Sunday, September 10, 2006

Dreaming big dreams

I'm in a motivational rut right now. It's partly because our company announced yesterday that it was hiring someone I have worked with in the past and found to be difficult to get along with - her father is a judge, and she had the entitlement attitude you would expect. In our last co-employment situation, I had her fired.

It's also partly because I'm at "that age" where I feel like should be in a different place than I am. Yes, I've bought my own place. Yes, I've been in this job for longer than I've ever had a job in my life. Yes, I'm at a point where I can actually visualize paying off my student loans sometime before I die (it's still a ways off, but it's a lot more realistic now than it was 3 years ago).

The thing is, I don't really know what to do next. I didn't think I wanted to be a partner in my firm - partners are generally very nice people, but I have little concept of how my life would change if I got there, and the evidence I've seen is that those changes would require more of what I already don't have enough of: time, energy, focus, money, business, etc.

On the other hand, though, if I don't have something to shoot for, I know I will not maintain any acceptable (to me) level of productivity and "moving forward" in my career or in my life. I don't know what my childhood visions of what my life would be like were, but I'm pretty sure they weren't this.

And that's part of the question: what do I want my life to be like? I don't want to have the big house on the lake, or the power boat, or the country club membership where everybody knows me. Those things all come with strings: the house on the lake costs more in taxes and insurance, plus upkeep; the boat is subject to rapid depreciation, plus you have the same issues with taxes/insurance/upkeep; and, the country club membership is hugely expensive just to get in the door, never mind the cost of keeping up appearances so that you aren't the weakest link in the social chain.

Aside from which, unless one has a substantial bank account (which I don't), the money needed to fund that lifestyle just requires more time working - either actually putting in time that gets billed out to the clients, or bringing in business (which again requires a certain level of capital investment).

What I really want is a job that pays me enough to take care of my mortgage, my insurance, and my basic living expenses (including student loans), and leaves me something over and above those things to go out to dinner once in a while, maybe see a movie, go visit my family a couple of times a year, and put something away for the future.

The more I think about it, the more I think I might need to do some serious re-training, because nursing (while not the glamour and glitz one would expect from 10 seasons of "E.R.") seems to offer pretty much that life: you work (at a pretty decent hourly wage, sometimes with shift-differential and overtime), they pay you, you get benefits (that usually can include 401K, etc., just like I have now), and you don't have all of the same patients waiting for you plus the new ones that came in if you aren't there for a couple of days.

Plus, think of the different reactions at parties: "I'm a nurse" versus "I'm a lawyer." Dating options would certainly be different - caring female nurturer persona versus killer shark. Hm. Why did I not think of this sooner?

I talked to my mom about this. She was a nurse for over 30 years and left for health reasons, but she still thinks of going back to it. I talked to her this afternoon about my idea - it's a back-up plan in case things with this new addition to our professional staff go sideways, but the more I talked to her and the more I thought about it, the more I wonder whether this isn't such a bad thing to pursue regardless.

She was making $80,000 a year as a nurse working 3-4 days a week, 12-hour shifts, plus shift-differential and weekend pay/overtime. Granted, she was working in coronary intensive care, and the educational upgrades were a little intimidating at times, but the reality was, she was good at it - she just couldn't cope with the stress of their financial situation on top of the job pressures. She said that there would be no reason I couldn't make the same money after about 3 years or so if I wanted to just be a nurse, but I could make considerably more than that with my degree.

I have to admit: the idea of changing careers and going into something that I would have at least one built-in mentor (my mom's sister-in-law is also a nurse with unmatched administrative experience), plus my mom's brother is a doctor. That would be better than continuing to flounder in a profession where, yes I've accomplished a lot by doing what I've been doing, but where I've had to feel my way along with minimal mentoring and guidance.

Most lawyers, God bless them, are too busy to do the mentoring that people need to be truly successful in their profession. As an example of the difference it can make, my sister, who is a major in the U.S. Army with almost 20 years in, gets regular mentoring from someone in the Army - not just in the career decisions she makes, but also in the financial aspects of maximizing her income.

As a result, she has the option of taking a civilian position in the same department doing essentially the same type of work she's doing now, and after about 5 years she won't have to work. Ever. Because she will have a pension and benefits that, coupled with her investments, will provide her with a level of income that will support her for the rest of her life.

To be sure, there is a certain amount of pique on my part because her pension, although deserved for her service in Desert Storm and since, will be at my (taxpayer) expense, but still: that's what I would like to have had in my profession and career, and it's not there. It's not there for most people working in most jobs anymore - the days of the company pension where you spend your life working for a corporation and they provide a retirement for you when you reach a certain amount of time in or a certain age are gone.

Yes, it's a bit of an entitlement attitude - and yes, I can see the irony - but the opportunities to effectively manage the alternatives are few and far between. You'd have to have bought your own home outright (no mortgage) with sufficient land to eventually produce vegetables, maybe a few chickens or goats for eggs, milk and cheese (unless you wanted to keep a cow or two), and even then, you'd have to be able to generate enough income to keep up the place plus pay taxes on it every year. Probably, you would want to keep a cow & chickens so that you had fresh manure to renourish the soil so your vegetables would give you more than just something to eat, too.

God forbid you get sick or need to be hospitalized for anything, because the medical expenses could wipe you out, unless you were in a community where the doctor didn't depend so heavily on actual money coming in that he (or she) could either barter or outright give you medical care or treatment.

When was the last time you talked to anyone who could say those things about their lives?

Anyway, something to think about.

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