Why Your $40K Job May Be Better Than A $100K One

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If you would rather have a job you love that pays less than a high-paying job you hate, good news: You're not crazy, and you're not alone. A recent paper entitled “How Millenials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America” released by the Brookings Institute is chock full of statistics about what we can expect in the economy and the workforce in the future — including the following statement: “A recent Intelligence Group study found that 64 percent of millennials said they would rather make $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 at a job they think is boring.” Policy Mic singles this out as particularly interesting, and they’re definitely onto something — this is actually pretty big news. Here’s why.

Although I’m sure some would take this as yet another sign of the millennial sense of entitlement — “I’m only going to work jobs I feel are worthy of my awesomeness” or what have you — I think it’s a step in the right direction. Too often, making mountains of money is held up as the only signifier of success, which I think is a mistake. In truth, success is difficult to quantify in the same way that education is. Sure, you can chalk it up to numbers — but if someone is happier and more fulfilled in a job that earns less, why should they be considered less successful than their six-figure counterparts? As Nonie Creme, CEO of Butter London, said in her commencement address at Scripps College for the class of 2014, “Money is only actually fun if you’re already happy.” If you’re happy and you’ve got cash to burn, good for you; but even if you don’t have boatloads of disposable income, you’re still successful as long as you’re happy (and can pay your bills).

So why the shift in perspective for this particular generation? Brookings Institute researchers Morley Winograd and Dr. Michael Hais write that data suggests millennials care about how their employers reflect their social and ethical opinions — hence wanting to work at places with social consciousness with the goal of improving the world, rather than just turning a massive profit. Winograd and Hais also note that this could have far-reaching ramifications for the economy, with it possibly even going so far as to totally rewrite the way the economy functions. And again, I think this is a good thing — in spite of the progress we’ve made since the recession hit, it’s still pretty clear that our economy is broken. A large-scale paradigm shift might be the only way to both repair and improve it — and maybe the way millennials view the job market is the right way to approach the problem.

So take heart, class of 2014. You may be more in debt than any other class before you — but maybe you're at the start of a brave new world, too. You don't have to resign yourself to one of these not-so-fun options: