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Ask Dave

When Should I Change Careers?

Samantha and her husband would like to buy a house within the next couple of years, but her husband is considering a return to college to change careers. When is an appropriate time to do that?

QUESTION: Samantha in Wisconsin and her husband have $23,000 left in student loan debt. They expect to pay it off early next year. They’d like to buy a house within the next couple of years, but her husband is considering a return to college to change careers, moving into counseling. He currently makes $48,000 a year. When is an appropriate time to do that?

ANSWER: If he’s going to get a state job as an addictions counselor and earn $30,000 a year instead of $48,000, and he has two kids to feed, then the answer is no. There are addiction counselors that make $150,000 a year in the private sector, and up to $200,000 if they are really good because they have set up private practices and are very good.

But if he just wants to go and get a state job or a social-work–type situation, then it’s not worth the money. Feed your kids first. You self-actualize second. I don’t mind him developing a plan, but we need to think about the plan because the last time we developed a plan, it stunk. We need to think through where we are going with this.

Here’s the problem with this whole thing: It’s sounds a little like he thinks if he goes and gets a degree, he’ll be successful. Degrees do not make you successful. You say he wants to be happy, but you are very seldom successful doing something you are not happy at. Do not believe the lie that another degree is going to cause opportunity to come. That’s a lie.

If he is 100% sure that he wants to go into addiction counseling and you know he can make a lot more than $48,000 a year, so you get a return for having spent the money on the master’s degree, and you have a plan on how you’re going to do that and searched it out, then good. Otherwise he will be 45 years old and have seven degrees and have never done anything in his life. People do that stuff. They collect degrees like Beanie Babies.

You have to have something that you are laser focused on, and then you figure out a way to pay for it because it becomes worth it. But right now it sounds to me like there’s a good chance he goes and spends money to get a job that pays less. I’m all right with putting the house on hold to get a master’s degree to earn $100,000 instead of $50,000. If he’s going to make $25,000, he should never go back.

And don’t tell me that he’s happy making $25,000, because he’s got to feed two kids on that. That’s not happy. That’s tough. Really lay out a game plan for where he’s going much more clearly before we decide to interrupt the rest of our lives. I don’t suggest working a job you hate for your whole life. But I do suggest you don’t run from something, but instead you run to something very intentionally, strategically and tactically.