Think you can’t afford to change careers? Think again!

“Money makes the world go round,” said Paul Van Der Merwe, author of Lucky Go Happy: Make Happiness Happen.

As well as being the most important commodity in an economic system, hard cash is essential for covering the cost of living. What’s more, if after paying for essentials and putting a bit aside for a rainy day (or towards the deposit to buy a flat), you’re lucky enough to have some money leftover you can treat yourself to some of life’s little luxuries and, just as importantly, even donate it to good causes.

Given its significance, why do so many of us feel awkward talking about money? When I have my legal recruiter’s hat on, it’s often very clear to me that so many candidates want to join US law firms to up their earnings. But, surprisingly only a handful ever openly admit to me as it being a principal reason.

Similarly, when I ask clients on my career coaching programmes about their motivations for exploring a change in direction, or indeed what’s stopping them from making a switch, very few of them feel comfortable broaching the subject of money with me.

This is undoubtedly partly out of the fear of being judged as being shallow, materialistic or plain greedy. Whilst for others it can be a simple case of fingers in ears and lacking the courage to properly get their heads around the true impact a potential salary cut will mean on their day-to-day lives.

Money and status

Another complicating factor is of course the relationship between money, status, success and indeed happiness. Far too many of us believe all of these are inextricably linked and we can’t have one without the other. But is that really the case? In his blog, senior Government lawyer Peter King who was previously a partner at the London office of an elite US law firm wrote that for him success is not determined by money and is about working with interesting people.

No matter how uneasy we feel talking about money, it’s really important not to shy away from properly considering the financial consequences of a potential change in career direction. Particularly, if the avenues you’re exploring will result in you having to take a substantial pay cut or borrow money.

In my case for instance, when I quit law to pursue a career as a legal journalist my salary was slashed by two thirds! Yes, you read that correctly. And yes, it did make me initially question whether making the switch was going to be financially viable. Especially, because the little voice in my head kept telling me I couldn’t possibly afford to do it, which was of course compounded by me also fearing the loss of status and worries over whether others would see me as a failed City lawyer.

Budgeting and financial planning

Ironically, I got my head around affordability more easily than the psychological tug of war between the financial cost of quitting law and longer-term career satisfaction. I achieved this by doing some proper budgeting and figuring out that I could make it work by renting out my London flat and moving in with my parents. This might feel like a backward step to some of you but, ultimately, if you want something badly enough you’ve got to be brave as well as prepared to make sacrifices.

Before succumbing to that little voice, I’d strongly recommend thinking outside the box and properly exploring all your options and if appropriate speaking to a financial adviser. You may be pleasantly surprised and discover taking a salary cut isn’t going to have such a radical impact as you first thought.

Related to budgeting is also taking a longer-term view of earnings. Career changers may have to start from the bottom rung of the ladder but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be stuck on that level forever. Don’t forget one of the reasons why some hiring organisations target career changers or mature candidates is because of their previous work experience and sector knowledge. Such individuals are therefore well-placed for accelerated career profession, which in turn is likely to result in earnings increasing more rapidly. With this in mind, when researching your options, I’d recommend looking beyond starting salaries by investigating earning potential instead.

The problem with having an over-inflated view of earnings

Also, if you’re a lawyer or other City professional reading my blog, it’s worth asking yourself if you’ve got an over-inflated or unrealistic understanding and / or opinion of your professional worth, longer-term earning potential and the impact this is likely to have on your day-to-day life choices and happiness.

Thinking along those lines should also help you overcome the paralysing psychological barriers I’ve discussed above. And if ever in doubt, one of the most revealing exercises you could do is browsing a jobs board to get a sense of what others around you, including people in your inner circle, are taking home. You’re likely to be blown away by the gap!

And take it from me – earning £20,000 per year doing a job I loved ultimately proved more rewarding than slogging away as a City lawyer earning mega bucks. I have obviously had to say no to certain purchases but at least I knew I’d never again need to say no or maybe to a meal out with family and friends because of an unpredictable and heavy workload.

Yes, money does make the world go around but linking it to success and status could ultimately result in burnout and utter misery. After all, I’d rather eat out at a casual dining restaurant safe in the knowledge that I’m less likely to cancel at the last minute rather than aspire to dining at a Michelin starred eatery then being a no-show as a result of being stuck at work.

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