Financial column: Choosing between the ideal career and money
Published: Monday, October 28, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 28, 2013 22:10
After receiving a small handful of interesting comments about last week’s column, I thought I would go off that same note and discuss my thoughts on finding a job you would enjoy versus one that you know would pay better. I think this is a classic question that goes through most students’ minds. How do you balance the two sometimes competing aspects of success? More importantly, how do you define success? Is it the mere sum of earnings in a given year, or is it the more abstract feeling of satisfaction you get after completing a project at work?
Unfortunately, there is no right answer to that question but sharing my own train of thought on this particular subject may help some of you reach a decision of your own. A couple years ago, I made the (potentially) horrifying decision to switch from computer science to English as a major. If you’re not aware of the stereotypes, let me clarify that English majors tend to earn much (much!) less than computer science majors on average.
Contrary to what you may first think, this was not due to the difficulty of the computer science workload. In fact, I received solid grades in all my introductory classes and consistently understood all the concepts, but I hated it. That is not an exaggeration—I absolutely detested almost everything involved with programming. I enjoyed the subject as a general field, sure. I even enjoyed learning and understanding how everything worked, but the actual programming, debugging and adjusting of the most infinitesimal aspects of the code to make it work— no.
I imagined myself doing that work every day for the rest of my life. It may be appealing to some, but unfortunately, that was not the case for me. I put aside all the negative comments by friends—“But you’re so good at numbers!” or “Why are you doing this, do you want to be a teacher? That’s the only thing English majors can do nowadays!”—and made the switch.
I have not regretted my decision once. The classes I started taking felt much more relevant and I no longer dreaded the next homework assignment. I cared about the material and truly felt like the kind of work I had been doing in class would be incredible if it were somehow turned into a career. Finding well-paying jobs, however, was the challenge. Logging in to Blue Hen Careers or other job-finding sites produced virtually no jobs that paid well and were seeking an English major. I was not discouraged because I knew that finding a job I would enjoy would not be hard. The money part could come after.
Not long after the initial switch of majors did I realize the more specialized writing jobs paid more. This may seem like common sense, but for some reason that idea did not click with me until one of my professors lectured repeatedly on finding some kind of skill to synergize with your writing and then concentrate on learning everything you can in that area. For me, choosing that area was easy. Writing about technical requirements of abstract concepts in computer science without actually being required to program was an ideal solution to my dilemma. It took less than one semester to find an internship that has now evolved into a future full-time job, and my situation was by no means extraordinary or “lucky.”
I am convinced that similar solutions exist with all other majors. The satisfaction, in my opinion, of earning a lot of money while gritting your teeth at the actual job is shallow and short-lived. The job satisfaction should come first and then eventually evolve into a well-paying career. I realize that this advice may be idealistic and sometimes hard to consider when money is tight, but college is the perfect opportunity to chase that dream while the concern of money is hopefully on the backburner. So, to echo the sentiments of one professor: find what you love, then find one specific area you are especially good at and focus on synergizing those two elements into a marketable skill.