Top paying jobs and occupations

I’ll bet you saw today’s headline and figured you’d be getting one of those lists about which majors to choose in college – based on earnings potential – or which fields to transition into for the same reason. You know: “Ten Highest Paying Occupations” or “Where the Wages Are” (I actually saw that cheesy one recently).

Sorry. There’s no chance you’ll ever get that from me – for one basic reason. It’s the wrong way to choose a career – and, when you list all the reasons for choosing a career, it’s the absolute worst one to put first on your list. Yet, if I had a dollar for every one of these lists in existence, I’d have the highest paying position in the world!

So why did I sucker-punch you into reading this the way I did? Because in 20 years as an independent career coach – and many years as a hiring manager before that – I’ve long since lost count of how many people I’ve hired or coached who went into their careers based primarily on earnings potential and wound up being anywhere from mildly discontent to painfully miserable.

So now that I’m suggesting what you shouldn’t do, what am I suggesting you should do?

First, a reality check. Yes, money’s important. Financial security, independence, self reliance, and all that. We won’t ignore that, OK?

But there are many intrinsic reasons to select a career or a job that should have equal, if not greater, weight.

  • Do you really want to do it? When I tell you about the unhappy people I’ve met, I’m including those who admitted they weren’t happy one day of their careers, some of which were more than 30 years long. You never want to get to that point – or even close – do you?
  • Does it have meaning? Is there a purpose to your life (other than making money)? Do you have a calling? Is there a reason – other than yourself and your family – that you’ll jump out of bed in the morning? Will you care for the sick, teach those eager to learn, feed the hungry, build the next smart home for the aged? If you think that reaching success and then happiness is all you’re here for, then you’re missing the big one: meaningfulness.
  • Do you have a great (or even, cool) idea? Look around you. Everything you see started as someone’s idea, simple as that sounds. For example, on April 3, 1973, Martin Cooper of Motorola, standing on the street in front of the New York Hilton on Sixth Avenue, demonstrated his idea of a mobile phone, by making – in public – the world’s first cell phone call. To whom did he make the call? To his former boss at the company he had just left because they rejected this very idea. So ask yourself if you have an idea. Do you believe in it? Are you entrepreneurial enough to jump into it? If so, your question is not whether you should do it. It’s: How are you going to make it work? If not, that’s OK, too. Not everyone is an entrepreneur, and this is one way to find out.
  • Does work/life balance mean anything to you? Companies around the country and the world are constantly dealing with this issue. With all the ink spilled these days about remote workforces, virtual workplaces, ROWEs (Results Only Work Environments), and so forth – all of which are coming continually under scrutiny, review, and re-evaluation – it’s still a big issue, and you have to weigh it.
  • What will challenge you? If I were to do a scientific study, I’m sure I’d prove my theory that the number one reason for employee dissatisfaction is boredom. Enough said.
  • Will this lead to personal growth? Human beings have an innate drive toward growth, as Abraham Maslow taught us, but fulfilling this is our own responsibility. Everything I do to make a living – coaching, corporate advising, teaching a couple of graduate leadership courses at FDU, public speaking, and writing this column – enables growth and learning. In turn, that leads to improvement, and to further learning, more improvement, and so, ad infinitum.

Of all the conversations I have with clients in my office – whether with college students or recent grads, mid-career changers or those re-entering the workforce, workers striving upward or cutting back – these are the best ones – by a long shot. So no, I won’t talk about highest paying careers.

Not, at least, until we’ve talked about the other important stuff first.



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