Success Is A Balance

Advising children about a career choice is tough work.  What part of your own experience means anything any more?  Some techniques are useful, but the strategic ideas from 30 years ago are different now.

The new reality is that young people should expect to change jobs at least five times and they should expect to change their career path at least twice.  Some techniques will matter.  Learning how to write resumes and how to search for opportunities are more important now.

The strategic level is a little more subtle and your experience will actually help here.

Careers have three strategic elements that must remain in balance.

  1. Career satisfaction.  The factor, “I want to go to work because I do useful things and challenge myself while I am doing it.”
  2. Lifestyle.  I like to live a certain way and my career supplies the resources to do so.  It includes more than money earned because time to do other things is important too.  Working 70 hours a week or working in undesirable places are lifestyle decisions too
  3. Money.  I have enough to set money aside for the future or for security without giving up lifestyle.

All of these create tradeoffs.

It has been known for a long time that the worst jobs pay the most money.  So lifestyle and money can often be had at the cost of satisfaction.  Early in my accounting career one of my tax clients was an NHL player.  He was building a business and the pay from playing hockey provided a lot of the capital.  He played one more year than he wanted to for the money.  “Blood money” as he called it.  It is okay to make that tradeoff if you know you are doing it and why.

For many lifestyle and money tend to be the biggest issues.  Unless you live on less than you could, money will always be an issue.  Lifestyle is important, but balance is more important.  Living large for years and then reducing lifestyle by two thirds at retirement is not attractive.  At the same time it is important to note that living on too little in order to have a vast fortune has adverse factors too.  You cannot take the children to DisneyWorld and enjoy it in the same way when they are 42.

Good career planning is about balance and all balance is about tradeoffs.

The easiest one of the three to control is lifestyle.  Be wary of lifestyle spending commitments that reduce the “money.”  Leases on high-end cars, and mortgages on super homes are two that appear often.  Neither are wrong if you have affirmed the balance.

Young people seem to not always listen, but they do.  Sometimes it takes years for the ideas to sink in.  Sound ideas attached to experience are powerful.  Share some of your own experience, they will value the stories and the advice will be more meaningful.

There is a fine article on this at Harvard.  What Parents Should Tell Their Children About Finding a Career.  It has a little different take on the subject and is well worth the time to read.


Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.

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