Why are you a doctor, lawyer, or engineer?

No, this isn’t an interview question, but I’m sure that all of us who are doctors, lawyers, or engineers have been asked this very question at least once in our lives. I do think that this is a valid question that we should all reassess at certain points in our careers.

Because the moment that we can’t honestly tell ourselves why we continue our daily 9-5 jobs (or 11pm – 8am shifts) is the moment that we should consider what we can do to change our situation. It’s also not wrong to tell ourselves that we’re doing it for the money either.

We’ve got to live and get to retirement somehow, right?

I would add that doing our jobs for the money is okay until we truly decide that it’s no longer fun.

I took a poll of my colleagues and acquaintances regarding why gets them out of bed every day. It’s interesting how much variation there is in their responses.


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One dermatologist told me that she wanted to eradicate all frown lines, wrinkles, and skin cancers from the world. Fair enough. She does see over 70 patients a day, so by virtue of numbers alone, she is probably fulfilling her end of the bargain. Sure, the money is good, but she’d continue doing it until she couldn’t anymore. She definitely had a strong affinity to her profession. But the money allows her to wear those $1200 heels and that $10,000 clutch.

One engineer I spoke to was not so convincing. He had an advanced degree in physics and electrical engineering so he spent a considerable number of his younger years studying these topics. He worked for a research facility conducting various tests for both private industry and the government. Even though I had a science background, I really had a tough time following what he really did. He did take advantage of his employer’s arrangements with the local university and took continuing education classes in his free time. He probably didn’t love his job, but he probably didn’t hate it either. I guess it paid the bills. I actually think that he would have wanted to become a lifelong student if he had the option. His primary job allowed him to do just that.

One of my lawyer friends who graduated from a top tier private law school actually spends her time working for both the local public radio, taking care of her kids, and writing scripts for various broadcast programs. I could tell that she loves her current occupations. I’m sure that given her capabilities, she could have also been working at a high-profile law firm. More power to her. The law degree probably cost around $150,000 at the time, as did her private university degree. That’s a $300,000 investment plus seven years of your life. Now her income has been essentially zero except for whatever scripts get accepted. I do wonder how she lives in a $2 million home, though. 😉

In contrast, another one of my lawyer colleagues works at a corporate firm. He works over 100-hrs a week on certain weeks where deadlines loom, and about 50 hours a week at other times. He lives like he has a serious income (he probably has a serious income). I’ve wondered whether he’d have any ability to retire before age 70, but it’s not clear that he does unless he has a huge inheritance at some point (he actually might).

How does this apply to me?

Hearing from the four colleagues above, I am even more convinced that money does buy happiness. The dermatologist appears to enjoy her role in helping people, and also enjoys her healthy income. The engineer probably hasn’t found his calling yet, but his current situation appears to allow him to pursue his version of happiness. Lawyer #1 clearly has lined up her priorities to her liking. I suspect that she has been able to pursue her passion only because she has a bank account to back up her standard of living. Lawyer #2 may or may not be happy. I think he has allowed his success define his occupation and lifestyle. I guess it’s probably not a situation I’d want to be in long term, but I have seen plenty of doctors get consumed by their jobs.

What I’ve concluded from this thought exercise is what I’ve pushed along on this website—we really should consider molding our lifestyle to what makes us happy. Wealth is a source of our happiness and potentially our misery. The sooner that we can free ourselves from working towards getting wealth (and have that wealth work for us), the happier we can be.

Have you asked yourself why you continue your career or what your daily activities are (if you’ve reached FIRE)?

Photo courtesy of Flickr)

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