The #1 concern, by far, that I hear from people who are thinking about changing careers is finding jobs that pay well. You are not alone if you worry about making enough money while doing what you love: according to the U.S Bureau of the Census the annual real median personal income of Americans in 2016 was $31,099, while a recent study calculated happiness at an income of $105,000. It doesn’t look good – you can read my thoughts on it here.
So today I want to talk about money. But not in the usual way (e.g. build your side hustle, negotiate higher salary), today I want to address the inner conversation we have about money and how to shift it. Whether you are trapped by golden handcuffs of your own making, worry about leaving your financially secure job to start your own business, want to change careers and cannot find something that you like and pays you enough, or are already so broke that the thought of taking a risk, any risk, feels hopeless, this post is for you.
Are you giving your power away to “money”?
If you are worried about money, the first thing I would like you to do is to truly listen to your concerns: what do you tell yourself? Some of what I most often hear is:
- But what if I start my business and it doesn’t work and I end up homeless?
- If I do what I like I will be poor
- No one makes money with…
- I don’t have a spouse/parents/enough savings to support me
- There aren’t many jobs that pay well
- I need $$$ to live
- What if I end up with no health insurance?
- My kids/spouse/family depend on my income, and I cannot let them down
And that’s just the beginning. Your first task is to truly look at the things you tell yourself about money: what is true and what is fiction? For example, many people, myself included, have been able to change careers and start our own businesses without financial support. Sure, having wealthy parents who love you and/or a supportive spouse with a steady job are great advantages. Unfortunately for some of us that is simply not reality: does this mean we are condemned to a life of unhappiness? Look inside: are you not taking action because you believe something is not possible for you? Or can you work around/overcome the obstacles you are facing?
Do this with everything: is it true you need to make $120K per year to live? Are you sure you could not be happy making $80K? And so on. Dig deep and be skeptical of all you think and feel. Don’t let yourself off the hook until you can tell Truth from fiction.
What kind of capital do you have and want?
We tend to only think of money as capital. But that is just one type of resources: there is also social capital, material capital, living capital, intellectual capital, experiential capital, spiritual capital, cultural capital. In 2011 Ethan Roland and Gregory Landua wrote about the need to recognize and honor 8 forms of capital, not just the financial type, and to build organizations that measured more than financial profit. Most of you reading this blog are probably nodding along – after all wanting to be of contribution is often a major factor in changing careers – but do you actually honor the different forms of capitals in your life? Or do you find yourself so worried about money that you have become oblivious to the rest?
As I wrote before, I have not been blessed with monetary support – however I am incredibly grateful by all the other contributions to my work and my life: the social capital of having strong and loving relationships – friends who see the best in me and support me with kind words, generous advice, and the occasional dinner; spiritual capital through some amazing teachers I have encountered along the way who blessed me with their knowledge (and some whose wisdom I found in books, and online), cultural and intellectual capital from my education and both Italian and American culture, living capital in the form of clean air and water and good health… and that’s just top of my head!
When all you worry about is finding jobs that pay well, you do yourself a disservice. The spiritual warning around money is not about having it or not having it, is about giving money first place in our hearts and minds, giving our power (and/or God’s power) away to “money.” This is why sometimes people have to experience either extreme wealth or extreme poverty to wake up: when they finally obtain all they always thought they wanted to be happy, or lose everything they thought they needed, they realize that material goods are after all not the most important thing in their lives. And just like after a near-death experience, things get in perspective. Check out this video recording from one of my panel discussions where we talked exactly about this issue.
What about paying the bills?
What if you need expensive medication, have a mortgage to pay, etc.? I will never advise you to ignore your basic needs. Just like being overly attached to money can lead one to build a very lucrative career and feel empty inside, being afraid of or unable to handle money can also make it impossible for us to build the life we want. If you struggle to pay the bills and take care of the basics, you need to take care of yourself and repair your relationship with money. The first step to take is to figure out whether you are an overspender or an underearner. The first is someone who uses spending as a way to numb her feelings and avoid confronting reality, an underearner is someone who, even though capable and smart, is constantly earning less than her potential. An underearner often has issues of low self worth and low self esteem and is often underpaid. It’s not an either/or, think of this as a spectrum. If you have no idea where you fit, start by looking at the median income in your city and for your job/industry: if you come severely under, chances are you are an underearner. If you make good money for your job/city/industry and keep running out of it, you might be an overspender. Make sure to factor in your family size, and other specific circumstances as well. Look at how you spend your money: Ramit Sethi has great advice on budgeting based on what you love, he recommends giving yourself permission to spend more on what you really care about, while being frugal when purchasing items you are not as interested in. If you are an overspender, your job is to stop spending money as a way to avoid being present to your real and unfulfilled needs. Focus your energy and financial resources into building a life that fulfills you instead. If you are an underearner, stop worrying about saving a few dollars here and there and put your focus on raising your self worth and increasing your income. Unless you also have a spending problem, all your financial woes will disappear once you actually ask for and and get paid what your work is truly worth.
Another version of this question is: I am broke right now, are you saying I shouldn’t get a job just to get money? Nope, it’s not what I am saying at all. If you are in dire financial straits and need a job, any job to get to the end of the month, go ahead and get whatever job you need to survive. But don’t make the mistake to think that’s your career, and do not stop working towards your goal of doing something fulfilling. Also, don’t resign yourself to your situation: we all have to do things we don’t like sometimes, it doesn’t mean we are stuck with it forever and won’t be able to find fulfilling jobs that pay well.
Let’s talk about healthcare in the US, as it is an absolute disgrace how people here risk losing their lives because they cannot afford health insurance or the copays and deductibles if they are covered. If you are worried about losing coverage or getting sub par coverage, I am with you. The first thing to realize is that even though on an immediate level you have to make sure you make enough money to cover your healthcare costs – or take steps to enroll in programs that can help you (few and far in between, I know) – the real issue with the American healthcare system is that our society puts money before people. The issue, in other words, is lack of empathy, lack of respect for human dignity and greed, not lack of money. It’s important to remember this because if you keep telling yourself the problem is money, you end up believing money has way more power than it actually has. So while you pay for your health coverage, get active to change the system and to meet people who value people over profity: this is not a money problem, it is a heart problem. When people recognize every individual’s right to have access to healthcare, you get small businesses offering stellar health insurance, better than plans at much bigger corporations (as I experienced at one of my jobs, because the owners truly cared for their employees), or a city like San Francisco offering universal health care to all residents – not a perfect system, but still way above and beyond so much of the country.
What is money a substitute for?
We always talk about addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, even Netflix or sex, but we don’t talk about our addiction to money. There is more and more evidence that addiction is fueled by isolation and lack of connection, creating a vicious cycle. Take a good look at your life: do you find yourself numbing your lack of fulfillment and connection at work by spending more and more money on other stuff, or chasing a higher and higher salary? I often noticed, for example, that the people who most hate their jobs are the ones who also need to spend the most on vacations, houses, brunches, and more and more stuff, creating a vicious cycle which keeps them depending on their job (which they hate) to pay for all the things they need to buy, in order to forget they are in a job they hate…
At the opposite end of the spectrum, I see plenty of people who are happy with their lives and, regardless of income, don’t give money as much power, but are able to tap into different forms of capital, doing things because they feel like it or want to. When people find a job or career they love, their need to make money drops: this doesn’t mean they make less money, they simply love what they are doing so much they don’t spend nearly as much time worrying about money. When people have jobs they don’t like much, resentment often takes the shape of constant frustration and preoccupation with the amount of money one is paid: basically you expect money to make it worth your time, without realizing money can never really give you the satisfaction of using your time in a way that feels right to you. When you have a fulfilling career, most of the energy that was previously expended in worries and frustration is channeled in building deeper connections, enjoying the present moment, and generally feeling at peace with yourself.
Are you stuck in a vicious circle of money “addiction”? And if so, are you ready to kick the habit? If you answered yes, the first step is to…
…Focus on building genuine connections
We have been bombarded by the message that saving money when shopping is good: buy on Amazon to get the cheapest price on goods and entertainment, hire on Fivr for the cheapest freelancers, etc. All this does is put money at the center of what we do, ignoring our connection and responsibility to others. When you hire someone in your community, you not only get the job done, you create social capital. When you support an artist directly, instead of getting their work for free through a giant platform paying them pennies on the dollars, you invest in cultural capital. When you truly give selflessly, without expectations to get anything back, your spiritual capital increases. The same system that causes you to want to change careers, enables the company that doesn’t pay you enough, makes it OK for your boss to ask you to work evenings and weekends, and makes it easy for us to buy cheap stuff made by exploited (and in some cases slave) labor domestically and internationally.
I know it’s almost impossible to completely pull the plug, but you can start small: hire a neighbor, give your money to socially responsible companies, be more intentional with your spending, and value people and connections more than you value money. As you move into this way of being and take different actions, you will see your concerns about money become more manageable. You will be able to distinguish between real and imagined or over dramatic worries, and you will connect with people and resources who see you as more than a number or a commodity. But most importantly, like attracts like: when you value people and act from a place of love and integrity, people who also act from a place of love and integrity are drawn to you. These are the people most likely to pay you a good salary, to value your work, to respect you as an individual, to give you a chance, to build a company you want to be part of.
It sounds like you don’t like money. What if I want to make a ton of money? What is wrong with that?
Nothing. It’s totally cool. Just make sure you first truly connect with what you feel drawn to and called to do. This is why one of the most common questions in the career coaching field is: what would you do if money was not an issue? It is not a question meant to encourage you to just do anything regardless of the money, it’s a question to let you first connect with what makes you happy, what inspires you, what you feel drawn towards, so that you can then explore how to make it happen financially. Having money unlocks a lot of choices and possibilities, unless you hate what you have to do to make money, in which case you just end up in a golden cage of your own making. So by all means, go as big as you want to go: but first make sure you enjoy the journey and not just the pot of gold at the end.