Taking a Pay Cut for Your Dream Job

Anthony Balderrama, CareerBuilder.com writer

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How many people do you know working their dream jobs right now? How many people do you know working in a job that pays the bills but their sights are set on something bigger and better ... when the time is right?

I'm guessing the latter outnumber the former by quite a bit. That's not intrinsically a bad thing, seeing as most people have very good reasons for wanting to earn a paycheck now. Things like food, shelter and clothing cost quite a bit of money and can't always wait for you to win the lottery.

Inevitably, a decade or two later, some of these people find themselves still in a field they don't love. They get to a point where they can either stay on the same path or make a break for it. Rather than repeating, "One day, I'm going to quit this job and ..." they either say goodbye and follow their romantic daydreams or accept that this is where they want to be in life.

The decision is not easy to make. You're not guaranteed to succeed and you could end up putting yourself through a lot of pain in the process.

But you could end up living your dream.

The dream job

Erik S. Keith was in a good place, careerwise. As the manager of a camera store for a large retailer, he was making good money and had job security. At 26, all the good wasn't outweighing the fact that he wanted to work in marketing, the field he studied in school. So he decided to look for a job he wanted, even though it meant leaving a comfortable situation.

The drawback: Going from manager to a lower-rung position meant his pocketbook took a hit.

"Before leaving, my prior company did offer me the second-largest store in Colorado, which would have come with a significant raise," Keith says. "[The pay cut] was significant enough to change my lifestyle. I really had to limit my outings -- not eating out nearly as much and limiting my weekend plans.  I also limited buying my favorite snack foods, CDs and DVDs."

In addition to the satisfaction that he was going to be working in a profession he felt passionately about, he was able to offset the financial setback with encouragement from his friends and family.

"My friends, family and colleagues were all very encouraging. Even my former boss, who was not happy at all to see me go, was quite supportive.  I still keep in touch with all my former employees and my former boss," he says.

He also interviewed multiple times and was offered his job at Communications Strategy Group before resigning. He knows that the security of the new job made it easier to make the switch rather than live in an unemployed limbo for a few months.

A new kind of rich

Mark Godley knew he was going to transition from his Silicon Valley job into the nonprofit sector for well over a decade before he made the move. But one day turned out to be a significant study of contrasts that changed his life.

He'd spent the morning in his corporate job serving as mediator between a manager and employee. That afternoon he was teaching seventh graders at an inner-city school when a drug dealer ran into the school to evade police. The school went on lockdown and he saw the young students handle the situation with extreme poise. The dichotomy of his well-paid corporate colleagues and the young, endangered students was all the push he needed. Less than a month later, he resigned with no established direction ahead of him.

"In leaving my corporate role I just sensed that I needed to 'live in the moment' for a while to see if my perspective on 'what's next' changed -- and in fact it did," Godley recalls. He decided to spend the next year volunteering at various nonprofits, which was possible only because of his cooperative wife. Three months later he accepted the job as executive director of Big City Mountaineers, an organization that organizes backpacking trips for urban teens and their mentors.

The drastic step garnered praise and envy from friends and family, as well as confusion from business associates. The latter thought he was experiencing a midlife crisis, which Godley admits gave him a little pause.

"In making the change, [the hardest part] really was my fear of what others would think of me," he says. After the career switch, the financial change has been the biggest struggle. Although Godley says his family lives a conservative lifestyle, he does have three young children to care for and a lower income. "Although my financial bank account is not what it once was, my karma bank is overflowing."

Of course, when anyone makes this kind of life-altering change, the first question you ask is whether or not it was worth it. On a personal level, Godley has no regrets. Nevertheless, he does caution others to think the process through.

"I get a call at least once a month from someone wanting to make the same change I've made.  The bad news is once I ask questions about their finances, their lifestyle and their true preparation for making such a move, I tell most of them to not even consider it," he says. "Had I not spent over a decade in the business world gaining skills and living well below my means, the possibility of making such a change would never have been possible."

Still, having to wait awhile to take the jump and lessen the risk factor doesn't mean you can't still enjoy your true passion on the side.

"For those I do speak with who aren't as prepared as I was, I strongly encourage them to find the meaning they seek through volunteer work rather than their vocation."

If you give yourself a little time and plan for the change, you can be ready to move on when  you have an "aha" moment like Godley's.

Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.



Last Updated: 23/08/2010 - 6:06 PM


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