I Wish I Had Known: Pay vs. Experience

Yesterday I found myself analysing many of my daily activities and goals – simply put: why was I doing what I was doing? As I worked through the list, I came to blogging; so, why am I blogging? At the very least, it’s a great way to practice writing, thought organization and debate. However, beyond improving those skills, I want to eventually turn my blog into something. The logical following question is: what? My thinking is that one day I hope to turn some or all of these posts into a book. A book written for people leaving, or fresh out of, University/College. The idea would be to share insights people have shared with me, one’s I have discovered myself, and one’s I have read about – a road map for launching a successful and smooth career, while providing some guidance to help people pick that career – if I could come anywhere near that, I would be VERY happy.

So, in light of that end goal (it’s great how goals can direct your steps) I thought I would start a series of posts for the next 5-10 days: I wish I had known. The idea here is to go through a list of topics, explain my original perception (and the generally accepted perception at my age), my discovery of the reality of things, and what I wish I had known before going down that particular path. So, with that brief introduction, let’s begin!

I Thought It Was All About Pay

When you get your first ‘real’ job (i.e. not selling lemonade at the end of the driveway) one of the first things you are going to want to know is pay. How much do I make per hour, per day or per week? What’s the yearly income? What are the benefits? Matching programs, 401k? Pay seems to be the most important thing – you compare jobs on pay, you agree to take a position you aren’t totally happy with for pay – it drives your decision.

Why is that – what are we so interested in pay? Firstly, we want freedom. We see that paycheque as a way to accomplish whatever it is that we want, and it will help us do it now. We are trading an uncertain future for a certain present. There may be less upside, but we are getting THAT paycheque NOW – and don’t worry, because everyone does it. Secondly, we strive to build and defend our ego. Yes, I know it’s hard for all of us to admit, but more often than not people will take a job because of the starting pay – it’s high. It makes us feel successful, smart, and respected – it boosts your ego, it justifies your self-worth to the world. Also, by taking a high paying job, we get to gloat (indirectly or directly) to our friends and peers about our great success – in the eyes of the market, we are valuable! Thirdly, we want safety – we want to know that you can live comfortably off your pay and have the things we want, without threatening our financial future (or so you think).

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying one should refuse a job because it pays well (that would be absurd!), what I am saying however, is that pay in and of itself should not be the reason you take a job.

So if it’s not about pay, then what is all about?

I Learned It Was All About Experience and Opportunity

Here’s a basic math problem that I am sure many of you have heard: if I offered you $10,000 per day for the next 30 days, or $0.01 today, then doubled it every day for the next 30 days (i.e. $0.01 today, then $0.02, then $0.04, etc.), what would you rather take? Human nature directs us to the $10,000 deal – it’s a lot of money, and it’s now. However, doing some quick math, that $0.01 nets you just over $10,000,000 ($10,737,418.24). The problem is that it’s not upfront – you need to wait for it.

Much like the above problem, the key to picking a job out of school is to go where you can seek out experience and opportunity. Where you will get to grow as a person in skills, responsibilities, and experiences. Where there is opportunity to take on new roles and titles. Where you will get to meet people who are also going down similar paths, learn from them, and grow together. To alter a great quote slightly: if you go for the pay, you will make a living, if you go for the experience and opportunity, you just might make a fortune (and undoubtedly will also make a living at the very least).

Getting experience and opportunity upfront might result in a lower pay. It might be joining a new company or a new venture, in which case cash can be tight. You might have to give up some comforts you are used to, but the long term value will outweigh any short term costs. In the long run, going with the higher upfront number, usually results in a lower final sum number.

If I Could Go Back

The whole goal of your personal career is to become the best that you can be at whatever it is you are doing. You want to grow, learn, and engage in new activities.

If I could go back, I would never evaluate an opportunity off its immediate pay – it’s too small minded. Instead I would have looked for the opportunities that offered me the most room to grow and stretch my mind. Opportunities that would serve as incubators for my future career. That is where the real value in a job is – not in the paycheque – but in the experience you get, and the opportunities that come as a result of that.

When we are young, and even in a secondary education, we are taught that the tangible defines a job – mainly, the pay. As I grow, I realize more and more that it’s the intangible that defines a job: the people you work with, the experiences you share, the opportunities you explore, and the degree to which you grow.

 

Blair Livingston’s Blog

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