Can You Afford to Follow Your Dreams? Can You Afford NOT to?
This is where I was going to write a lot of pretty things about having priorities and about how money can't be everything or else you'll die sad. In the last couple of days, though, these ideas have become very personal. So, instead of my pretty thoughts, here's my story.
This semester, Dave began studying to teach Jr. High/High School math. It seemed like a decent career move at the time because, while he has several degrees, he's not particularly marketable outside of a narrow niche and he doesn't want to work in that niche. Teaching picks up on many of his natural gifts and also pays the rent. It's transferrable, so we could eventually move, and it could eventually provide enough financially that I could stay home with our children...when we have them (since daycare costs are off the map, at least in our area). Really, having Dave get credentialed to teach makes perfect sense.
However, as he got into his studies, it became pretty clear that teaching math is not what he really wants to do. For one thing, he likes ideas. He'd much rather discuss those with students than how to do math problems. But also, his studying was keeping him from pursuing his dreams. While he doesn't want to work in the usual niche for his degree, he has come up with a way to use what he's learned to teach and interact with others, and not have to take the path traditional for someone with his education. To do this, though, involves lots of networking and even more time and energy for things to get off the ground. He has several openings for his ideas, but we haven't felt like we've had the leeway to pursue them, as we have felt like paying off our school debt is a major priority.
Let me add that one of my dreams is for this business to take off for Dave. It would allow him to do many of the things that I find most attractive in him.
So, this weekend, we decided to give up pursuing the "sure thing" career for him so that he can use his time to develop the speaking/seminars/consulting business he's always wanted.
In the end, the decision hinged on what we want to be able to say at the end of our lives. When I'm dying I don't think I'll care much about the size of my house (or even if I owned one), the make and model of my car, or even how nicely I was able to dress my children. I'll care a lot more about who I am and who Dave is, who we helped each other become and how we got there. I'll care about what we tried just because we loved it and how many times we were able to bankrupt ourselves traveling (that's the only thing I'd ever totally and completely bankrupt myself for, but that's another post). I'll care about whether or not we took the risks our dreams required, whether we were willing to put it all on the line for something we believed in. When I looked at it that way, I couldn't bear to walk the safe road just for the sake of safety any longer.
Lest you think I'm just a sentimental idealist, we also realized (how practical of us!) that the relative value of the financial security we were pursuing wasn't very high. Even if we paid off all of our debt more rapidly than we could possibly imagine, we wouldn't be satisfied. We would be more secure, but not happy. The money that we could then accumulate (when we were not longer using it to pay off debt) could not buy us our dreams, nor the years spent not pursuing them. For us, that price was simply not worth paying.
The truth is that we're not quite throwing it all on the line here. We didn't just throw ourselves on the mercy of anyone who will help. We have a plan, and that plan includes (and even focuses on) our finances. With my job and his jobs, we will be fine financially. We may not pay off our debt early, but we'll make our monthly payments on time. We may not buy a home or have a kid for a few more years, but I'm not convinced I'm ready for that anyway. We will probably be living on a tighter budget than most of our friends, but that's a sacrifice we're willing to make. We're willing to be less successful financially to be more successful as whole human beings.
Is all of this scary? Sure. In fact, even yesterday and today I found myself thinking, "Did we really do that? What were we thinking? Can we take it back?" But I won't take it back. Pursuing dreams is something I believe in, even when it means taking a hit or entering uncertainty financially.
For you, what trumps financial success?