Getting Paid To Do What You Love
I’ve always been curious about how people choose their professions. Some people seem to have a calling in their lives from a young age. Others feel like they’ll never find the right path for themselves. But today I suspect more and more people are choosing professions that provide personal fulfillment. Jennifer is one such example.
“I love food and wine, so it’s nice to be able to eat and drink for free as part of work every day.” Jennifer is an aspiring sommelier, just starting her career in a unique and glamorous field. But how does one become a sommelier? “There are four levels of tests you have to take, and they aren’t always all offered in your city or when you want to take them. The first test has something like a 90% pass rate, but the last test has a 2% pass rate, so it gets much harder to get to the higher levels.”
In college, Jennifer knew that she wanted to learn more about wine and landed an internship with a Food & Wine Foundation in her state. Later she started working at a restaurant, and after passing one of her exams, became a professional sommelier. There’s no established career track for her job. It’s like becoming a YouTube star or a master bladesmith — you’re responsible for finding your own way, with all the risks that entails, but the payoff for the adventurous soul is more than worth it.
Wages have stagnated across the board over the past 30 years, and sommeliers are no exception. “My income isn’t great, and the city I live in is getting more expensive by the day. In college my parents paid for a lot of stuff, but now I’ve taken all of that on. It’s a lot more than I expected, but one of the perks of working in a restaurant is free food!”
On top of low wages for new entrants to the world of wine, the high cost of further testing and certification can be difficult. Tests start at $325 and increase in difficulty and cost with each level. Even very talented sommeliers can expect to take the final tests several times, adding to the costs of doing business. The same challenge affects high-performing professionals in many fields — musicians, athletes, and, of course, financial planners all face testing and membership requirements (and the fees associated with them). Sometimes those testing requirements are worth it, while other times they might not be.
“Being a sommelier tops out around $150K,” Jennifer tells me. This is for people at the very top of their profession, something Jennifer doesn’t expect to reach anytime soon. “I mean, it’s wine, not medicine,” she jokes, “and it can be hard marketing yourself and your restaurant when there are 20 others just like you out there in your city. It’s a lot of networking, a lot of hard work getting winemakers to sell their wines to your restaurant.” So that’s why what she said next surprised me.
“The more I work, the more I realize there are more things I want to do with wine.” Sure, she probably won’t stay at her restaurant forever, but she genuinely loves what she does and definitely wants to stay in the wine industry for the long haul. “I could see myself working for a family winery, running operations and logistics, maybe in Oregon or Texas.” The more we talked the more I was convinced that she had no intention of finding a new line of work.
She’s one of the few people I know who can say that. For this blog alone, I’ve had conversations with doctors, school administrators, tech workers, and consultants. Not one of them sounded like they truly loved their work for the long run, even though most of them probably make more money than Jennifer. So what’s the secret to finding a career that you love?
There have been many books written on this subject, and I’m guessing the people who write and publish those books have something in common with Jennifer — they create a path where no clear one exists, they exchange security now for potential success later, they tolerate uncertainty and love learning, and they smile a lot. Jennifer smiles a lot. So what does this have to do with financial planning?
One of Monte Largo’s core tenets is Happiness Is The Most Enviable Luxury. We’ve worked with countless clients to help them get out of the working world, enabling them to find happiness or giving them more free time to learn what makes them happy. What we’ve yet to focus on is the possibility that some people might be able to simply find a new career that pays less than their current one to achieve happiness sooner – given they meet at least some of the criteria above.
Don’t get me wrong, Jennifer’s life isn’t perfect. The long hours she works makes it difficult to start a family — something she wants to do someday — and she did seem annoyed at the double edged sword of the growing city life, which offers just as many expenses as opportunities. If she didn’t have to worry about money and could live somewhere in wine country, she’d probably be happier, but her story comes as close to finding The Most Enviable Luxury as any I’ve heard.
For now, I’m still convinced that becoming a member of the idle rich is the easiest way to find happiness for most people, not because being wealthy makes you happy — it almost certainly does not — but because the wealthy have more time to figure out what to do with their most valuable asset, time itself, after they become wealthy. However, Jennifer’s story proves that some paths might lead to happiness in other, less obvious ways, and that’s food – or perhaps wine – for thought. Cheers.
Nathan is the Chief Financial Advisor at Monte Largo Financial
*Jennifer’s name has been omitted for privacy