Your Money Or Your Life

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Many of us look for fulfillment in our work, but that can sometimes involve making difficult choices.

The New York Times recently told the story of a Claremont McKenna College graduate, 24-year-old Brentt Baltimore, who turned down a six-figure job at a Los Angeles hedge fund in favor of a $33,000-a-year position at a venture capital firm in Detroit. (This despite having $38,000 in student loan debt.)

The Times pointed out that Baltimore is “part of a small group of recent graduates who are forgoing large salaries to work for start-up businesses” in Detroit, Las Vegas, Cincinnati, Cleveland, New Orleans and other places. “Detroit, which is in danger of declaring bankruptcy, could use some job-creating entrepreneurship, and that is a big reason that Mr. Baltimore chose the venture capital job over the hedge fund,” the Times explained.

Peter Drucker would have surely applauded Baltimore. After all, he made a similar, perhaps even riskier, choice some 80 years ago (as we’ve recounted before). “I was doing very well as a young investment banker in London in the mid-1930s, and the work clearly fit my strengths,” Drucker recalled in Management Challenges for the 21st Century. “Yet I did not see myself making a contribution as an asset manager. People, I realized, were what I valued, and I saw no point in being the richest man in the cemetery.”

At this stage of his life, Drucker had no money saved, no new job on offer and a worldwide depression to contend with. Still, as he recalled, “I quit—and it was the right thing to do. Values, in other words, are and should be the ultimate test.”

Of course, for much of human history, very few could afford such a mindset. “The steelworker didn’t expect fulfillment out of the job,” Drucker remarked in a lecture delivered at George Washington University in 1992. “He expected paychecks that would enable him to feed his children.”

But increasingly, Drucker observed, knowledge workers—those, in other words, like Brentt Baltimore—are looking to make a difference, not just fatten their wallets. “Loyalty can no longer be obtained by the paycheck,” Drucker wrote. “The organization must earn loyalty by proving to its knowledge employees that it offers them exceptional opportunities for putting their knowledge to work.”

Have you ever turned down a far-better-paying job for one that offered more meaning and fulfillment?


I just quit my 'comfy job' that everyone keeps telling me I'm so lucky to have - in order to start from scratch in small business consulting. Earning a great salary isn't half as important to me as contributing to building my country. Small businesses are doing that now and I know I can help them. 


And yet so many companies see their workers as a variable cost, subject to "workforce adjustments" to "right-size our staff" at the first negative quarter that doesn't meet Wall Street's estimates. Could this have something to do with upper management's close ties to the "shareholder's long term performance"? When most of their much greater compensation comes from stock options and restricted stock grants, who would be surprised to find that management's decisions are made to protect the stock price without regard for the impact on the workforce? There is a persistent policy of claiming to value employees but then taking as the first recourse and easiest solution to any failure in sales or profits a quick workforce reduction -- proving to Wall Street that you're decisive and 'on top of the problems'. The individual human cost is not a factor, else there'd be far more companies enforcing across-the-board pay reductions instead of layoffs, and cutting executive bonuses and salaries when hard times hit. Instead the phrase we often hear is "we need to pay the bonus to retain key executives" and "the high salary is necessary to get someone qualified to make these tough decisions". Is it any wonder loyalty to a company has diminished... when the companies loyalty to its employees is long gone.