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The Joy Of Lowered Expectations

By Marty Nemko

People with bachelor’s and even graduate degrees are finding it ever harder to land a high-status, high-paying job, especially in the Bay Area.

Why? More people have degrees than there are jobs requiring degrees. And jobs remain scarce because they cost employers ever more thanks to skyrocketing employee benefits and the costs of the ever-increasing number of wrongful termination suits.

So, when there’s more work to be done, employers first look to automated approaches. For example, insurance underwriters are increasingly being replaced by software. When employers do have to hire, they first look to countries with educated workforces that are thrilled to be working for 80% less than Americans earn: India, China, the Philippines, Ireland, Mexico, etc.

So, I believe the average degreed person, especially if lacking a strong personal network, would be wise to consider downscaling expectations.

The good news is that lower-paying, lower-status jobs do not portend a less satisfying life. Indeed, a study reported in Jean Chatzky’s new book, You Don’t Have to Be Rich, found that people who earned $100,000+ a year are no happier than those who earn $50,000. This matches what I’ve observed among my clients and friends.

When you think about it, that makes sense. Higher salaried jobs tend to require longer hours—the worker bee goes home after 40 hours, the manager often works 60. Higher salaried jobs tend to bring more pressure. For example, lawyers, on average, are among our most intelligent and aggressive people. A job in which you spend your life competing with them may not lead to the most satisfying life. And you’ll likely have more unhappy customers than, for example, a low-status locksmith, telephone wiring installer, or massage therapist. After taxes, the salary differential rarely causes so much lifestyle improvement that the person is happier. And certainly, applying for the shrinking number of high-paying, high-prestige jobs can be inordinately frustrating. Most white-collar job openings now elicit dozens if not hundreds of applicants.

If you’ll consider lower-status and lower income careers, you’ll likely derive significant benefits:

-- Shorter, less expensive training.

-- A shorter job search.

-- Because the competition for lower-status jobs isn’t so great, if you do a concerted job search, you’ll likely find a job that is rewarding and doesn’t require 60 stress-filled hours a week.

A new book, Quick Prep Careers: profiles 75 lower-status occupations you can train for in a year or less. A few examples: (For many of the careers, I suggest a website or book for further info)

Licensed Practical Nurse. You provide bedside care: monitor vital signs, give injections, insert catheters, etc.

Insurance Claims Adjuster. Large insurance companies will often train you on the job.

Computer Service Technician. The book, A+ Certification All-in-One Exam Guide, is a low-cost way to get trained for this career.

Bill Collector. The fastest growing hirers of bill collectors are hospitals and doctors offices.

Orthotist. You build or adjust neck and limb braces and other body supports. and

Here are some quick-train careers from my book, Cool Careers for Dummies:

Computer Tutor. Get referrals from employers or computer retailers. Or be a guerrilla marketer: Stand in front of a busy computer store with a big sign, “Want a good computer tutor?”

Dispensing Optician: Help people pick out frames, then make the lenses.

Emergency Medical Technician: Initial certification is just 100-120 hours.

Fundraiser. Common tasks: coordinate fundraising events, maintain donor databases, write pitch letters and grant proposals, and pitch individuals for money. See Fundraising for Dummies.

Home Stager. In this precarious housing market, these one-day decorators are ever more often hired to turn that sty into a palace.

Locksmith. A hands-on, physically undemanding occupation that yields very happy customers —especially when they were locked out.

Massage Therapist. One of the few careers in which nearly all customers are extremely satisfied.

Manufacturer’s Sales Rep. One of the few routes to high income requiring little education. See Tom Hopkins’ Selling for Dummies.

Telecommunications Wiring/Cabling Installer/Repairer. See The Cabling Handbook.

Any self-employment that brings in money quickly. One favorite: coffee, soup, scarves, or soap sold from a well-located cart.

Advice I’d Give My Child

Status is a false God. The advantages of high-status careers are often outweighed by their disadvantages. Find a career you’re likely to enjoy that pays reasonably. Then, look pityingly at the hordes struggling to train for, land, or succeed at prestigious but often unrewarding occupations.

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