Last week I had the opportunity to be in downtown Atlanta during mid-day rush. I stopped along a bustling business district to grab a cup of coffee and kill some time. Watching the business crowd hustling along the streets from my warm coffee shop window seat I noticed nearly every passerby had one thing in common. I was reminded of the scene in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness where Will Smith’s character is watching stock brokers move about the streets of San Francisco and he says with a touch of envy, “They all looked so damn happy.” Except in this case, they all looked “so damn miserable.”
Many were feverishly working a Blackberry, pausing only long enough to look up and avoid running into one another. Most of them were dressed sharp, and getting into and out of nice cars–much nicer cars than I am used to seeing in a smaller town. Several people stopped in to grab a cup of coffee, but one man caught my attention. He ordered the coffee after pausing his Bluetooth headset mid-conversation, putting down his laptop bag on an adjacent table, and returning his Blackberry to its holster. Our eyes met and he shook his head, took a deep breath and let out an audible sigh. I smiled back and asked, “Tough day?” He replied, “Every day.” He paid for his coffee, collected his gear and was off and running again. As I watched him trotting off into the distance I reflected on how it must feel to be in such a hurry all the time. And at what cost.
Before I had kids I used to think that would be me hustling around some large downtown business district. I wanted to do the daily commute, have an office on the 17th floor, and be part of “the grind.” What a difference ten years makes! None of that appeals to me now. I enjoy the slower pace. I look forward to getting home in the afternoon and spending time with my wife and kids. They fulfill me much more than any job could, regardless of the salary.
Attention College Students: Choose Wisely
When I have the occasion to be around college students I always like to find out what they are majoring in, and why. The responses are pretty typical. The one thing I have discovered in my own surveying of future professionals is that the students interested in lower-paying career fields seem to be the most confident in their choice of major. I can’t remember ever hearing someone say they always wanted to be a teacher because of the money, or that they were interested in the clergy because of the great pension plan. No, people generally select lower-paying career fields because of a genuine passion for the field. They ignore promises of a higher salary to follow their hearts.
When I started school I entered pre-medicine because I did have a genuine interest in helping people, and because doctors made a lot of money. However, I decided after two and a half years that six more years of school (at least) was not for me, financially or otherwise. I left the College of Science and Math and headed over to the Liberal Arts college determined to change my major to education. I wanted to be a high school football coach. But, it wasn’t long and I left that major as well after deciding there was no money in teaching and coaching at the high school level. In both cases I allowed money to heavily influence my decision, instead of simply following my heart.
Parents, Guide Your Kids Towards Their Heart’s Desire, Not Towards Higher Salaries
I credit my mom for helping me finally settle down on a business degree with a specialization in information systems. She recognized that I was drifting a bit, and suggested that I look at something like business or computers, because those skills would always be in demand, and offered a wide range of industries to work in. For instance, I could work in the business or technical side of the medical field, and I could coach youth sports in my spare time (something I did for five seasons for my daughter’s soccer team). In other words, I could find fulfillment outside of my full-time employment.
There are a lucky few that enjoy absolute happiness from their jobs, and make good money doing it. Unfortunately, that is not the norm. Most of us get through our 8:00-5:00 jobs to pay the bills and put food on the tables, and that is fine, as long as we find something that fulfills us outside of work. I have several side hustles that keep me going, and above all I enjoy spending remaining free time with my family. I hope to also add more volunteer activities in the near future, but most of those will be a family affair as well.
If you are reading this and relate to the guy in that coffee shop exhaling deeply under the weight of work life, I would encourage you to evaluate why you are doing what you are doing. Is it for the money? Is it to feed your ego? To pay for stuff? If you downsized your lifestyle a bit, could you afford to downsize your work life, too? Could you spend more time with your family? Catch a few more soccer games? I hate to borrow a line from Mastercard, but those moments really are “priceless.”