March 28, 2010
For love or money: Workers weigh passion against the need to make a living
Special to NWjobs
Chris Pesce of Seattle was a lawyer before he decided to transition to a more satisfying career as a high school math teacher. (Linda Hughes)
Financially speaking, Chris Pesce had it all: the mortgage-free house, the savings, the investment portfolio. But like some who choose a lucrative career over one that feeds the soul, the copyright and trademark lawyer wasn’t feeling the love for his work.
A decade into his “not very satisfying” career, he cried uncle. There was no protracted period of soul-searching, no sleepless nights pondering “What now?” Pesce already knew his next move.
“I had always imagined how much fun it would be to teach high school math,” the 45-year-old Seattle resident says. “My best — and worst — high school teachers were math teachers, so I knew that a quality math teacher can make all the difference.”
So back to school Pesce went, first to refresh his calculus at a local community college and then to earn his master’s degree in teaching. After several years working in the Seattle Public Schools system, he now teaches at a small private high school.
Pesce didn’t just close his eyes, take a flying leap off that proverbial cliff and pray it would all work out. He did the necessary recon, visiting high schools and talking to teachers to learn more about the profession.
That’s a smart move, says Alexandra Levit, author of “New Job, New You: A Guide to Reinventing Yourself in a Bright New Career.”
“Many times, dream careers are not as glamorous as they sound,” she says. “You want to get the reality check before investing substantial amounts of time, energy and money.”
For Pesce, that also meant ensuring he could afford the nearly 50 percent pay cut — and that his wife, who works as a physical therapist, was on board with it. Fortunately, the answers were yes and yes.
A decade after making his career 180, Pesce’s still feeling the love for his work.
“When a student turns things around because you show faith in them, or when they come back years later to thank you, that makes the job completely worthwhile,” he says.
Of course, not everyone finds his or her professional bliss. And some who find it can’t afford to follow it.
Take “Charlotte,” a communications professional in the technology sector who didn’t want her real name mentioned for fear of repercussions at work. After a layoff last year, Charlotte found herself unemployed for six months. Because she had never been too ecstatic about the work she did, part of her was relieved.
One week of introspection led to another. Before she knew it, Charlotte had accepted a job she felt passionate about with a social-service agency. There was only one problem: the nearly 50 percent pay cut.
“I was scared I was going to lose my home,” says Charlotte, who’s the primary breadwinner in her household. “I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to put any more money into retirement. I felt like I was stuck.”
Several months of financial stress later, Charlotte found a high-tech job and snatched it up. To say it was a relief would be an understatement.
“This gives me breathing room,” she says. “I can start putting money in my savings account again.” She also can afford some of the pricier pursuits that feed her soul outside the office, such as art and exercise classes.
As long as you have enough time after work for friends, family and hobbies, Levit says, “this is actually a terrific approach. There’s no rule that says that you have to feel 100 percent passionate about your day job.”
But what about Charlotte’s dream of working in the social-service sector?
“Maybe someday I will go back,” she says. “But I don’t trust the economy yet. I’m too afraid to take a low-paying job when a high-paying job is right there.
“In the meantime, I’m trying to stimulate the economy as much as I can.”
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