Financial Wisdom, Simple Living/Downshifting

The Worst Professional Mistake

What is it? What’s the one thing you should never do on a professional level?

Is it taking out a business loan when you don’t have a great plan in place to get started/make money? No. This sometimes ignites a person into action.

How about becoming a temp worker to make extra cash while starting a business and never pursuing a “real” career? Definitely not a bad idea. Temp work is not very exciting, but this does add an element of flexibility.

How about taking a year off entirely and living on credit just to clear your head and decide where to go next? This certainly isn’t a great idea, as idleness isn’t always a friend. But time off like this can at least be good for a period of recuperation and reconnecting with yourself.

Think you have the answer yet?

I’ll just tell you. The worst professional thing you can do is….

Pursue a career just because you want to make a lot of money.

It’s that simple.


The connection between work and money is obvious. One begets another. But one thing that gets lost along the way is the idea that you should work in a profession that you are relatively good at, enjoy, and in which you can contribute to the field. If you ask a child what he wants to be when he grows up, he will not consider the earning power of the profession. He’ll just look at the profession itself and make a decision based on what looks fun/interesting. Adults should do the same thing.

Not convinced? Here are 7 careers that pay pretty well. They are popular for this reason, and this reason alone. How many of you would even consider a career in one of the following fields if it paid $20,000 a year with no bonuses?

  • Insurance salesman
  • Power broker
  • Collections agent (isn’t it fun making people miserable?)
  • Executive Assistant (this one doesn’t even pay all that well!)
  • Real Estate Agent
  • Pharmacist (I would argue that most pharmacists originally wanted to be physicians)
  • Investment Banker

I certainly don’t hear too many little kids saying “I want to be a power broker when I grow up!” Think about it. I suppose we need power brokers, but still…

Inverse Focus and Earning Relationship

When you begin to focus on money, it actually becomes more difficult to earn. This is because the method behind the money-earning gets lost (the actual job) as you become more focused on the end result. People who make the greatest strides in a certain career are those that put a lot of effort into that career. They enjoy it. You HAVE to enjoy something to be one of the best in a field. And money comes to those who put this effort in.

But most importantly, think about this: we spend a majority of our waking hours working, and a majority of our healthy years working. Would you rather spend that time doing something meaningful and aligned with your ideals, or something to make a lot of money that you don’t like? To those who chose the latter, I’ll just spell it out for you. You will eventually become depressed. You will burn out.

Human beings are amazing, diverse, and passionate creatures by nature. We are meant to take the gifts we are given and help improve the world. We are NOT meant to sit around in little cubes copying data from one system to the next while our eyes, back and muscles wither away while we more money for ourselves. This path leads to misery and makes a person feel like a waste of space.

Don’t let your talents go to waste. If you find something to enjoy doing AND can make money at it, you’ll eventually make more money because you’ll put the effort in. It’s a natural process. Even if you don’t make as much money, don’t worry. You’ll actually look forward to your job, a rare condition these days which is, as all the ads say, priceless.



  • Wendy January 22, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Hey, so true. I’ve tried this route, though only a couple of times, but it was a mistake each time. The money makes you feel good briefly, and raises your self-esteem. But it’s an almost-instant trap because the little voice inside surfaces quickly, and isn’t kind. “What on earth are you doing?” it says. Or something to that effect. Usually, it’s a lot meaner. Anyway, I agree wholeheartedly with this one, Mike. It’s nice if what you enjoy doing is high paying. But don’t do it just for the money.


  • Peter @ Plan Your Escape January 24, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    Hi Mike,

    You’re bang on. Happiness will end up counting for a lot more in the end.

    To good thing about realizing that you are in a job you don’t like is that you can always leave any job at any time. That’s the great thing. Once you realize the money doesn’t make up for the unhappiness you can bail. It’s not an easy move to make but you are free to make it nonetheless.



  • Catherine March 17, 2008 at 9:21 am

    My best friend from college is a pharmacist now…he originally wanted to work at the CDC, but has never wanted to go to medical school as far as I know. 🙂 He does not work in a retail pharmacy though, he works at a trauma center in a hospital. It’s a way more versitile job that I ever imagined. But I sure would not want to do a much school as him!

    I agree with not picking a job for the money…what’s the point if you hate your life because of it?


  • Mike March 19, 2008 at 11:03 am


    That sounds like a pretty intense position! I suppose just because something falls into a “job category” doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for much variation within the field. The title of “police officer” can mean many things, from the doughnut-eating file-searching cop (a stereotype, I admit) to the narcotics officer on the beat who has a very fast-paced and dangerous daily adventure.


  • nell December 29, 2011 at 1:33 am

    Would only *ever* suggest temping if there is a larger focus happening elsewhere. It’s like being an invisible admin assistant. The admin assistant’s assistant, who gets the blame for the admin assistant’s mistakes.


  • A different Alex December 19, 2016 at 2:01 pm


    If only I could earn money just from being told, “you need to go into graphic design, that’s where the money is”. I HATE graphic design, and I don’t see Catherine’s position as extreme at all – hating your life is a pretty logical consequence of voluntarily being tortured for five to six full days a week just for some money.


    • mike February 28, 2017 at 5:18 pm

      Agreed on all counts. It would be one thing if you knew that the intended career path paid you so well that you could quit in x years and do anything you wanted. Then you could get into the mindset of “I’ll just get through this for x amount of time”. However, if you subscribe to the philosophy “you only live once,” then that seems like a pretty poor use of time.


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