In law school, we were often told about Golden Handcuffs. This term referred to getting “trapped” in a well-paying but unfulfilling job because you don’t want to give up the money. It was typically used in reference to law school grads who really wanted to work in a public interest law job (with low pay) but who had significant law school loans to repay. These fresh new lawyers would join a big firm, work the long hours and get large paychecks. Of course, once they got to the point where they could afford to leave their high paying jobs to do something more fulfilling, they weren’t able to give up that money. Let’s be honest – big paychecks are a nice thing and nothing to scoff at.
But then there’s also the idea of having a fulfilling job. That sounds pretty nice too.
Of course, you can’t just say that someone who wants the bigger paycheck is just being selfish. There are a lot of things that can come from those big paychecks. Paying off bills. Buying a home. Saving for the future. Saving for your child’s education. Charitable donations. Lots of important things.
Some might even say that taking the lower paying job is selfish. If you’re supporting a family, is it selfish to want to take a lower paying, more fulfilling job, even if it means more sacrifices for your family?
(For the record, I don’t think it’s selfish – a more fulfilling job leads to a happier person which is important for the family. Unless, of course, in quitting the high paying job, your family can no longer pay their regular bills and you haven’t discussed this with your partner.)
This has been on my mind a lot lately. I recently applied for a really great job. A job that I know I want. The work will be great and well, I kind of strongly dislike my current job. The problem? The new job will be almost a 10% paycut. That’s not an insignificant amount of money. In addition, my current job gives me a small raise every year. The new job would put me at the same pay rate for a minimum of two years.
I’m not supporting a family right now, and I’m doing pretty okay in the savings department. I think that even with the pay cut, I could still buy a place and not have trouble making the payments. At the same time, the reactions of others have me concerned. While I like the good paycheck, I’m completely unsatisfied in my job. I can’t see staying here long term at all. So to me, taking the more rewarding job seems like a no-brainer. But when explaining this to a friend, she practically yelled at me, telling me that I was stupid to give up the money. My mother pointed out that 10% of my pay is a lot of money and wondered if getting a new job was really the best idea.
Could I find a new job at my current pay rate? Sure, it’s possible, but not plausible. I’m 28. I’m young. I don’t have a ton of work experience, when you figure that after college, I spent three years in law school (though I did work while in school). The government is a great place to work (the new job would also be with the government), and a lot of people are heading this way after losing their private sector jobs. People with significant experience. Why would any agency hire me over someone with three times my experience? If I wait a few years and get more experience, sure I could make the move. But I don’t know that I can handle another three years here.
On some level, it’s worrying over nothing. I’ve not even interviewed for the job yet. I don’t even know that I’ll get an interview. And they could decide to offer me a significantly low salary. I’ve already decided what I will accept (pay near the top of their scale for the position – which is the amount about 10% less than I make now) and if it’s less than that, I just can’t do it.
I think what bothers me the most is that you always hear people talking about how they left their high paying jobs for something making less money and how rewarding that experience was for them – and yet when I mention doing it, I just get negative reactions. And then I start to wonder if maybe they’re right.