Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Are You a Risk Taker?

Yesterday a coworker asked me if I was nervous about leaving my salaried position at the end of the month to enter the unpredictable world of billable hour therapy.

Um, duh.

The conversation quickly turned into one of those situations where she judged me by pretending to compliment me, while I stood there trying not to strangle her.

"You're SO brave, giving up all that stability for something that could TOTALLY RUIN YOUR LIFE! I'd love to do what you're doing, but with my kids and everything... Oh that's right, you have a kid too! Well, I'm sure he won't mind eating ramen noodles for dinner every night. Not that he'll have to; I'm sure it will go GREAT!"

I smiled and nodded while containing my inner assassin, but I found myself wondering if my coworker was right. As a single parent, am I making a stupid mistake by taking a job with no guaranteed paycheck?

Cost vs. Benefits

As you guys know, I've spent a lot of time debating what to do with my career. On one hand, there's my current job as director of a residential facility for kids. I have a crappy salary, I work long hours without compensation, I'm on call 15-18 days a month, and I'm so stressed I can't sleep at night. BUT, I know exactly how much money I'll bring home every two weeks, my bills are paid, and I'm making progress toward my debt.

On the other hand, I have the new job. Returning to full-time therapy after a two-year hiatus. Practically unlimited freedom, plus the ability to earn more than double what I make right now. More time with my son. BUT, I have no real way to predict what I'll make because it depends on people showing up. If I don't work, I don't get paid.

Risk Assessment

I've always been a risk taker. If there's a roller coaster, I'll ride it. Bungee jumping? No sweat. I've even been known to squish spiders with my bare hand if there is no other handy way to kill them. When I think about taking risks with my finances, though, I get kind of panicky.

In my not-so-distant past, I took financial risks all the time. I had no emergency fund, I used credit cards to buy stuff I couldn't afford, and I ignored the future because it seemed so, I don't know, far away.

Now? I've made a lot of progress (pats self on back) and stopped doing dumb things. Well, for the most part. Anyway, I've finally gained a tiny foothold on a mini ledge of stability. It seems really dumb to throw that away. I'm worried that, despite my careful planning, the ups and downs of my paychecks will result in unnecessary purchases and/or the complete draining of my emergency fund. What if I have a car accident and can't work? What if my ancient washer and dryer stop working? I've traded the stress of my current job for the potential stress of the new one, and I haven't even started yet.

To Leap, or Not to Leap?

I'll tell you exactly what made me decide to change jobs even though I'm freaking out a little. I'm tired of being stuck because I'm too afraid of the unknown. For years, I've accepted the myth that social workers can't make money, that we're all broke and shopping for work clothes at Goodwill (not that there's anything wrong with Goodwill - I have found some awesome stuff there!). I accepted the myth of the struggling single mother who works herself to death to make ends meet. And I MADE A CHOICE to live and work in ways that made me unhappy to perpetuate those myths.

Straightening out my finances has empowered me to take control of other aspects of my life where I previously had no control. I decided I don't have to do this anymore. I don't have to work 60 hours a week for peanuts. I gave myself permission to make different choices and seek more happiness than a regular paycheck can give me. I feel fairly confident that I won't starve to death with the new job, but I also know I'll have to be very disciplined if I want to make it work.

I know a lot of people wouldn't make the same choice I did. And that's okay, if those people can live with the status quo. I couldn't. And pretty soon you'll all see if my gamble pays off. In a series of very lengthy posts in which I probably lose your interest after two paragraphs. :)

Are you a risk taker? Have you ever risked something important for the potential bigger rewards? How did it turn out for you?


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