Sacrificing Your Career For the Good of the Family

Our society has taught us that we need to hustle in order to succeed. Whether our goals are to get good grades in school, build our businesses, or become a gifted surgeon, hard work is mandatory. I previously described this desire as your hunger to succeed. With hunger, we develop a need to achieve our dreams.  As a result, that is how we succeed.

What is often overlooked is that we often make sacrifices to ourselves and to our families in chasing our dreams. The sacrifice usually comes in the form of lost time that could have been spent nurturing our other interests or being with family. This trade-off cannot truly be quantified or objectified. We end up making our decisions based on which one seems more important to us at the time of decision.

As doctors, we are often self-centered and focus on how hard we study, sacrifice our 20’s, and work in our jobs. Our lives revolve around our patients, and we often are called to duty during hours that are usually spent with our loved ones.  We do it for our profession. We do it for the income. We do it for the love of medicine.

How do we draw the line between career and life?

This is a challenging balance that all professional households struggle with. As recent as one generation ago, there was less of a question in a doctor household—the doctor serves as the breadwinner while the spouse cares for the rest of the family. It was a no brainer when the highest potential earning member of a family ends up being the worker since that conferred the highest level of financial security to the household.

The circumstances have evolved in modern households. Some families consist of two doctor households where both spouses have equal earning power. Some two-professional households also have similar income potential between the spouses. The prominence of technology, internet, DIY culture, and deviation from social norms have given households more flexibility in lifestyle and de-emphasized the traditional single-income family or the standard “work 30 years and then retire” mentality.

Someone has to compromise in a two-professional household.

It is very difficult for each individual in a two-professional household to have dream career opportunities in the same city. The more specialized the career, the more difficult it is to find a match.  What is more common (yet still challenging) in most circumstances is that both spouses have employment opportunities in the same vicinity but neither of them may be ideal. This is where compromise must be achieved.

I’ve come across many colleagues who had to settle on a job rather than their dream career because of spousal commitments. Point in fact:

Family where wife is an oncologist and husband is a software developer.

One of my colleagues works at Google. His wife is an oncologist. They are restricted to living in one of the cities where Google has a team. Why would a doctor ever have to settle on where to live and work because of a spouse who likely earns less that she could? Practicality. The Google developer started in his early 20’s pulling in a high $100k salary with bonuses salary that totaled the high $200’s by the end of the year. He gets 4 months of paternity leave. Additionally, there is free catered lunches at work, free child care, and a boatload of vacation time (and swag). The oncologist entered the workforce over ten years after her husband, and has a starting salary of $250k.  If she were to leave the metropolitan area, she could find a job that pays at least $350k annually.

They decided to stay in the city. The oncologist has compromised her career for the good of the family. It happens.

Do you know of other professionals who have put their careers second to the greater good of the family?

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