My very best career advice

A topical switch-up for you today. I want to offer up a few thoughts on money.

So, I’m not going to follow in the footsteps of so many get-rich gurus who attempt to convince a naive readership that hard work does not equal wealth; I believe strongly in the importance of hard work and always have. Instead, what I take from this review is this: when it comes to making money, financial understanding and a good resume are much more profitable than hard work.

Let’s look at both of these in turn. First up: a good resume.

When I decided to attend college way back when, I did not do so because I believed that doing so would make me rich, or even get me a solid middle-class job. Eschewing the advice of others (though not my poor intellectual parents) to get a teaching certificate or other marketable qualifications, I majored in English and History. At the time I believed that college was just something you did–an achievement that you could be proud of, yet but much more important, an end in itself. I wanted to know things. I wanted to read. I wanted to meet intelligent people. I wanted to put off making a decision about a career.

I wanted the college experience.

Now, however, I know better. The Bachelor of Arts degree I earned at a veritable snail’s pace (7 and 1/2 years, it took me to get it) has paid financial dividends I did not predict. Here’s a top-of-the-head list of jobs I’ve had that I may not have received without a 4-year degree on my resume: My first paid freelance writing job (other than at the school newspaper);My first and only full-time job at an advertising agency when I was still very green, and which was an education in itself;(several very good freelance jobs);A job teaching English in China;My current technical job, even though the subject matter is unrelated. For my current job, my resume was also greatly bolstered by the Technical Communications certificate I earned by taking a few inexpensive evening simple pass-fail classes at a local community college.

I once thought that pretty much everyone had a four-year degree, that getting one would hardly impact my success. For a long time after graduating, I waited tables and wondered what the heck to do for a career. Then one day, I figured it out–and after that things feel into place at a much faster pace than I would’ve believed possible at the time. Part of the reason for that, sure, is how hard I worked.

And part of that was that damn expensive degree.

Okay, then: the resume. The degree, the past experience–whatever you can put on there that’s solid– all those things are important. Now I turn to the second factor in my so-far success, which is, of course, financial understanding.

In the beginning, every dollar is important. When I was waiting table and riding buses, I’d go to great lengths to save $1 on bus fare – walking an extra mile in the rain, getting free food from my parents, skipping little conveniences, and certainly never eating out; I didn’t even go to McDonald’s. I vividly remember one ill-advised trip to the grocery store when I’d bought far too much food to carry home. Still, not wanting to spend the dollar on bus fare to travel only a single mile, I (valiantly) attempted the feat, stopping to rest every few yards when my arms got too tired and the plastic bag handles cut too deep into my hands. I hadn’t gotten far when a nice lady in an old car offered me a ride, which I gladly accepted.

Now, the way I make all this sound, it was miserable. The truth is, though, that as a single person with most of my time to myself – to read, watch movies, whatever – I needed very little money to make me happy. Even today my largest disposable-income purchase (other than home-improvement related stuff, admittedly a huge indulgence on my part) is help. I hire a handyman to (do) my painting, my shelf-hanging, stuff like that. I hire a housekeeper to wash all my dishes and more. I hire a wonderful, dear man to clean our car inside and out, plus do a bunch of work in the yard. I have David go get food for dinner when cooking just feels like too much, and I hire a babysitter twice a week so I can write.

Truth is, though – most of this stuff I didn’t mind doing at all…when I had lots of extra time. When I was hungry, I made dinner. When the toilet was dirty, I cleaned it.

There was no drama involved. to me, saving $3 on a shirt by shopping at a thrift store meant one thing, and one thing alone: $3 more for paying ahead on my mortgage, or my tuition.

I have never waited anxiously for a paycheck in my life. I’ve never even cared when payday was. No matter how little money I had, most of it went to stuff that offered no immediate gratification–including the Roth IRA account I opened in college.

I never saw money as fun. Admittedly, frugality is not the road to wealth that I once thought it could be; much better to earn more than to save a higher percent. However, financial wisdom is the greatest predictor of one’s future wealth, without a doubt.

Just a few thoughts for you on a very important subject. Hope they help.


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