phoenix comes to mind), but the problem with them is that money is their ONLY driver.

    The problem we face is the perception that you need college to have a “career.” First of all, nearly half the population should NEVER BE in college in the first place. They simply lack the brainpower (I know, I’m politically incorrect, but if your IQ is below say, 95, you won’t be getting any benefit of a year and a half of college only to drop out). Unfortunately in our zeal to show our national advancement we left behind skill training programs and apprenticeships in the dust.

    Bill Gates and company want to give every American a world class college education. That sounds nice, but is in no way realistic. We need to educate EVERYONE, but not everyone needs to go to college. This country is stagnating for lack of good trade schools and similar programs.

  83. Wayward says:

    Thanks, Trent. This is exactly the conversation I’ve been trying to have with my fiance. He may make nearly twice my salary, but for the past several years he has hated every minute of his job, nearly every spare moment is spent on escapist activities (video games or out riding his bicycle), he’s always tired, spends a ton of energy complaining about things he has no control over instead of focusing on how he can change the situation, and he just generally seems to find very little joy in life.

    This is a huge difference from the man I met and agreed to marry. Just last night he said that he wished he had quit this job when he had the chance, meaning when the unemployment rate wasn’t hovering at 12.2% (CA) and he could reasonably expect to find a different job.

    I miss him and have seriously been thinking about calling off our engagement. The idea of spending the rest of my life with someone who is perpetually unhappy, constantly complaining, and never really present in the relationship is more than I think I can (or want) to handle.

  84. Caroline says:

    Like so many things, you probably have to make the mistake of taking the crappy job before you realize what you really want (like hitting rock bottom financially before turning the boat around). I tried to be science major in college (only for a semester)!

    One of my friends completed 3 years of an engineering degree before nearly starting over on an English degree. He had high hopes in the beginning but eventually became resigned to staying at his decent-pay job that makes him depressed (it has nothing to do with English or engineering).

    It takes a lot of introspection or courage to realize that you have to change your life around completely to be happy. I congratulate anyone who’s faced their demons and done it.

    I’m one of the lucky ones who picked history and is actually working in a related field (which is NOT teaching). I had no idea what I wanted to do when I picked that major, but I’m glad I did! I think college is a great experience with any major, as long as you like school and go somewhere inexpensive.

  85. Catherine says:

    almost there (#7), you might also be interested in this recent article from The American Scholar, in which William M. Chace argues that the high cost of education *has* caused students (or their parents) to vote with their feet, not by moving to less expensive schools, but by moving away from the humanities to majors perceived as “more employable” and higher-salaried, such as business.


    Of course, as those majors are flooded, the value of each individual’s degree becomes less, as we’ve seen happen with the popularity of the MBA.

    I think that we do have schools that teach employable trades, but they are not colleges–they are the trade schools. And there’s absolutely no reason why someone can’t go both to college and to trade school.

    As far as Trent’s original post goes, I have two comments. First, I had the same confusion that Ramona did about the example–unless the first job did not have benefits, the difference in pay is not a big jump. Second, I completely agree that once a person makes enough to cover their needs, the next concern should be satisfaction with total work experience, not more money. I know some people who believe that work doesn’t matter, it only serves to allow you to buy the things you want. I can’t think of anything I could buy (beyond food and shelter) that be worth being miserable for the majority of my waking hours.

    However, I do think that when looking for overall job satisfaction, people should beware the job that underpays compared to other similar jobs or for their level of experience. It can be a sign that the employer doesn’t fully value its employees and that the coworkers are only going to be people who aren’t good enough workers to be choosy.

  86. Sharon L says:

    Wayward, your fiance is showing signs of clinical depression. I suggest getting a medical evaluation and treatment; you might find you get the man you fell in love with back.

  87. Chris Cruz says:

    Being a Filipino a good job is #1 Doctor, #2 a nurse #3 a government employee or anything in the medical field. And to others a “good job” is anything that impresses others when they ask “so what do you do for a living?”

    My cousin was forced into the medical field by her dad who is in the medical field himself. She fought with him constantly but she eventually did get a degree and a job right away. She’s 27 and now makes 50k and drives a BMW but she still hates the medical field. All my family members are proud of her and show her off because she has a medical job now but she’s not happy with herself. I hung out with her and she still struggles to show her individuallity.

    With all these significant deaths it has made me realize that our time is NOW. Dont wait until after you’re retired to start doing what you love. Anything can happen tomorrow that can wipe everything out. Take advantage of every minute you have on this earth because sometimes life is shorter than you think.

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