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Ask Dave

Make Sure You've Found Your Zone

Brian and his wife want to quit their jobs. They have $81,000 in savings and owe $68,000 on their home. Should they pay off their home or keep the money as security until they've established new careers?

QUESTION: Brian in Boise and his wife are both tired of their jobs. They want to quit and do something else but don’t know how they should go forward. They have $81,000 in savings, and they owe $68,000 on their home. Should they pay off their home or keep the money there as security until they’ve established new careers?

ANSWER: I don’t borrow money, so I don’t tell people to borrow money. If I were in your shoes, I would find a process and a way to pay cash for this transition. It sounds like you’ve done a great job with your money. Congratulations. You have $81,000 in the bank and a $68,000 mortgage. Life is good on your planet. There’s probably going to be one of you making the transition and then the other one. It’s probably not both at once. I don’t think you have the money for that.

If you pay off the house, you have $13,000. How are we going to pay for college? You have a plan to cash flow it. I’m in. You’re going to pay off the house and cash flow college and life to make your transition. That’s the plan. The big rule is no borrowing. The second big rule is make sure where you’re headed is the right direction. Don’t be climbing this ladder and find out it’s leaning on the wrong wall.

Teaching has a lot of possible applications. The classroom is one. I’m a teacher, so there’s a lot of ways that you can manifest your teaching gift in the marketplace. In the classroom with children is one. The gift of being able to help other people understand things—teaching—can be used a lot of different ways. Really spend some time soul searching for you and for your wife, what these new directions mean, and it sounds like you’ve done that. I’m just going to push on you to do that and challenge you to make really, really sure because I don’t hear this in your language or even between the words, but sometimes in our culture when people lose a job or when they hate their job and they want to transition, they immediately think they have to go back to school as if another degree is going to make their life okay. And it’s not.

Finding your zone, finding your passion and what it is you’re good at, and finding these things that you’re fired up about where every day is a vacation ... that is more important than the degree. You may or may not need a degree out there if you’re listening to Brian and I have this discussion. Obviously, if you’re going to teach in the classroom, you do. I don’t have a teaching degree. I have a business degree, but I teach. And I don’t have to have a degree to sit here and yak on the radio. My point is to just make real sure you’re not falling for the illusion that a degree is going to give you your dreams. Make sure that the ladder is leaning on the right wall, and stay out of debt. Those would be my three things.

You’ve proved that this is well thought out. You don’t have a vague sense of, “I’d like to be a teacher.” You told me exactly what your goal is. You’re in good shape. You guys are going to be fine. Just be willing to work hard enough and to sacrifice deep enough to do this dream without it turning into the nightmare of student loans. You were already heading that way anyway. I think this is a dream you guys go live. Your engineering background lends you to planning things well. All of the parts of this discussion apply to your wife as well when we’re discussing her part of this and what she’s going to go do.