Gallup conducts a poll every year to measure job satisfaction among workers in the United States. The report from 2016 shows that Americans felt happier than they did the year before.
That could be because of this decade’s movement to escape cubicle life and leave jobs that make people miserable in favor of pursuing a passion.
New grads and young adults may be the most optimistic about finding their dream jobs. But your desire to chase down job satisfaction in one area can cost you — literally.
The same Gallup poll showed that less than half of workers feel satisfied with a number of work aspects that impact their financial lives. These include pay, benefits, and opportunities for advancement.
According to the poll, 56 percent of people aren’t happy with the retirement plan their employer offers. Another 59 percent aren’t satisfied with their pay, and 63 percent of people feel the same about their health insurance benefits.
Your happiness in your job and the financial realities of your life are both important factors to consider when you’re early in your career. Strike a balance between pursuing dream jobs based on your passion and looking for positions that allow you to address your financial priorities.
How to balance dream jobs with financial realities
Finding that perfect balance of job satisfaction and fair compensation may be something you need to create yourself by thinking long-term.
When you’re in your 20s, you likely have decades of work ahead of you. It feels suffocating to imagine yourself working a soul-crushing job for that long. It’s hard to listen to advice that suggests prioritizing your financial needs over your dream job, especially when you’re early in your career with a lot of life to live (and work).
But that long, long life ahead of you is exactly why you should prioritize good pay and benefits over doing what you love — at least at first.
Build a financial foundation first
Most of us don’t find a position that offers great job satisfaction and great benefits. We’re usually faced with a choice.
I believe you should choose the position that gives you the best shot of building a strong financial foundation right now. Just get started and accept that you may work a year or two in a job that you strongly dislike.
The short-term sacrifice might be worth it when it sets you up to do what you want in the long-term.
I worked in a job I absolutely hated for three years when I graduated college. I deliberately made a choice to take the job because it offered the best pay of the positions I qualified for, and provided me with a 401k with employer match and health insurance.
I made another choice to put my head down and do everything I could to build my savings and start investing while I worked there. I put away half my income and went from a few thousand bucks in my savings account to a six-digit net worth.
The benefits of missing out on dream jobs (at first)
Prioritizing my finances in the short-term allowed me to live my dream in the long run. Because I built a financial foundation, I was able to quit that job after three years and work for myself.
I still do that today — and I love it. Out of all the dream jobs out there, nothing is better to me than freelancing, being my own boss, and building my own business.
But was it worth it? What did I miss out on, or suffer from, by putting money first?
I put myself in a position to have a lot of Sunday night dread, and working a job you hate is a good way to pave a road to burnout. I didn’t just hate that first job out of college. I loathed it.
But my lack of job satisfaction gave me the motivation I needed to launch my freelance career. It fueled my desire to build something for myself.
It also taught me a lot about what I wanted from the rest of my career. I gained perspective and awareness about my own strengths and weaknesses. I learned that I could do anything for a short period of time.
The experience also showed me what I valued. Had I started my career in a job I loved, I would have never realized that my real passion rested in making an impact the way I do now.
Focusing on building a financial foundation gave me the freedom to take more risks with my career than I could have done otherwise. Working a dream job with pay and benefits that sucked would have left me more stuck than working the job I hated but provided me with the means to eventually escape.
Either way, find happiness outside your job and inside yourself
Buying into the idea of dream jobs is dangerous. It can leave you feeling like the only solution to your troubles is to find the perfect job.
I used to believe that if I only had a better job, I’d be happier. I was so jealous of my friends who pursued their passions right out of school. They made little money and stayed on their parents’ health insurance, but they loved their work.
What I didn’t realize is that I would have been unhappy from the ages of 21 to 24 anyway, whether I worked my dream job or not.
It’s easy to blame a job that sucks for your problems and your unhappiness. I didn’t know it at the time, but I eventually figured out that the unhappiness I experienced in my early 20s wasn’t due to a job — it was internal stuff that I needed to work on.
Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking any kind of job will make you happy. Happiness doesn’t come from any external force. It only comes from cultivating a strong sense of self, getting to know who you are, and actively working on your own mindset.
Here’s the good news: You can do this even while you work in a position you dislike. A job is only one part of your life, and you’re much more dynamic than the role you work in.
What should you do?
I delayed my dream job for a few years for a number of reasons. I knew that landing a job I was passionate about, but that offered low pay and benefits, wouldn’t solve my problems. It wouldn’t have allowed me to create the freedom I needed to make bigger decisions in a few years.
Dream jobs are nice in theory, but they often don’t challenge you to explore what you’re really capable of. And if the pay and benefits aren’t there, dream jobs certainly don’t empower you to take risks and grow wealth for the long term.
Only you can decide what the next step in your career is, so carefully weigh your options. No matter what job you choose, it’s sure to hold valuable lessons for both your career and your finances.
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