It's common knowledge that some careers make you a lot more money than others. If you want to make the big bucks, you have to be a CEO, a top professional athlete or maybe even play poker for a living (Dan Bilzerian, anyone?). If people hear you're going into social work, communications, or teaching (hey, guys), they say things like, "Wow, you must really love what you do!"... which is just euphemism for: "You're going to be poor, so I hope you at least won't hate your job."
It's frustrating on one end that people tend to respect people less if they are in careers that make less money. A CEO of a Fortune 500 company has got to be smarter and more important than a licensed counselor, right? Of course having a great deal of influence at a massive international company gives you power — and a lot of money — but what if that counselor helps someone cope with their crippling anxiety or brings someone back from the brink of suicide? Is their influence less important?
Most everyone will agree that being in a position of wealth and power does not make you a good person, but people still tend to believe that those who choose to major in art or philosophy are somehow less intelligent and less driven than people who major in engineering or finance. I don't think that's true.
Money makes a lot of people happy. In fact, research has shown that, while money alone doesn't lead to happiness, having an overall higher income and lack of stress about getting by every day does increase happiness in pretty much everyone. But I think what people seek with their college majors, future plans and career choices reflects their interests and what they seek to gain out of life.
I'm sure there are people out there who really have a passion for crunching numbers or would rather land a business deal than take a beach vacation, but I think that most people who seek careers in high-paying fields are seeking stability and/or power. They want to know they will get a secure job in exchange for their hard work in college and in the real world, and they hope to use the money they make at that job to ensure their future plans are secure. They might enjoy the feeling of working at a well-known company or having influence over hundreds of people who work under them. I think this is admirable. I want to emphasize that this is exactly what you should be doing if this is something you want. Your job makes a big difference in the lives of many people, and I don't discount that.
I, personally, have no interest in math or technology or business, and I have no athletic ability whatsoever. This counts me out of most high-paying fields right off the bat. A lot of people would say to throw my interests out the door and suck it up, but instead, I majored in public relations and psychology and minored in English. None of these fields go together incredibly usefully, and I didn't really know where I'd take them when I declared them all, but I knew I could make a career out of PR if need be and that I'd actually look forward to attending my psych and English classes in the meantime.
So, I'm going to be a high school science teacher next year. I will be working with Teach for America in Nashville, TN, and nothing has ever excited me or made me look forward to the future more than accepting that offer — not even getting into Penn State. People know about TFA, so I get a lot of congratulations about my acceptance, but they're always followed by comments about being careful with those inner city kids or how lucky I am to be living in the Midwest since I'll only be making a teacher's salary. I'm not naïve. I know this job is going to be really, really difficult and that I'll be living in a little apartment eating iceberg lettuce and Ramen and that I won't get to take any vacations other than when my parents fly me home for the holidays.
But I am so excited for the work I'm going to be doing and the hours I'm going to be putting in every day — and many days, that will be 12 hours. I love traveling and I love food, and I know I'm going to have to make sacrifices in vacations and eating out over the next couple of years, but those are sacrifices I'm willing to make.
I don't expect everyone to understand, just like I can't understand having the dedication to pursue a degree in neuroscience or the drive to take a finance career to eventually becoming the CFO of an international firm. But while I can't relate, I can respect it, and I do. I'm amazed at all the incredible places my friends and fellow seniors are headed after graduation. I love hearing people talk about their interests and their plans for the future, and I genuinely respect everyone's choices — from grad school to entry-level communications positions to backpacking Europe for a year to figure it all out.
All I ask is respect in return. Many big-name NFL players make literally 100 times more money than I will be making next year, and they certainly have fame and influence that I never will. But if I can make one student feel like he or she is smart and capable of success, or help one student pass the state's end-of-year exams for the first time, that's my version of winning a game or closing a business deal. I'm not saying I wouldn't love a vacation home or a private jet, I'm just saying there are other things I'm more interested in accomplishing in my career than making a lot of money ... at least for now.