Living your values…is the cost too much?

Lately I find myself feeling quite alone as I am reaching that stage in life when many of my peers are starting to hit their stride professionally and financially. Yet here I am a year and some change shy of 40 and basically starting over, yet again. Some years ago my father in law and I had a discussion when I found myself needing to ask him for a rather large sum of money (since he’s not my Dad I did the asking since it felt less personal) and while in the end he gave us the much needed cash it didn’t come without the lecture that parental types like to give when giving you money.

It’s never been a secret that many of the choices I have made professionally have had a negative impact on us financially. No one really minded when a year after getting married I made the decision to go back to college and get my BA, it seemed like a pretty good idea. But my decision to get a master’s degree that at times feels pretty damn useless combined with my tendency to work at small and struggling agencies that do amazing work yet have very little in the way of financial rewards is a source of tension. Oh, the Spousal Unit will never say anything directly but my father in law gave me a loving talk about the matter since when I decided to move to Maine, it meant his son aka my husband gave up a financially solid position to become a freelancer. What that meant was his son who had never asked for help found himself asking dear old dad for help multiple times especially in the early days of getting established as a freelancer.

The exact details of that discussion are irrelevant though the focal point was that as an adult one must make adult decisions and that personal bliss is not always an option. I admit it was a hard talk yet his words continue to ring in my ears.

Often when people talk of personal bliss as it relates to work many have the belief that money will follow yet my own experience is that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes following our values and beliefs can cost us a great deal. Despite the cost though I continue to live according to my values, just yesterday I was lamenting to the Spousal Unit why is it that our monthly budget is always is blown? He lovingly pointed out that if I stopped shopping at the local farmers market and instead shopped at Wally World I would stay within the budget. You know what? He’s right, except that buying local and eating local is something I feel strongly about. I suspect my stomach’s inability to deal with grocery store meat and dairy has something to do with that but also the strong belief that if we all stopped supporting our local businesses what does that mean in a larger context? Yet the price for living this belief is that my budget gets busted though I am willing to see what things I might be able to downsize on.
In thinking about all of this today, I found myself thinking how easy it is to live our values when there is not a cost to us. In other words you earn plenty of cash so it’s no big deal to buy organic or local. While I have worked at larger agencies in my career, I prefer working at smaller ones where on any day I can see the difference my work makes in the lives of others. That fills me with joy, the downside though is I work at an agency so small there is never time for me to take my vacation time. Granted I don’t exactly earn enough to go on a vacation and a staycation would be equally disastrous to my budget…ask me how I know?

Oh, I bitch and moan but ultimately I enjoy what I do and while I am hoping at some point to transition to some form of writing as a career I know if that does not happen I will be fine where I am. However there is that little nagging feeling that maybe I am just fool for the choices I make, I mean how many of my friends have to do mental calculations before they head out lest they spend too much and really blow the budget? Even now with things slowly starting to stabilize financially I still have thousands of dollars in dental work that I have no idea how or when will happen. I keep thinking by the time I finally save up enough to get all the work done I will be told my teeth are too far gone instead I will be using that cash for some snazzy fake teeth.

So I sit here on a gray, rainy day wondering maybe the cost of living my values is too high…I wish I had an answer!

Following your bliss versus following the cash

Today is a day where I need to get personal, I could use some feedback from people outside my personal circle and figured my blog was the place to go.

We as a society often look fondly at those individuals who do work that literally changes the world. Yet the sad reality is that most professions (teacher, social workers, etc) that truly help people and have the power to mold people pay nothing. Instead we (general societal we) tend to compensate well those who in many cases have jobs that don’t make a great difference in the world. After all please tell me why investment bankers and poorly behaving entertainers (Kanye West..anyone?) make oodles of cash? While that nurse’s aide who changes Granny’s bed pan at the Die Quick nursing home probably doesn’t even make $10 an hour and is eligible for government healthcare benefits since she can’t afford the one’s offered by the for profit repository for old and sick folks that makes money hand over fist by underpaying their staff.

Yeah, I am in a foul mood. I know, I chose to leave the word of corporate sales to become a lowly paid human services professional many years ago. Yet I felt a deep calling to make a difference in the world. In the years since I lefts sales, I have helped women get out of prostitution, in many cases seeing them break free from substance abuse addictions and eventually become reunited with their families. I have worked with homeless men and women and helped them secure houses and jobs. I have written grants that were funded to help oodles of people and for the last year I have worked with low-income at risk youth and their families.

During the time I was doing all this good work, I went back to school and secured a couple of degrees assuming if I went the management path at least I would earn a decent living. Ha ha ha….joke is on me. Instead I have grown broker and broker, for years I didn’t pay attention to the fact that I personally was earning less than I did as a 22 yo sales rep for a major medical journal since I had the Spousal Unit’s higher earnings to off-set the fact that my personal income had dropped.

Well as journalism is no longer what it used to be and the Spousal Unit grapples with what career might work well for a middle-aged writer, I am forced to look at the fact that I have gone into great debt to get an education to work in a field where I am not even breaking even. Let’s just say the ROI on my college education was real bad.

Yet this post is greater than me on some level, after all we love to tell people to follow their bliss yet what if following one’s bliss means living a standard of living that is not comfortable? What becomes of us as a society if we all stopped following our bliss and started following the cash? I mean one only has to look at the legal profession, we now have way too many attorneys. I have known a few who despite Ivy League credentials, really were not making that much money. Now I hear for the first time in years prospects are bleak for lawyers.

How many rappers, singers and entertainers can we really support? What if college students said the hell with professions like teaching and social work? What if medical students only decided to go into high paying specialties like dermatology? What if nurses aidse decided they only wanted to be RN’s where the pay is higher? Who would change Granny’s bed pan?

If everyone who was capable of doing higher paying work (college grads) what would become of our society? Personally I think it would be a fucked up place, the more I think of it, every job should be deserving of earning a living wage. There is a lot of talk about living wages, but we typically only think of those low wage positions like janitors, home health aides, etc. What about the fact there are plenty white and pink collar jobs that are absolutely needed but don’t pay a living wage considering many of these positions require education beyond high school, hell some require masters degrees.

At what point does one say fuck following your bliss and instead says show me the money? This is what I am grappling with at present, when do I say enough is enough and become a good worker at the good worker company where they will pay me a living wage, hell they will even offer benefits but they will require my soul to stay in their good graces.

So what say you?