Is Your Career Aligned with Your Priorities?

by Melissa

People frequently say, “You only get one life!”  When you are young, this advice is often taken as permission to do something free-spirited and dangerous because you may never get the opportunity again.  When you are middle-aged, it can be an invitation to reflect on your life – the time that has gone by and the time still to come.

Family dancing

An interesting crossroads occurs in middle-age.  You realize more than ever that you must get your financial house in order.  Retirement is no longer a destination so far down the road you can’t see it; instead it is within view, and you know you must intensify your savings.  On the other hand, middle-age can find you reflecting on your life, your job, your family.  You may be burned out from your work but feel that you have to stay because you can’t give up the money.  You may think that someday you will be able to transition from the job with the lucrative salary to something you truly feel passionate about.

However, for many people that transition never occurs.  They stay rooted in jobs they no longer enjoy or that require too many hours away from home and family to continue to make more money and secure their future.

Mike Wallace, one of the mainstays of 60 Minutes, recently passed away at the age of 93.  His son, Chris Wallace, said before his father’s death:

“He still recognizes me and knows who I am, but he’s uneven.  The interesting thing is, he never mentions 60 Minutes.  It’s as if it didn’t exist.  It’s as if that part of his memory is completely gone.  The only thing he really talks about is family – me, my kids, my grandkids, his great-grandchildren.  There’s a lesson there.  This is a man who had a fabulous career and for who work always came first.  Now he can’t even remember it.” (The New York Times)

You only get one life.

While I am by no means advocating financial irresponsibility, I am encouraging you to look at your priorities.  What is important to you?  If it is your career, that is fine.  Continue to work hard and enjoy your work and the legacy you are leaving.  Mike Wallace certainly leaves an impressive legacy.

However, if your priorities are family and friends, does your current work situation reflect that?  If you want to be there to raise your kids, but instead you are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week, your life is not aligned with your priorities.  Are there changes you can make?  Can you downsize your lifestyle so that you can take a job that requires fewer working hours?  Yes, you may take a pay cut, but is that cut in pay worth it to make your priorities your priorities?

You only get one life.  Be wise.  Don’t wait too long to make changes.  Leaving a secure job that pays well is difficult.  It is scary.  But once you have made the switch, I don’t think you will regret it.

Last year I quit a stable, secure teaching job.  The problem was that I didn’t really enjoy it anymore, and the work load kept me from spending as much time with my kids as I would like.  The day I turned in my resignation, I was terrified.  Now, a year later, I can see that it was the smartest decision I could have made.  I now do work that I enjoy from home, and I have plenty of time with my kids.  Our lifestyle has become simpler, but that too is more aligned with our priorities.  Our retirement fund may not be as large as it would have been had I stayed at the job, but we are putting away enough for a comfortable retirement, and I hope that changing my lifestyle, while scary, will leave me with fewer regrets when my one life is done.

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Bret @ Hope to Prosper April 21, 2012 at 11:37 am

It’s always a difficult choice Melissa. It sounds like you made a wise one and you won’t regret it when your kids are grown and move away, like mine.

Family has always been my top priority, but I had to work long hours so my wife could stay home with the kids. I quit two jobs that had unreasonable expectations and was glad I did. Money comes and goes, but you can never get that time back.

Melissa April 22, 2012 at 5:08 pm

You are so right about never being able to get that time back. You also make a valid point about the working parent having to work longer hours so the other parent can stay home. It is a tricky balancing act.

krantcents April 21, 2012 at 12:58 pm

I learned very early that family and friends were my first priority. I grew up with parents who were very successful, but never had time for me. I make time for my family and friends and I have never been sorry for it. My children are adults and they feel the same way. You can be successful and enjoy life.

Melissa April 22, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Krantcents–I have read some of your story in your blog and know that you went to boarding school. As your parents aged, did they have regrets about the time they didn’t get to spend with you?

Paul @ The Frugal Toad April 21, 2012 at 8:20 pm

I left a job in corporate finance for the classroom because I found the work unrewarding. I make a lot less money as a Teacher, but I can’t think of many jobs where I can really make a difference in someones life.

Melissa April 22, 2012 at 5:10 pm

I am glad you have found an enjoyable career. Doing so makes such a difference in overall life satisfaction. What do you teach?

Sam April 21, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Melissa, that quote about his dad’s career was very powerful.

What advice would you give someone like me after reading my “Achieving Financial Freedom” post?

How early is too early to pull the ripcord?


Melissa April 22, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Of course, it is a personal decision, but when your dissatisfaction is greater than your satisfaction with work for a long period of time, that may be the time to go. I sense some dissatisfaction from you, but you still seem to thrive on the work environment, so it may be time for a job change, perhaps, to shake things up a bit. There is no easy answer.

Aaron April 22, 2012 at 7:02 pm

The quote on Mike Wallace was a real eye-opener. Sadly its often we recognize the really important things too late in life. I will try not to make this mistake!

SB @ One Cent At A Time April 23, 2012 at 4:37 am

Completely agree, its very important that we determine as early as possible if your career supports your life goals. We should be prepared to switch field quickly if its not aligned.

Dannielle @ Odd Cents April 23, 2012 at 5:12 pm

It’s better to have tried and failed, than to go through life thinking that you should have, could have or would have. I needed this bit of motivation. Thanks 🙂

eemusings April 24, 2012 at 3:08 am

I’ve chosen the path I love (and I have left one area of my industry for another in search of better work-life balance). Though I can’t say for certain that I won’t sell out later on and chase the money. (That said, I couldn’t do a job I HATED for pots of cash. I could do something that didn’t fire me up perhaps, but didn’t suck my soul dry either. I think it’s possible to find meaning in your job even if it’s not your passion – – and sometimes turning your passion into a job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either)

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