Everything has a cost. Those that are claimed ‘free’ cost the most. Well, we will leave the free stuff out for now and focus on the question of cost of your career.

In economics, we have what is called ‘opportunity cost’, which basically talks about economic value foregone for one opportunity over other.  For instance, you could rent out your place or use it for running your own business, in which case, your opportunity cost is the rent you are losing.  It can be that simple or it can get fairly complex if subject at hand has alternative uses.

Unlike opportunity cost, cost of career is not simple to assess, nevertheless, each of us have to take a stab at it at least once every few years.

In assessing the cost of career, we have to look at these key aspects:

Monetary value: 

If you were to spend the same amount of time doing something you are good at for yourself, would you have made a better living? If so, what’s stopping you?  It is important that your years spent at a job are fairly compensated because you are exchanging the most valuable thing at your disposal: time. If you are underpaid by say $10,000 each year, in the course of 30 years of your career, it would cost you a whopping: $895,000 (at 6% annual earnings compounded for 30 years, not considering taxes on additional income).  You may get lucky and win a lottery at the end of your career but you will not be able to get years invested back, so trade them well.

Joy factor:

Do you want to spend 57,600 hours of your waking and productive life in misery? An average 30 years career will have approximately those many hours (240 workdays at 8 hours each day for 30 years) and if you are not happy, at least, you should not be miserable.  As long as your bar is hanging in between OK to HAPPY you are good but if it is ticking toward SAD and MISERABLE, you got to do something and do it pretty quickly before you get used to medication and misery.  An ideal aim would to be happy most of the times with occasional ecstatic and eureka moments.

Progress at the rate of you:

Each of us progresses at a different pace.  Is your job complementing the pace of your progress? If it is too fast, you may burn out.  If it is too slow, you may feel suffocated or worse, you could get used to the snail pace and regret the years wasted after they are wasted. If your career is not contributing to your growth then no matter what it pays you will not develop personally and professionally in the long run.

Health toll:

Is your job aging you rapidly?  Is it causing too much stress in your life?  What is the impact of your job on your health now and 10 years from now if you continued the same way?  Whenever health aspect is brought up, we all look at how we are feeling right now but we fail to address what will happen if we were to continue like this for another 5 or 10 years?  One way you can answer this is to look at those that have been in this job for those extra 5 or 10 years?  How are they doing?  While each of us handles life differently, you might still get a hint of what it will mean to continue on same path for your health.

Personal life balance:

People fantasize about owning a business to run away from the 9 to 5 misery.  What they forget to consider is that in business (of your own) there are no ‘off days’.  As an employee, there are opportunities to disconnect from work and it is important to make time for  precious things like spending a night out with loved ones, relaxing at a beach, taking a long drive for no reason, reading a book or re-watching your favorite Matrix movie – whatever helps you achieve the balance. Is your job coming way of maintaining work-life balance?

Compensating factors:

We cannot decide the cost of career by looking at one factor or other on this list exclusively.  We have to look at the compensating effects of one over the other. Let me give you couple of examples:

  • If your career is progressing at a snail speed but it pays you well and affords you lot of personal time then you may be in a good place as you can invest some of that time on yourself to learn and grow and spend the extra money with family and friends (or to retire early).  
  • Your career is pacing like a bullet train and is helping you achieve your goal of reaching senior leadership role before 30, then it is a good trade off, as long as this insane pace doesn’t disrupt your health.  

Each of us have fantasies about how we would change the world or how our time would have been well spent outside of a cubicle and when reality hits we realize how lazy we really are and thank heavens for the workplace for keeping our brains functioning.  

If you are one of the rare individuals who is truly committed to changing the world or contributing to it in your special way and you know that your 9 to 5 is coming in the way – then assess the true cost of your career and make the change necessary.

What’s next?

So you know what your career costs you. Next step in that case would be to find out:

  • Are you ok with the cost of your career?  If the answer is yes, continue to do what you are doing and feel grateful that you are exactly where you would want to be. 
  • If you are not ok with where you are or where you are going: Quitting is not always the right answer.  I have seen so many people blame their jobs for the misery in life and quit them hastily only to return to them later. 
  • Narrow down on the problem:  Is it the health that is your concern – can you make arrangements for flexible hours at work?  Will that solve your problem while still being employed?  OR is it the pay you are not ok with, if so, have you been working on your skills to be worth more than what you are paid if you switch the job or go on to start your own gig?  If you are not increasing your worth – it is time to do it now.  Get trained, learn new things and become worthy of a higher pay whether it comes from your job or your own gig. 
  • Have a plan:  Fear and doubt stop many many talented folks from taking action.  Fear and doubt will stop people from questioning the status quo.  There is only one antidote to fear and doubt and that is ‘planning and execution’.  All problems are big in the short term and that is where fear and doubt draw their power from. Find out the true source of your problem, devise a plan to solve it and go onto execute – then fear and doubt will shrink.   

There are many people who after introspection have changed careers to do something that resonates with their core. Then there are those who have learned new skills to excel at their current jobs while some have altogether said goodbye to the jobs and started their own business.  You will not know what is right for you until you take the inventory of your current status, find out what is important for you, devise a plan and execute on it.

While you look at the cost of your career, be as objective and as pragmatic as you are capable of.


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