Paul L. Caron

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Father's Sad Truth: Dreams Are Important. But So Is Money.

Show Me The MoneyChronicle of Higher Education:  A Father's Sad Truth, by Isaac Sweeney:

As with most parents, I have changed my perspective of the world since having children. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about money (probably because I have an expensive infant in the house), and, as I get older, I realize more and more just how important and necessary money is.

I remember that, when I was a kid, my family, friends, teachers, and other role models told me countless times that money wasn’t the most important thing. Children were, and still are, encouraged to chase their dreams, no matter what. ...

To my own disappointment, I’ve made a decision. As I find it harder and harder to make ends meet, even with my supposedly white-collar job as a tenure-track professor, I’m going to encourage my children to do what they love, but only to a point. I’m going to tell them the thing that I wish someone had told me: They have to make money. Unfortunately, money is too important.

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Wow, lots of what I would call economic-conformity arguments here in favor of money, money, money and the fungible proof of hard work that money is. So, teaching and being an EMT aren't work, since they don't make much money? Hm....

Anyone read this article on The Last Days of Big Law? That's what working only focused on money gets you - a disappointing career, cratering prospects, and dishonest/rapacious colleagues eating your origination credits. The sorry individuals currently stuck in law firms thought they were choosing prudence and responsibility once upon a time, and now most of their lives are too far along to change paths (ergo, their lives are over)...

Posted by: MJ | Jul 22, 2013 10:57:46 AM

On the other hand, I know plenty of folks who made the "prudent" choices in their career paths, and failed to achieve anything other than the modest sort of success.

They were doubly miserable in the knowledge they had bypassed their "love" and taken an unpleasant alternative, but were no wealthier for it. "Dads" should be pointing out this possibility to their kids, too.

Plenty of lawyers fall into that category, of course. That's common knowledge. But I also know one or two engineers, and accountants and MBAs who are in that spot. I imagine it's depressing to sweat out the years of study and apprenticeship in those fields, in a fluorescent-lit office in some bland mid-American business park... just to wake up one cold Tuesday morning in your early 40's and break out the calculator and realize you probably would have done just as well if you had opened up a dive shop in Vanuatu when you were 22 and called it a life.

Posted by: Abe Humblebug | Jul 22, 2013 5:35:08 AM

If you don't have money, people you love will cry.

Making it, and saving it, and getting people to promise to give it to you is a major activity.

What is money? The product of work, fungible and quantified.

Posted by: DonM | Jul 21, 2013 9:52:39 AM

I had 2 children while I was working on becoming tenured, and that was pretty stressful (especially since my husband had given up his job for us to move to the US, and was in school because we still didn't have a green card so he could work.) I just got my tenure (yay!), and all things considered I wouldn't trade my job for big law practice any day of the year. I spent time in BigLaw, and while I learned a great deal, I knew it wasn't for me. The freedom I have has allowed me to spend an incredible amount of time with my now 4 and almost 3-year old... my workload isn't easy, but it is flexible, and I have still managed to produce 3 law review articles, a peer-reviewed book chapter, 3 'plus' ones, and 2 children in my time leading to tenure. The two children are my greatest accomplishment, and there isn't enough money in the world to entice me to take a job where I couldn't spend significant amounts of time with them!

Posted by: LM | Jul 21, 2013 8:17:18 AM

I was the first in my family to graduate college and that was after spending several years in the military. While I had the grades to go to college immediately after high school, I wasn't yet focused enough. By the time I became a full time student at age 25, I was very focused and completed a degree (Math) in 3 years. I later earned masters degrees in space systems management and software engineering. Those have served me well over the years.

I told my sons was that you need marketable skills whether or not you go to college. One listened (Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and ER Nurse, currently serving in Afghanistan with the US Navy) and the other didn't until much later. The one that listened is doing very well in life. The other isn't.

You can pursue your dreams but you still need to pay your bills. I love aviation and military history and have studied it on my own for decades. It's not something that I'd ever consider taking college classed for but something I love just the same.

Posted by: Larry J | Jul 21, 2013 7:55:59 AM

"As I find it harder and harder to make ends meet, even with my supposedly white-collar job as a tenure-track professor ..."

Average salary for a male professor at Richard Blandings school, William and Mary College: $61,712

He's doing it wrong.

Posted by: Bill | Jul 21, 2013 7:47:29 AM

Russell Ducote: I agree largely with your point about College, but when looked at that way it is inevitably a luxury good for the very few. It is simply not feasible for most 18-22 year olds to spend those prime years learning how to think, rather than producing or learning to be productive in a career. As a society, we can't afford to lose that much energy and productivity generation upon generation.
I believe that we need to pull apart the two different meanings of "higher education" so that we may give them each their due, rather than saying college is either for job training or brain training. The truth is we vaguely try to do both at college, and fail at both, and then call it "education." It's time to rethink our entire secondary and higher education system to make them more focused and purposeful. I also think there is a place for the pure autodidacts: a legitimate view of college as just a place to pass a few tests, get the credentials and move into the productive world.

The advice to do what you love and follow your dreams is generally good advice, if looked at correctly. Success in any field requires motivation, ambition, and the discipline to maintain that level of industry for long hours. You have to be willing to go at hard every day from morning to night. You generally will find those traits easier if you are on a path that you find inherently attractive, energizing and meaningful.

Posted by: Abe Humblebug | Jul 21, 2013 5:29:40 AM

Yes, money is important, but so is living within one's means. Seems to me the good professor could use a refresher course in math...

Posted by: Mama Bear | Jul 21, 2013 4:57:42 AM

As to " College isn't (or shouldn't be) a place for job training."

Personally I kind of hope that the person designing the next highway bridge I drive over really did learn something in engineering school besides learning how to make their brain work.

Posted by: Kevin | Jul 20, 2013 11:04:50 PM

My father--a high school drop out who made it as far as a director in a hospital--always told me and my brother that we could do anything we want as long as we paid our bills and tried to be the best at it we could be. Whether we were tossing garbage bags into the waste management truck or doing neurosurgery it didn't matter as long as we were happy and we paid our freight.

A little self reliance and fortitude goes a long way.

Oh, and this notion of College as vocational training has completely f*d up both college, and students. College isn't (or shouldn't be) a place for job training. It is--or should be--a place for *brain* training. Once your brain is working right making money is purely a matter of temperament and talents.

Posted by: William O. B'Livion | Jul 20, 2013 9:40:19 PM

You might think of money as a portable place holder for making barter trades with other people.
The product of your goods and services in exchange for other people's goods and services, with money being an important place holder to facilitate the trades in a circle of free markets; the medium of exchange.
With this concept of money even the young quickly realize that if they want and equitably expect to benefit from what other people produce
then they themselves had better produce something that other people want and expect to benefit from.
Money is what counts in the barter accounting system.
And to benefit from bartering, their own products and services need to count for something valuable in the eyes of not themselves maybe, but in the eyes of other people. Enough . . .
Submitted by Sector Senate 7/20/2013

Posted by: Russell Ducote | Jul 20, 2013 9:13:28 PM

As I recall, studies for many decades have shown men, in general, put more hours and effort into making money once they have children. It isn't surprising that they would respond to greater financial needs by pursuing greater financial rewards. Seems rational, even mature, to me.

Posted by: kate | Jul 20, 2013 8:31:03 PM

Yes, I'd leave professions like, ohhh, archeology to trust funders (without hard feeling). However, if a student picks a major in today's hot, high-demand field with a supposedly surefire future, that field may well look very different by the time their education is done.

Do what you love, but give your heart prudently.

If you believe your life has a mission but common sense vetoes it, consider overriding the veto---but be fully aware of what common sense is saying.

Posted by: gs | Jul 20, 2013 8:29:27 PM

My middle daughter is a bit of a free spirit. She speaks and reads four languages, has two degrees and is part way toward a PhD. She is married and is now thinking about a baby. She is now thinking about buying a house with her husband but they have interesting but rather low paying jobs. Her sister is an FBI agent and has tried to recruit her because one of her languages is Arabic but she is not interested. It's interesting to watch her become a capitalist. Now, she is starting another business and her husband is thinking about another business. Reality is sobering.

Posted by: Mike K | Jul 20, 2013 8:27:04 PM

As expensive as your infant is, just think how much of my tax dollars will go toward its future mis-education in public schools and universities.

Posted by: Jimbino | Jul 20, 2013 8:23:48 AM

Although either extreme advise is unwise, I suspect that the issue here is best framed as something like: "Which advise do you regret not having given your children?" I think this framing reflects the reality that between today's society and eternal human nature, the "do what you love" advice is assumed to have been more than dispensed by the advisors, and found more than appealing by the advised.

Posted by: MG | Jul 20, 2013 7:38:10 AM

I think there's a balance here. Telling kids only to make money is plainly wrong. But if somebody had told me only to "do what I love," I would have spent my life listening to Grateful Dead records.

Posted by: michael livingston | Jul 20, 2013 6:44:37 AM