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Ask Dave

Finding Career Fulfillment

Lea and her husband are debt-free except for their house. She's 38 and in an unfulfilling career. She's considering a return to school, but should she apply that money toward paying off their house?

QUESTION: Lea in Birmingham and her husband are debt-free except for their house. She’s 38 and in an unfulfilling career. She’s considering a return to school, but should she apply that money toward paying off their house?

ANSWER: The way I look at it is three things. One is the quality of life. You could make $40,000 a year doing what you’re doing if you work full time, so this is really a dollar swap. You’re not really going to make any more money. Why can’t you do some kind of counseling on the other days on a volunteer basis like pastoral counseling through your church and get the same fulfillment and not have to go write checks to get a master’s degree?

You can work with kids. You’re just not going to be able to do it in a formal position that requires licensure. Youth pastors counsel kids every day, as an example. Lay people in churches do that as well. Obviously, if you want to study counseling and learn a little bit more about it and get a little bit more in-depth, but that’s a way to help people and to get fulfillment.

I just always resist the idea that immediately, if I want to do something, I always have to go back to school. I just don’t like that formula because it’s actually not true a lot of times. And you’re not really getting anything for this except self-actualization—fulfillment. That’s really all you’re getting for this. And if you don’t actually go do it, you won’t even get that, if you don’t finish the degree and you don’t do those other things and you’ve got a kid getting ready to go off to school.

I think if I were in your shoes, and that’s what you’re asking, I probably would not spend this money until I had explored other ways to get that same level of fulfillment. What is it that’s attractive about that, and is there another way to find that in the marketplace while helping people?

I do a lot of counseling. I’m not a licensed counselor, and I don’t do anything that’s illegal, obviously, but a lot of people who ask me questions here on the air, a lot of things we’re doing in financial coaching looks a lot like marriage counseling sometimes. In that sense, I get that fulfillment, and yet I didn’t go get a master’s degree in counseling in order to do what I do. Some say I should have, but I didn’t. Instead, I’ve got what’s known as experience and hard knocks. Common sense—those kinds of things.

I just always wonder if there’s not another way to get at what you’re doing without automatically saying the best way to live my life is go get another degree. I get that you don’t want to be a hygienist anymore, and I’m okay with that. But is there some other methodology you can do? And if not, then go do it as long as you pay cash for it. I’m fine with that. And of course you’ve got to figure out a way to pay cash for your kids’ school too, and, “You need to get a scholarship,” is not much of a plan because even if they get a scholarship, you’re going to have to have money for their room and board and other stuff. You’re going to have to work on all of those things at the same time.