It is no secret that student loan debt is an epidemic these days. As someone who just graduated from a doctorate-level program, my student loans are piled high and extremely overwhelming. I am sure that many fellow graduates from any type of program know and feel the same struggles. United we all stand, young, wild and maybe not so free due to the financial burden of it all.
Along with student loan debt come dreams and aspirations. I have always dreamed of traveling and working with the pediatric population post-graduation. Unfortunately I am in a situation in which travel jobs and pediatric therapy do not necessarily mix and pediatric jobs themselves are generally lower-paying and require more experience than other clinical settings. Amidst my job search, I have tried to keep my options open, this includes the option of taking a higher-paying, non-pediatric job close to home in order to get an early jump on paying back my student loans.
So I have a choice: money or happiness? This is a choice I think that many of us face, especially when looking for that first full-time job in our field of study. I have had a lot of trouble with this decision because I worry that if I don’t go travel and adventure now then I never will; life will catch up to me, I will settle down and responsibilities will build making these dreams less conceivable. I have spoken to some friends and it seems that I am not alone in my worries. At the same time, wouldn’t it be more logical to take that higher-paying job with better benefits, build up my savings and begin alleviating the heavy weight on my shoulders of debt? Then I could finally use my earnings to go travel and to have those adventures in a more carefree and relaxed manner.
But then my heart takes over the thoughts of my head and I want to go rather than stay. I want the clinic full of kiddos and to go to new places, letting my imagination and independence shine. So I guess that I have a new choice to make: head or heart? I have people in my corner no matter the decision for which I am more than grateful. They tell me that if I need to go, then go, but if I need to stay, then stay.
You may be asking "Are money and happiness necessarily mutually exclusive?" I have been asking myself the exact same thing, hoping that during my job search I stumble upon that substantially paying pediatric job that is willing to hire a new graduate with limited experience (you know since most places want you to have experience to gain experience -- yet another dilemma that we face). To those of you who somehow scored that dream job in that dream location with a beautifully substantial paycheck, cheers to you; however, for the rest of us I think it is important to remember that we are just getting started and everyone needs to start somewhere. We can achieve the dream job with the substantial paycheck, just maybe not right away.
I don’t really know what the future holds, but I think that either way I will be okay and you will be too. Just because you take that logical job right out of school doesn’t make you a sell-out, it makes you a determined person that is willing to grin and bear it until you can go on the adventure of a lifetime. At the same time, just because you take the lower-paying job and go on adventures right out of school (whatever they may be, far or local) doesn’t make you irresponsible, it just means that your heart needs what it needs and I think that to recognize that is a very responsible thing.
For those of you struggling just like me, I have no doubt that we will get there. Just promise me that you will stick to that five or ten year plan and follow those dreams whether it be now or later. There is nothing wrong with using your head, but don’t neglect that amazing heart of yours. We didn’t spend years in school to not eventually end up right where we want to be. So money or happiness? That is completely up to you. As for me, I'm going to let my heart decide.