It’s been a month since I’ve finished my workterm at the DoJ and returned to school at UVic. This past Spring was four months filled with a tremendous amount of discovery, and with a little bit of distance between me and that time, I’ve had some time to really think about what my vision for the future looks like.
Law school, at least at UVic (and I suspect at most other universities), is tied with the MBA program for the most expensive degree offered. As such, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the students to put that degree to work for them upon graduation. This pressure is reinforced by the fact that the faculty of law makes available many opportunities for students to get in touch with the large firms that are hiring articling students upon graduation. These opportunities happen in the form of wine and cheese events, on campus interviews (affectionately named “OCI’s”), and open houses for prospective students at many of the large firms.
There are two main effects that fall out of this process. One, they grant students a valuable opportunities to get in touch with the people that they want to work for. Two, it creates an intense pull on students to “put their degree to work for them” by going to work for the firms that are advertising through these means.
Although UVic does a great job providing information to students regarding alternative career paths and getting in touch with smaller firms, the fact is that these opportunities are under-represented and under-funded. This is simply a natural and unfortunate consequence of the capitalist model. Those firms with the most money can afford the greatest amount of advertising, will be the best represented, and will be able to draw in the best students.
Why am I telling you about this, and what does it all mean?
Well, for one, it means that I and my colleagues are acutely aware of the pressure to start making money pretty soon after graduating. More importantly, it means that I am all too familiar with how easy it can be to get caught up chasing after money, rather than your passions.
Permit me one last digression.
My undergraduate degree was in computer science. It took me a while to get through this degree (I had no idea what I wanted to do for the first three years that I was in school, so was doing poorly in a business degree until I found computers). When I entered the faculty around 2000, it was the height of the dot com boom and fallout. The result was that many of my colleagues had entered the degree program because it seemed like a good general degree to have, and like it would allow them to make a lot of money.
When the tech bubble collapsed, those colleagues stayed in the degree, because they didn’t really know what else to do, and they had already spent two years learning the foundation. What’s more, They were stuck in a bad position – they had entered a particular degree because they thought it would make them money. When that no longer became a guarantee, they felt they had no choice but to stick it out and try to put their degree to work.
Fortunately for those people, the tech industry is here to stay, and while the money is not as good as it used to be, there is still a high demand for people that are able to work with computers. Unfortunately, many of those same people are miserable. They’re stuck in a career that is making them good money, but they’re doing something that they don’t enjoy. These people chased after money, rather than their passion.
Ironically, I believe these people are actually worse off than they would be if they were not making good money. Why?
Money clouds your vision
Money acts as a proxy in our society. By itself, it does not actually provide you with anything. Money simply acts as a legal tender which allows you to exchange it for X dollars worth of product or service. A twenty dollar bill is simply a convenient way to temporarily hold that much of value in a format that everyone has agreed upon.
Most importantly, money is not a proxy for hapiness. While it may provide you with the means to affect the changes in your life that will allow you to realize your passions, it will not by itself create those passions. (Is anyone really passionate about just having lots of money? Maybe, but those people strike me as boring and unimaginative).
People, however, have an incredible propensity for deceiving themselves, and money provides a convenient way to distract us from the fact that we’re really not very happy.
Money does an incredible disservice when we allow it to become the metric for determining whether or not we are following our passion and/or happy. We start using it to acquire other possessions (generally stuff that we don’t actually need), which gives us temporary gratification, but nothing longterm and substantive. We start spending more money to chase that feeling of gratification, and now we need to make more money. More clothing, nicer purses, better cars, bigger houses, etc. The cycle is ongoing, and at no point does it lead to true happiness.
The longer you chase money, the harder it becomes to change your course
If you’re not following your passions, you’re going to need to take steps to move on to a path that actually does allow you to actualize yourself (or stay miserable), and doing so will often require taking a pay cut. Moving from one field to another means leaving some of your established expertise behind and starting out again in a lower position. If you’ve been using that money as a proxy for your happiness, you may have accumulated debt-loads that prevent you from starting back over.
How do you avoid falling into this pitfall? Well, the first thing to do is to establish a habit of checking in with yourself and determining if you’re meeting your own goals and appropriately pursuing your vision.
Perhaps you don’t even know what your vision is – there are a lot of people that are unsure what their ideal future actually looks like, and only have vague notions of what a truly fulfilling job would look like.
Here’s an example to get you thinking: let’s say that the economy was exactly as it was, but whatever you do for a living paid $10,000 less across the board. No matter where you found a replacement job, it would pay $10,000 less than it would normally. Would you keep doing that work? If not, how come?
Chasing money will leave you poor, chasing your passion will make you rich
The big caveat is that wealth won’t always come in the form of money. (it’s like an episode of Tales from the Crypt - Oh the ironic endings!)
Ask yourself what you are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve your passion. Thinking this question through can really grant you some insight. If there’s something material that you wouldn’t sacrifice (excluding things like food, water, oxygen, and, while not material, naturally your family), why is it that you would not be willing to sacrifice that? Is your passion not worth pursuing? Do you doubt that you really feel passionate about it?
If you are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve that which you are passionate about, no amount of money will be able to equate the wealth that will flow to you.
For what it’s worth, I also believe that when we are following our passion, we maximize what we have to offer the world. My intuition tells me that you will, over time, find yourself paid in kind for that maximization. Even if you aren’t, will that matter? Perhaps your passion is teaching children, certainly an underpaid profession. If that’s the case, wouldn’t you prefer to be doing something you are passionate about, than spending your life miserable, but with lots of money?
As you can tell, nothing that I have written here provides an answer for short-term riches. I’m not wary of getting rich quickly and easily – I think that doing so has a tendency to create a paucity in other aspects of our lives. True value and wealth is achieved through the exercise of virtues like dedication, integrity, patience and, of course, passion.
As always, here is the summary:
- Money is a proxy for things; by itself, it does nothing
- (It’s a cliche, but it’s still true – money won’t make you happy)
- Money should be treated as a means, not as an end in itself. If you’re pursuing a career solely because of the money, ask yourself why
- Money will cloud your vision. What are you passionate about, and are you pursuing that?
- In order to achieve your passions, you must be willing to sacrifice. If you’re not, ask yourself how passionate you are, both about what you are unwilling to sacrifice and that which you believe to be your passion
- Be patient. Follow your passion and know that the rest of life will fall into place