Is Your High Power Job Worth the Sacrifice?

Many students go to college and pursue known money-making degrees—engineering, computer science, and business among a few of them.

They may pursue these career tracks because they are truly interested in the field, or they may choose them because they want to be financially comfortable during their lifetimes and they know that a lowly English major, while pursuing her passion, will never be rich.  (Ask me how I know.)

Follow these individuals 20 years later when they have achieved a great deal of financial success, and you may find them less delighted with both their lives and their chosen career paths.

A High Power Corporate Job Isn’t All It Seems

Monica is a friend of mine who studied accounting in college.

She joined the factory line of a pharmaceutical company while in college, and when she earned her degree, she moved up to the administrative offices.

Each year has brought her a greater promotion, and now that she has been there 20 years, she is making a very nice salary and has survived several rounds of layoffs.

price of high power job

Who has more freedom: one tied to their job or someone unemployed?

Monica often thinks of leaving her job, but she is afraid to step away from the money and the insurance benefits.  She secretly wishes that she will be offered a buyout so she could find a less stressful job, but that hasn’t happened, and though she still hopes for it, I don’t see it ever happening.

She is too valuable of an employee, and she rarely says no to her employer.

Monica has two small children, and she looks to her family members to help raise her children because she works so many hours and has to travel for work.  She is frustrated that she is unable to spend time with her family, and she is exhausted.  In the last 10 years, she has gained weight and feels miserable.

At Least You Have a Job

In this economy, people don’t like to complain about their jobs because they feel grateful to have them.

However, the ones who are left, like Monica, may be making good money, but they have more and more responsibilities put on them as other employees are laid off.  They may now be doing the work of two or three employees when just ten years ago they were only doing work for their own job.

The hours have gotten longer during this recession, and the financial compensation has not followed.

As University of California-Berkeley economist Brad DeLong notes, until not long ago,

“businesses would hold on to workers in downturns even when there wasn’t enough for them to do—would put them to work painting the factory—because businesses did not want to see their skilled, experienced workers drift away and then have to go through the expense and loss of training new ones.  That era is over.  These days firms take advantage of downturns in demand to rationalize operations and increase labor productivity, pleading business necessity to their workers.”


The True Cost of Your Corporate Job

Having money is nice.

It can bring you financial freedom, many of the pleasures in life and a comfortable retirement.  If you choose, you can donate to help others.

However, too often there is a downside to making a good living.

The hours required may cause you to sacrifice time with your kids and spouse, which may eventually lead to a divorce.  Your health can be sacrificed, not just in weight gain but in more serious conditions such as heart attacks, in part due to stress.

I am not condemning a good living.

Money is appealing and can make life much more enjoyable.

However, when you have a job that requires so many hours to make a good living that you are sacrificing your health, your family, your marriage, maybe even your life, you have to ask yourself whether your high power job is really worth the sacrifice.

If the answer is no, the time has come to ask yourself what you can do differently.

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Published or updated May 30, 2013.


  1. Does money really make life more enjoyable when you have to sacrifice your family, your health and your freedom? I would think that you would have more enjoyment spending time with your family, improving your physical health and doing the things you love rather than the things you feel you have to do.

  2. kmercadante says:

    This is such an excellent topic! I think you have to start with some basic realizations. You have maybe 80 decent years to live your life; 20+ on the front are spent growing up (varies by individual), and 5-10 might be spent winding down on the back end (again, varies by individual). So the real question is, What do you want to do with the 50 or so years in between??? That’s not nearly as much time as we commonly think we have.

    I think there’s a time to pursue money, but you don’t want to have money as your master for half a century. That’s not a life well lived.

    I have to say that the people who seem to enjoy life the most, to be the most content, are the ones who are generally divorced from the money chase. They may be rich or they may be poor, but they’re happy and money doesn’t rule them. Money is a tool to be used to have a good life, but it will never buy the kind of security we think it can. Maybe if we can think of it that way we can find some sort of happy medium that will include both happiness and money, albeit at a lower level.

    • Well said Kevin! I think we’re coming into a time, especially after the recession, where people are re-thinking their relationship with money and with working for typical corporate America.

  3. Sadly most high-paying jobs come with long hours. That is essentially an even trade in my book. I’ll gladly take less hours for less pay.

  4. I started reading this wondering how it fit with a personal finance blog, but your last paragraph wrapped it up very nicely.

    The issue is what you value most, and if it is money, most likely you’ll never have enough. But you can indeed lose many valuable things in the pursuit of the corporate ladder.

    Great article.

    • I think the question becomes more of value than money. How do you value your time? I think many forget that their time is valuable and they give up their time for money. For some it’s worth it. For others it’s not.

  5. Oh, and two take a stab at the question in the photo, “Who has more freedom: one tied to their job or someone unemployed?” my answer would be neither. One has no money and the other has no time. That’s where the happy medium become ultra important, to have both but not to allow either to take over your life.

    • This is Melissa’s article but I put that caption in the photo. I’ll admit it’s a bit extreme but you’re right – it’s a balancing act. But you know what? There are a lot of people out there who feel stuck in their job and are afraid to do anything about it. No, being unemployed isn’t the answer, but changing what your priorities are may be the answer.

  6. I don’t think that working hard for a lot of money is wrong. Nothing comes easy in life. You can do nothing and bathe in money. It’s just a sacrifice you have to make. But of course, no one is forcing you if that’s not something you want. Not everyone can start a business and just lay on the couch. You have to hustle. If you’re looking for a new well-paid job, I came across this great tool that helped me get my current awesome job.

What Do You Think?