Financial Security vs Professional Satisfaction

Project: Apply-for-a-new-job is inching a long. I’ve been doing some reconnaissance, having lunch or dinner with people who teach, or have taught, high school. I’ve even been fortunate enough to talk with people who’ve taught both high school and middle school foreign language, which has been especially helpful. For the most part, my previous assumptions have been confirmed, but I have learned a few important things. Talking with other people has been a good way to get started.

I haven’t started working on my resume yet. I think that will have to wait until spring break, in early April, but I may try to work on it sooner. I brushed it up a couple of years ago, and I haven’t done much since then, so it shouldn’t require too much work. That is one of the problems with teaching, not much changes from year to year.

I’m coming to understand that there probably won’t be many positions that I can truly consider, at least not without taking a significant pay cut. Between the differences in pay throughout the peninsula, and that fact that all my years won’t be honored at my next school (at the most they would accept ten of my twelve years, but the reality is most will probably only offer to accept seven or eight), I will almost certainly have to take a $10-20K pay cut to make this change, at least I would to teach at the kind of school I’m interested in (small, alternative, not requiring I use a certain textbook exclusively). I didn’t think that would be the case, but as I look into positions that are being posted, I’m realizing it is. There is still a chance that I could make the change without losing pay, but I think those opportunities will be exceptions.

Do I delay financial security in search of professional satisfaction? If I were miserable at my job, and I really believed a position that required a pay check would be more satisfying, then I would say yes, absolutely. I would forgo padding our savings account or contributing more to retirement for a few years if it meant I could be happier at my job now. (Is this foolish and shortsighted?) But the truth is I’m not miserable. I could stay at this position, where I make more, and have tenure (and seniority! So much seniority!) and not be unhappy. There is a vast chasm between miserable and satisfied, and I am hovering somewhere in the middle. And I think I can hover in the same okay-enough place for a while longer.

It’s disheartening to be sure, and it makes it harder to motivate on the more difficult tasks of revamping my resume and writing cover letters. But I’m going to continue on this path, at least until summer, so that I can be sure that staying is the decision I should make. My goal moving forward is to ditch all this assumption and gather concrete information so I can truly make this decision and then let it go. Maybe I can revisit it in 3.5 years when my son is out of full-time day care and we have more room in our monthly budget to absorb a decrease in income. Of course by then I’ll need to take an even greater pay cut, as I’ll have even more years that won’t be honored by my next employer, but if that is the way I have to play it, so be it.

Have you ever had to choose between financial security and personal or professional satisfaction? How you make the choice if it were presented now?


  1. Given the difficulty you/your family currently face in affording life where you live, I am confused as to how you could possibly afford to reduce your income without also changing your outflows. Or would you be able to increase your rental income proportionately to recover that difference? 10-20K in lost income is a LOT. Especially as you would also start with no seniority protection against job loss.
    Might it be a better idea to spend the years till your son is not in full time day care developing a different marketable skill? (with your free time ~ which also appears nonexistent like the spare 10-20k in income.)
    ON THE OTHER HAND~! I am so glad you are investigating the high school alternative and talking to people who have first hand experience with it.

    1. You’re absolutely right that we couldn’t afford that kind of pay cut, but I’m going to keep looking in case something becomes available that doesn’t require I take that kind of pay cut. And maybe in 4-5 years, when my son isn’t in day care, and we’ve gotten better with our outflow, I could manage it. But probably we’ll not. We’ll see what happens, but don’t worry, I have no intention of taking a big pay cut now.

  2. Are you called only to teach? Could your teaching background and language skills be put to use in the private sector? Many companies have learning organizations and your teaching background and your ability to speak Spanish are valuable. It is worth exploring, especially given your budgetary constraints and the higher salaries possible.

    1. At this point, I feel like I can’t leave teaching because of retirement. I’ve been paying into STRS (California’s Teacher Pension) for 12 years. If I left teaching now I’d get very little of what I’ve vested in that system. And I have NOT been paying into Social Security for that time, so if I started accruing credit with them now, I would never make much their either. Basically, if I leave teaching now I don’t get enough from either system to be of much help, and I have not been able to save enough myself in the past 12 years to secure my own retirement. So that is why I don’t plan on leaving teaching, at least not until I’m 55 and have vested in STRS for 30 years.

      1. Can you roll that money into an IRA if you left teaching? I know some people who teach in other states that did that when they left before retiring.

  3. I had the same thought as Meaghan- your teaching skills could be quite valuable (and potentially more lucrative) in the private sector. Any interest in that kind of job?

    It’s so hard to edit your resume and other documents when there is no “push” to find another job. I have chased more money- from a job that I liked- and unfortunately found that it was the wrong choice. Now almost 15 years later I’m glad that I moved on from my first job out of college because the second job pushed me into going to law school and I’m finally happy with my job.

    While I was single taking a paycut for a different job wouldn’t have been difficult, but now with one child in daycare and another one on the way it would be hard to make that same decision. I would have to REALLY hate my job.

    1. I don’t feel like I can leave teaching (and even leave public school teaching to go to a private school) because of my retirement situation (detailed above). And yes, I would have to REALLY hate my job to take a pay cut right now. Maybe, in the future, if we got tight control of our budget and both kids were in public school, I could make it work, but then I’d be messing with my retirement contribution as well. I think I’m going to end up staying where I am if I can’t find a different job with comparable pay. The idea doesn’t fill me with dread, which I consider to be a significant positive.

  4. Side note: obv. You would know more than me but I’ve heard often private schools pay less.

    Anyway, tough question. I faced this. I changed my career (not just job) mid-career. I had a fairly decent govt mgr job and took a 40K+ pay cut to take my current job. I had to start at the bottom step of the bottom level. And for a while I was unhappy. Not so much with my career choice but with my job (not just the pay). Things have gotten better but for a while I was like what have I done? I didn’t have kids yet but we bought a house so things were tight (I taught at night for a while to supplement). Now 7+ years later I’m making a lot more (more than I would be making had I stayed at my last job even with the increases I would have gotten).

    Overall I think I’m glad I made the change. Sometimes I miss my old vocation.

    In your case if you literally couldn’t afford a cut then it seems you may have to tough it out unless you find something with comparable pay.

    1. Yeah, I’ll definitely tough it out. Like I said, I’m not miserable, so there is no reason to put us in a financially precarious situation when it’s not needed. Maybe I can find something comparable. If not, I’ll be okay.

  5. When I decided to forget getting a teaching license and continue school, it was a very expensive choice. Thousands and thousands in debt and lost income. We wound up homeless for a few months because of it. I think it’s been a good choice but a hard one. I think it’s been for the better to be happy than well paid sooner. That said, I wish I’d gotten the lower paid portion of my career out of the way sooner by switching faster rather than the bonus year of undergrad. So if you decide to make a change, do the math to see if switching now would mean you earn more at retirement rather than taking the bigger pay cut later and then not getting back up as high. Also! The talking now means that if a more lucrative job in your field opens up, maybe a connection will let you know about it.

  6. I think your husband’s job/career should also be taken into account (since you guys have joint finances, correct?) when plotting your possible career changes. It sounds like (again, correct me if I’m wrong) he’s in a job he likes but had to take a pay cut to take.

    Can you “switch off” in a while if you find something you’re strongly called to but pays less -where he picks up some of the financial slack? Since he’s a lawyer, could he do some other work, legal or otherwise, on the side?

    1. My husband’s current job with the city was a big step up from the non-profit job he had before, but a significant step down from the big firm job before that. He never intended to work at a law firm; he did that after law school to pay off his high interest debt (which he did, and then some), so he could do something he felt passionately about. His current job is very fulfilling for him, and it pays pretty well and provides FANTASTIC health insurance, which we were spending about $30K a year on before. He is really happy at his job so I wouldn’t want to ask him to find a new one with a bigger salary, especially when I’m not even sure this change would make me happier. If I had a true passion that our financial situation were preventing me from pursuing then *maybe* I’d initiate a conversation about him finding a job that would make it possible, but that isn’t the case, so I wouldn’t ask that of him.

  7. It’s such a tough call to make a switch like that. I think that you putting out feelers now is a smart move. In a few years when you feel ready, you may be in a great position of knowing where to go.

  8. I would just apply and practice interviewing. You never know if you’ll land a good job w/o a pay cut. Are you interested in education administration? I assume if you go that route, you could make more money than teaching.

    1. That is my plan. I was offered my job (actually, they begged me to take it) when I was still getting my credential, so I have never actually interviewed for a teaching position. I could definitely use the practice.

  9. For me, financial security is more important than professional satisfaction. I say this only b/c I am the sole breadwinner (I should really say dependable) for my family and I couldn’t afford to take a $8k loss, loss in benefits and vacation for a job that was more stable (no layoffs). I mean, we’re barely making ends meet right now and to make a cut like that would be hard. Harder with a pay cut like yours, $10-20k.
    It never hurts to look for another position, even if you’re not miserable, just make sure your happy.

    1. I am not the sole breadwinner, and our insurance coverage isn’t through me (which is a big weight off my shoulders), but I am the one with the job security that we count on to make big financial decisions like buy a house. We don’t have enough in savings to cover our expenses for more than three months if we BOTH lost our jobs, but we don’t stress too much about that because I won’t lose my job unless I get in an accident or become ill (and while I do have disability insurance, it’s not great, so it wouldn’t help much). So yeah, losing my tenure would be as big a financial risk to us as me taking a pay cut, which is why I have no intention of taking a job that requires one anytime soon.

  10. I usually comb through your comment section b/c you have such great commenters, but no time today, so this is my off the cuff opinion. When I was 26 I left a well paying job with good benefits b/c it was destroying my marriage as I was so unhappy. Now at 34 I *just* got to the point that my salary is comparable again to 8 years ago, though my paid vacation and such is still lower. Gah. Still, worth it… BUT, I also didn’t have kids and a mortgage and crazy bills at age 26. That’s a really hard decision to make for sure, but if I was you, I’d make the change sooner than later, especially b/c you’ll just keep losing years towards retirement and bills will always be there. Might as well make the switch towards a more fulfilling career now!

    1. I think if I absolutely believed it would be more fulfilling I’d be approaching all this differently, but honestly I feel like it’s kind of a crap shoot. It could be better, it could actually be worse, and I think ultimately it would be a wash. That makes it hard to motivate on this stuff.

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