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Toan Lam Headshot

How Much Could Your Boss Pay You to Be Unhappy?

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If you could choose one or the other -- money or happiness -- which one would it be? My good friend -- I'll call her Abby -- has what she calls "a big dilemma." Abby has more than 15 years of experience in the TV biz as a TV reporter for a major national news outlet and producer for a lifestyle cable show. For as long as I've known her (about 14 years) she's always been level headed, pragmatic and the pinnacle of sound judgment and instinct.

Until now.

She's in a "situation" that many hard-working, go-getting, ambitious professionals are experiencing. Now she has a stable, high paying job, at a advertising firm in a big city, the job is pretty easy, she gets a month vacation annually, several of her assignments are glamorous and whisk her off to exotic locations -- but she still is not happy. No, she's not ungrateful -- actually, she's quite the opposite.

She has a perfect job for those on the outside looking in. But the ugly truth is, she works ridiculously long hours, her boss is "a rude jerk" and her not-so-nice co-workers -- let's just say they're not exactly who she'd hang out with during happy hour.

Recently, the cable channel she was laid off from called her back and offered her a producing job. A job where many of her friends who she loves and adores still work. Sweeeet, perfect, right?! Well, problem is, the job offers more than $30k less than the trendy ad agency job -- and this job offer will expire in a year, which means she'll be waiting in line at the unemployment office once again, this time next year, for Uncle Sam to send the bimonthly checks for $450 before taxes.

What to do? What would you do? My suggestion -- follow your heart, not the money.
I'm not saying, money doesn't buy you happiness -- because having a nice home, luxury car, being able to take vacations, shopping, eating out and not having to stress about buying an extra hot, grande caramel macchiato is a good feeling. Trust me, I know. I used to have a nice paying job as a TV Reporter. I was making good money, living the high life in a big city with the high skyscrapers to match it -- but I was miserable.

I didn't find true happiness and balance until I was given the gift of being laid off. I'm not going to lie, the lifestyle adjustments and change post-lay off stung. Badly. It wasn't until I decided to stop my job search, live meagerly for a year and give back to the community through what became my non-profit inspirational website, Go Inspire Go (GIG), that I found true happiness. I'm not going to sugarcoat this -- it's a lot of work building a startup with an all-volunteer base. I work long hours, and it is very hard finding startup grants in these tough economic times. But I am hopeful and inspired by the stories and trust that the funds will come, eventually.

Spiritual guru, Dr. Wayne Dyer produced an amazing film, Ambition to Meaning that resonated with my professional career. The message: We are all born and bred into a society of ambition, not the good kind of ambition (because ambition is a good thing) rather, the type of ambition that feeds the big ego -- the ego that wants a big title, big house, big car, etc. But all this means nothing if it is not connected to meaning in your life. When I watched this film two years ago, I had what Oprah calls a "Aha Moment," when I realized that it wasn't all about me, myself and I. Rather it was about us -- about community. The powerful experiences, stories and connections I've created through GIG are priceless.

In the end, this may not seem like a big dilemma, perhaps, until you're faced with it. Sure, it's great that, in a time where jobs are scarce, Abby has choices, doesn't have kids to feed and the decision won't mean that she'll be out on the streets -- however, this is a life decision and lesson that may young professionals I know are facing. How much could someone pay you to be happy? What does happiness mean to you and why?

I've been to many funerals in my short life (four family members died in eight months) and I can truly say, through experience, that no one will stand up during your eulogy and say, "(fill in a name here) was the best worker, who never missed a day of work, was diligent and always came in under budget." Trust me. You won't be able to take your mansion, yacht or savings -- Instead, what you'll take away and what people will remember are the experience, what you're leaving behind that makes the community and world better.

Are you making your mark? Living your meaning? Is that a Dyer phrase? It's very nice!! I hope you are and Abby will -- and if you aren't I hope this blog post will inspire you -- or at least give you a nudge -- to wake up, take the steps, and make the right decisions personal or professional, for which you'll be remembered. So what should Abby do? I'm sure she'll be able to have her coffee (extra hot caramel macchiato) and drink it, too.

What to do if you're faced with this "situation."

  1. Make a pros and cons list -- this will help you visualize what's at stake.
  2. An assignment I like to give my mentees and students: tonight, when your stomach is full, you're in bed, in the dark, no eyes of judgement are on you ... I want you to think about what would get you so excited to jump out of bed in the morning? Is it a hobby? Something you've been dying to do, but were too afraid? Figure out a way to turn your extra curricular activities into a career. Who says you can't make money doing something you love? Take baby steps. I'm not saying quit your job. Rather, look for jobs in that field or intern/volunteer in that field -- you may be surprised to find that people like helping those who want to be helped. And whether it works out or not, you'll be one step closer to seeking what job makes you happy.
  3. Trust your instinct. God gave it to us to protect us. Ask yourself how do you feel before, during and after work? Look in the mirror -- your body has an internal compass, your gut, that tells you if you're in happy, stressed, or danger.
  4. Ask, ask, ask your network of friends -- Gather your close friends over dinner or a grande caramel macchiato -- and ask for their input. They know you best and can tell you the truth. They may also know of other job opportunities.

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