What Are The Opportunity Costs Of Staying At A Job You Dislike?

Opportunity Costs

I went on a guided fishing trip in Florida last winter and our guide, Larry was one of the best saltwater fishing guides I have ever met, and he happened to leave an impression on me.  It wasn’t necessarily his proficiency at locating fish, although we did happen to land a couple big ones.  It wasn’t his ability to make our ride and experience enjoyable, but I have no complaints there.  It was his life story, wisdom, and his advice for doing what you love…and then make a living at it.  He says that if you do what you love, you will be more committed to it and eventually the money will follow.  It challenged me to think, what are the costs of staying at a job where you are ‘working to live’ when you would really be getting more out of a career where you are ‘living to work’.

Are you living to work or working to live?

For those who are fortunate to be ‘living to work’, and I admit, I am not one.  Your lives center on your work, and your achievement or the constant yearning for achievement in that profession is a major source of satisfaction and meaning in your lives.  For the rest of us, who admittedly are ‘working to live’ and pay bills, our careers are often a means to an end, not an end in itself.  Many of us do take great pride in our work, and put great effort in doing our jobs well, but our jobs are simply not the center of our lives.

What about ‘living to work’ did my saltwater fishing guide advise me of?

Larry told me that he had worked for 35 years in a job that “put food on the table”.  It was very apparent that he regretted having stayed at that job for such a long period of time.  Not that he was whining or complaining, he was just expressing how much he loved his passion for being on the water, meeting people from all walks of life, and being able to fish every day of his life.  Funny thing is, after guiding for just the last 6 years he had built up a clientele which afforded him a great living.  He said that he was close to replacing the wage he was making in his 35th year at his former job.  In six measly years!  He could have been doing this job for the last 30 years. Seemed like a lot of lost time, but he didn’t see it that way.  He found value in those 35 years, but I could read between the lines, Larry had a sense of regret.  This regret was wrapped in a prism of gratitude for being given the courage to try his hand as a saltwater guided fishing.  He was a very upbeat, enjoyable human being and I was grateful to have been able to spend time hearing his story.  Not to mention he was a excellent fishing guide who knew where all the hungry fish were!

So what “cost” are you paying for staying at your dead end job?

Time is passing you by, and time is our most precious and finite commodity.  Are you suppressing your desire to pursue your passion because you have bills to pay?  Your in good company, most of us are.  Society teaches us to get a good education, find a job which pays you well and offers great benefits, and retire with your gold watch after 30 years of service.  What are you trading for this “job security”?  Individualism, creativity and passion are often the opportunity cost of ‘working to live’ rather than making the conscious decision to ‘live to work’.  Take advice from Larry, don’t trade 35 years of service in a career you tolerate, for the perceived insecurity of a career in which you would be passionate about, if you would simply make the leap.

Do I plan to ‘Live to Work’?

I do, it just may take a couple of years.  I am currently a W2 employee at a job I like.  I am not to the point where I am able to take the plunge, as John at frugalrules calls it.  I have plans to do so one day, but first I have to work on paying off my rental mortgages, by using Derek’s advice.  I am also hoping that this blog will help to define my path toward living to work!




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  1. Love this, Jim, and it reminds me of my hubby. We are working fervently toward financial independence so that he no longer is forced to be at a job that doesn’t make him happy.

    • Jim says:

      Yep, That is what ultimately drove Larry to starting his own thing, and I hope to follow his suit one day!

    • Jim says:

      For sure Laurie, sometimes we have to continue working at a job that is not ideal while preparing to live to work later.

  2. I took the leap earlier this year. I got tired of making other people boat loads of money and working 50-60+ hours per week to do so. Now I see my family, spend time enjoying the things that really matter. I don’t need as much as I thought and I personally feel I can do just as well if not better on my own doing my own business. I expect to reach financial freedom before summer 2015. Those are the goals at least.

    • Jim says:

      Remarkable Thomas, what are the businesses you are in that have allowed you this freedom. I commend you for sure!!

  3. Derek Knight says:

    Thanks for the mention Jim.
    I like the “work to live” vs. “live to work”. I hope our shared stories will convince others to live more fulfilling lives!

  4. That is some great advice Jim. As I was reading this article it felt like you were reading a chapter out of my life story except for the fact that I haven’t made it to the point were I am to do the work I love yet simply because I am not earning enough yet to consider making it a full time career.

    My current career is an OK job and like your guide it puts food on the table but for me I want more out of life not just the normal 9 to 5 J O B. I hope to change this soon.

    Oh just thought I would let you know I will be showcasing your article this week in my Top 10 List on Saturday on my blog.

  5. My job is definitely not dead end. Do I love it? No. But I’d never, ever want to live to work. That’s just depressing. I don’t believe in doing things that I love for money, because personally, when I depend on something for my income, I stop loving it and it seems more of, well, a job!

    • Jim says:

      Agreed Daisy, if you dread your job, going to work everyday and being productive makes it all the more challenging!

  6. Jim says:

    Thank you so much for the mention Laurie!!

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