Not long ago, I was playing golf with a friend who is an attorney. Between shots he began telling me how much he detested his job.
"Why?" I asked.
"You have to understand my business," he said with a huff. "My day basically consists of writing nasty letters on behalf of my clients. Then we get nasty letters back. This goes on for a while until my clients realize how many billable hours they've run up. Then they start getting nasty with me. The whole business," he said with a shake of his head, "is kind of nasty."
"Why don't you do something else?" I asked.
From the look on his face, you would have thought I suggested he stop breathing.
"Do something else?" he said. "You don't understand. I live in a big house. I have two big cars. My wife and I like to take big trips. She runs up big bills. What am I gonna do?"
"I don't know," I said. "But it sounds like a big mistake to me."
The sad part is my buddy is a bright, talented guy. He's giving up a lot. With his experience and law degree, there are plenty of other things he could do.
But he doesn't believe this is realistic. Why? Because he can't tolerate even the thought of a temporary loss of status and income. And, ordinarily, that's exactly what it takes to do what you really love doing – investing in your dreams, or what matters most.
As the psychologist Laurence G. Boldt once wrote, "The life spent doing what you love is a different life indeed from putting your life out for hire to the highest bidder. The only way you can say it makes no difference is to say life makes no difference."
These words hit me between the eyes when I first read them seven years ago. At the time, I had spent 16 years working on Wall Street. It paid well, but I had grown increasingly bored with what I was doing.
I loved analyzing investing opportunities. But I'd grown tired of having the same repetitive conversations with my clients about their accounts every day. So I decided to write about the financial markets, instead... and begin “investing” in one of my favorite interests.
My coworkers thought I had lost my mind. "Nobody gets to the point where he has all these clients, all these investment accounts, all these assets - and all these fees coming in - and then just walks away," one colleague told me, incredulous. "If you leave, you're going to regret it."
But I haven't. Not for a minute. If anything, I wish I'd done it sooner. The writer Joseph Campbell was right:
"If you follow your bliss," he wrote, "you put yourself on a kind of track, which has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living I think the person who takes a job in order to live that is to say, just for the money has turned himself into a slave."
That may sound harsh to some. We all have commitments and responsibilities, after all. But that doesn't mean change isn't possible. It hurts to spend your days doing something that is not really suited to your talents, especially when you know you could be doing far more than you are.
In a recent MONEY survey, 43% of boomers said the idea of a new job was appealing. "Now's the time to ask yourself," says financial planner Sheryl Garrett of Shawnee Mission, Kansas, "do you want to keep doing what you're doing for the rest of your life?"
Especially when work you enjoy is invigorating. It gives your life meaning and structure. You feel like you're expressing yourself, making an impact.
As the British historian and philosopher R.G. Collingwood said, "Perfect freedom is reserved for the man who lives by his own work and in that work does what he wants to do."
Unfortunately, too many folks approach the job market thinking of nothing more than money, security, and benefits. I'm not saying these things aren't important. None of us would survive long without them.
But for a true sense of fulfillment, there has to be more than just money and security. As George Bernard Shaw said:
"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."
Some may call Shaw an idealist, a dreamer. Perhaps. On the other hand, this is not a practice round. This is the only life we get. You can work a job. You can pursue a career. Or you can choose a livelihood.
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