Income Realities

By Scot Herrick | Personal Finance

Apr 04

There is a belief that we are all in charge of our careers, doing that what we want to do at work and, if not getting it, simply being able to move out and move on to a place where we are doing exactly what we want.

I’m not there. There are simply too many events outside of my control — recessions, layoffs, shortages, managers — that also shape my ability to move to a different position.

I’m with CareerDiva, who notes in Forced onto a career crossroad:

Many of us end up in jobs we really don’t love, punching in everyday because we need the paycheck to pay the mortgage, rent, college tuition, car payments, etc.

It’s a fact of life. Sometimes we work to sustain our families, our lifestyles. There is nothing wrong with sacrifices we make to make sure our children have what they need to be able to go out and embark on their own lives.

I know you hear a lot of career ideologies these days that espouse brushing everything aside and doing our dream jobs no matter what.

I’m not in this career camp. While I think people should follow their dreams and try to pursue what makes them happy sometimes reality slams us hard in the face. “Being happy” has to take a back seat to income realities.

Those “income realities” include having health insurance for many. Pensions — a rarity for those starting out today — is another, especially if there are a few years left before the pension is fully yours to roll into an IRA if you leave. Having the company pay for an MBA — and you having to pay it back if you leave. Borrowing from your 401(k) and having to pay it all back if you leave.

It’s a long list and I haven’t even touched the surface of the variables.

The challenge, given “income realities,” is this: how do we thrive in a cube even if it is in a position we may not love?

In my view, there are only four ways:

  1. Perform well in the job you are in. Performance will help internally in your job stability and will show value to potential employers externally.
  2. Build your job skills, whether through official or on-the-job training.
  3. Help others through networking, both inside and outside of the company you work for.
  4. Understand how well — or poorly — your company and/or department is doing so that you will know whether to leave or stay and the costs of doing so.

In spite of all of these things, life happens. By working these four points, you’ll be better prepared for the changes you have no control over in the workplace.