Today I found myself in a discussion with two friends about careers. The discussion started off about the choices you make as a teenager (so around about the time you are choosing your GCSE options) and how you need to balance choosing what you enjoy with what you might see as useful for your future career (incidentally, I chose the subjects I enjoyed – there was no such GCSE as a GCSE in Online Publishing in those days).
This discussion morphed into a deep philosophical debate about the nature of happiness. More specifically, we asked each other: is there a positive correlation between money and happiness? Should you consider your career choice based on where the work and the money is or on what you enjoy or feel passionately about? Or in other words, does job satisfaction levels skewer the graph?
One friend argued, without any obvious doubt in her mind, that in her opinion so long as you are earning a good wage, even if you are doing something you don’t enjoy, you’ll be more happy than if you are in a fulfilling job for peanuts. She added something along the lines of ‘If you want more than you have, you know you’ll be happier when you get it so it makes sense to try to earn more money to get it’.
On one level I see her point. I do work harder to save up for something to buy. However, I’d expect this to be a temporary state. In more general terms of how important (or unimportant) job fulfillment is though, I disagreed with her. I know that I couldn’t do a job I didn’t enjoy (i.e. spend at least 8 hours a day, five days a week doing it) even if it made me rich. In my mind, money and things are less important than feeling satisfaction and pride for the work I do. But perhaps I am being naive. I suspect I am. I’m lucky in that I do a job I enjoy AND it pays quite well. Perhaps if I were faced with the choice between job satisfaction and money more starkly I might opt for the boring, well-paid job.
Perhaps the key is the get the balance right. We can’t survive without work (for our mind, physical and mental health, and survival) but we would soon be disillusioned doing a job with no fulfillment for lots of money (it happens to a lot of people). Equally, we’d soon tire of doing a worthwhile job, changing people or the world, for peanuts (that happens to many too).
I think I will just plod on helping to spread scholarship around the world, and try not to moan about being too busy because at least for me, more work means more money.
However, my advice to someone choosing their GCSE options today would be: do whatever you want – choose the subjects you enjoy. Seize the day and all that. But work hard at those subjects, as hard as you can, because then you will have the luxury of the choice of work fulfillment vs more money.
You can almost hear Robin Williams whispering in your ear, can’t you?