Assessing What is Important in Your Life

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By Curmudgeon

You may have read on Steve’s blog a few weeks ago that I spent time in the hospital for a potentially life-threatening condition.  It was my first time overnight stay in a hospital since I had my tonsils removed, almost forty years ago.

It was a seminal moment in my life; I had never had a health scare before, and as such things go, this one was fairly serious. Among the contributing factors where the stresses of my day job, which at extreme levels can produce damaging enzymes that wreak havoc with internal organs.  My typical work week over the last two years lasted eighty hours, including weekends.  I did too much, drank too much, and kept my stresses inside, until my body cried enough.

Steve has a wonderful post that first attracted me to his site – 8 Steps to a Six-Figure Career. Through my day jobs, freelancing, and independent consulting, I’ve made six figures since 1992.  Last month, I suddenly came to the realization that a six-figure income was a poor goal to strive for if it were killing me to achieve it.

So I quit the day job, which was the source of 80 percent of my income. I am now entirely dependent upon independent project work for my income.  I don’t know how I want to spend the next ten or fifteen years of my working life, but I do know that it’s not going to be as an office slave, working for The Man.  My plan is to spend at least through the middle of next year working on discrete projects no more than forty hours a week, until I figure out what I want my future to look like.

In one way, it is easier for me than most people. I never got into the race to have the most toys (well, I did own a classic Corvette, years ago), and year after year saved around a third of my gross income.  Money is not a problem, although I would prefer keeping the portfolio largely intact until later in life.

However, in other ways it is more difficult. Unlike Steve, I don’t have a discrete and definable set of skills in a single recognized field.  Over the last 20 years, I’ve had a number of different jobs in several very different career fields.  No recruiter would touch me for contract or permanent work.

Also, I am not a sales person. My social skills are probably below average, and while I have to spend a lot of my time interacting with others, it takes a bit of energy and focus on my part.  Yet I have to market my difficult-to-define services, write proposals (I’d always undervalued my independent work when I didn’t have to make a living off it), and close deals.

Well, a month later, it seems to be working out just fine. It turns out that I know more people than I thought, and others are reaching out to me with offers of projects.  I have several thousand dollars worth of short term projects over the next month, and later in January begin a medium term contract that by itself should make up for most of my forsaken income, while working far fewer hours.

Even though it puts me on the road for another possible six-figure income in 2010, it’s not a goal, or even a desire.  In planning the tradeoffs of your life, don’t trade off your health for money.  It’s a bad deal.

photo by Untitled blue

6 comments

  • writerscoin

    It's so hard to react to this type of post. I want to say “right on!” but at the same time it's hard to just take this advice at face value. I've never made six figures…not even close. But it's hard to say “no” to something you've never achieved. Does that make sense?

    • I would like to think that the lesson I learned wasn't about a six-figure income, but about the decisions we make in defining our lives. Certainly I found myself in the position to be able to make this decision, but that was because I pursued financial independence to excess for years leading up to this defining moment. A quality life consists of a number of things – love, friends, security, adventure, the finer things, and rewarding work – all in moderation, and all in balance. I let some of the things get out of balance, over a period of years. I'm trying to correct that.

  • I was making six figures and traveled 250 days a year.
    I am back in the classroom making $40,000 and happy at it. Stressful in someways- rewarding beyond belief. Never to travel for work again- which is fine with me.
    There is something about our health that makes us stop and take notice of the value of actually living!

  • Congratulations on your bold move! We all have events that happen in our lives to make us truly take notice and realize what is most important. Once we are at peace, natural flow begins to happen. I wish you nothing but the best in your endeavor.

  • Some things (maybe most things?) are more important than raking in piles of dough. My net is about to drop to 57% of my soon-to-be former net salary.

    Tho' I'm slightly worried about making ends meet (not very worried), the realization that I'm free at last has lifted me to a permanent emotional high. Suddenly I'm sleeping all night and not grinding my teeth. Thanks…I'll take peace, happiness, and contentment over six figures, any day. 🙂

  • Some things (maybe most things?) are more important than raking in piles of dough. My net is about to drop to 57% of my soon-to-be former net salary.

    Tho' I'm slightly worried about making ends meet (not very worried), the realization that I'm free at last has lifted me to a permanent emotional high. Suddenly I'm sleeping all night and not grinding my teeth. Thanks…I'll take peace, happiness, and contentment over six figures, any day. 🙂