You are not going to make more money by focusing on income. That’s a way to make small, temporary change. You need to make big changes in your approach to your life in order to make big changes in your financial path. Here are four ways to do that.
1. Stop hoping people will pay you to do something good for the world.
You do not get paid to save the world. You get paid to compromise. There are no jobs where you get paid a living wage to learn and do good and live consistently with your values every second of the workday. Those are volunteer jobs. The farther you get from this all-encompassing goodness, the more you get paid.
The jobs that turn out really good usually come after years of doing very difficult things to get to that point. Take, for example, being a Nobel Prize-winning scientist. You spend ten years in school. Then you relocate all over the world to go to the best teaching spots you can get. You write grants and have no idea how much money you will have year to year. You do that for twenty years, then you get a Nobel Prize. If you are the luckiest scientist in the world that year.
And, while it’s true that if you like your work, you make more money, liking work doesn’t mean saving the world (or even just doing your favorite pastime) every day. It means contributing something that people around you value. The value is clear because they give you money to do it. And you make more money if you are doing things you’re good at. So look for the intersection of what you’re good at (there’s a long list) and what people pay for (relatively short list.)
2. Work harder on your marriage.
Divorce is a career issue because it’s really expensive. Do you make millions of dollars a year? Reliably? If the answer is no, then you will ruin your career if you get a divorce. Because you will have to support your spouse and kids in the same standard that you would have supported them had you not had the divorce. Which means that you will have to start earning a lot more money if you want to maintain a household for yourself at the same standard of living.
Divorce is extremely career limiting: You will not have the option of taking a big pay cut, because you will be responsible for child support based on the job you might not want. And you can’t stay in the job you’re good at, because that only supports one household and now you need to support two. So the best thing you can do for your career is to take time from the office to figure out how to make your marriage work. Otherwise, the type of job you are able to get will depend on the type of person your spouse is able to marry. And you better hope that person is really rich.
3. Stay on trend but not ahead of trends.
A great way to make money is to know the gap between what’s available and what people want. This is called trend spotting. And successful product launches address market openings created by new trends. (The GAP, in fact, is named for the gap in the market between what young people wanted and what their parents wanted.) If you can see trends ahead of others, you can make a lot of money.
Being ahead of the curve is risky. I have found that even in the startup world I’ve not benefited from being way ahead of everyone. But I noticed that Matthew entered the grass-finished beef business with perfect timing. He saw the industry emerging in New York and Chicago, and then when restaurants in Wisconsin wanted grass-finished beef, he switched over his farm based on how people had tried it before him, and now he gets much higher prices for his beef in both Wisconsin and Chicago.
It’s best to watch the people who are first and then do what they do but with less risk. Which means there’s someone who is earlier than you. A leader. So many self-appointed leaders have no followers, so it’s really the first group of followers that make the movement; the bleeding edge is not as optimal a place to be as next to the bleeding edge.
Another way to think about it: people usually know when they’re falling behind, but too often people say it doesn’t apply to them. I remember this happened years ago when I wrote about workplace change: job hopping creates stability, grad school is wasteful and being lost in one’s twenties is a sign of sanity. People told me “not in my industry”. But it’s every industry. And the people who most thought they were immune from these changes—lawyers and academics, for example—are in the industries changing the most.
4. Get good at choosing a boss.
When I coach people they often think they are depressed because they don’t like their work, but honestly, that’s rarely the case with depression. Recently published research shows that it’s the boss, not the workload, that causes depression at work. This is consistent with research Dan Pink presents in his book Drive that says that we are happy at work if we have a satisfactory level of control over what we’re doing, along with a feeling of competence. This workplace situation depends on your boss, though, because you need measurable goals that are challenging but not out of reach, and it’s difficult for a boss to make those type of well-defined goals.
The way to pick a boss who can do that is to focus on reputation. A good boss will have a slew of people who will tell you how that boss has helped their career. The boss will also have influence with his or her boss so you know you’ll be working on projects that are important to the company. Too often people focus on the glamour factor of a new job. But you’ll have way more control over the trajectory of your career if you focus on working for people who care about mentoring you.