I am a nerd by both nature and nurture. My defining adolescent memories fall into the following categories: athletic ineptitudes, social disgrace, and conciliatory academic achievements. I aspired to be a grammarian or writer. Feeling my life too linear up to college graduation, I decided to forsake all plans and become a paramedic. I wanted to find my limits physically and emotionally. I wanted some adrenaline. So I plunged into a profession where people were impressed by zero of the items on my liberal-arts-kid résumé.
The job disassembled me; it fixed my social awkwardness and classist snobbery, then rebuilt me stronger, street-smarter, and way more fun. But the decision to become a paramedic was cowardly; my strongest motivator was fear. I feared competition in the mainstream job market. I could not handle the thought of moving to NYC (or another metropolis) and applying for cerebral, creative jobs among throngs of similarly qualified new graduates. I do not possess enough bravery to face repeated rejection while living in financial precariousness. Perhaps the media exaggerates the scarcity of jobs, and maybe I would have been pleasantly surprised with my prospects, but I never took the risk.
I salute those of you who work in competitive fields. To me, it seems you must have both intellectual prowess and unrelenting tenacity. It takes incredible courage to job hunt in today’s climate, and to successfully promote yourself above your peers. Then, the competition is ever fiercer once you enter the corporate workplace, or so it seems to me. In the world of investing, you’ll come across the term “risk tolerance” which summarizes the spectrum of investment styles. Someone who can tolerate more risk will have an aggressive portfolio, this typically means mostly stocks, which may sharply increase or decrease in value, but which have the greatest potential to build wealth rapidly. A low-risk portfolio may contain more bonds and CDs, both of which have a much slower but more likely upward trajectory. I have a moderate risk tolerance when it comes to investing, which I am able to do with the money that’s left over when my bills are paid. I have almost no risk tolerance for my career. I am deeply thankful for my steady paycheck, and I would be an anxious mess on a variable income. The word “freelance” gives me palpitations.
Ambulance work is not glamorous. It is rewarding at times, and it has taught me invaluable lessons. On most shifts, however, I work contentedly with neither love nor hate for the job. My income is not monumental, but it does put me securely in the middle class and comfortably pays a mortgage. I would not have gambled on many other career paths to achieve this by age 28. I can only speak for my experience, but as an upper-middle-class teen, I was programmed for the following: a four-year degree from a liberal arts college, followed by graduate school, and then an entry-level job in some intellectual or creative field. Afterward, I could expect to work my way slowly back to the upper-middle class, inhibited only by my student loans. This plan felt like betting all my Life Tokens on a Vegas slot machine.
I understand the young person’s desire for greatness. We are a generation with passion. We challenge our elders as well as each other. We want to feel the sting of the cutting edge. But it’s okay to pursue financial stability amidst the innovation. Many blue-collar jobs have served prior generations to this end. They remain pillars of our economy and the spine of our increasingly outsourced American lifestyle. Whence do you turn when you need a pipe fixed, or a car problem diagnosed, or a horde of termites vanquished? Let’s all hope plumbers and mechanics and exterminators are here to stay. These jobs don’t wield much allure, I agree. And, it can be difficult to consider a blue-collar field after busting your butt for four years in high school and then doing it all over again in college. I started my paramedic program after earning a Bachelor’s from a pretty prestigious university. Following said degree with a trade school was a little unusual, for sure. However, I can tell you I was making a considerable amount of money before most of my college classmates and have continued to climb a payscale since.
If you’re pursuing a defined goal that inspires you, I’m not here to question that. This message for the belt-and-suspenders people like me (it’s a metaphor, not a fashion statement). My job not only pays me well (belt) but also maintains professional certifications that I could use to obtain future employment if needed (suspenders). I have chosen security at the expense of some job satisfaction. Ideally, yes, we would all have both of those things, but if you have to prioritize one, which would you choose? Don’t count out the jobs that are a little messy, or a little too “masculine.” If it’s a job that others don’t want, someone might pay you a small fortune to do it.
Kayla Murdock is a paramedic who loves personal finance, crossword puzzles, and her pet rabbit. She is a self-educated finance enthusiast, who writes to share ideas and promote discussion. She is not a financial professional, and her articles do not constitute financial advice or suggest a fiduciary relationship. Consult a professional regarding your own money decisions. Follow her on Twitter and find her blog here.
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