I’ve written before about the concept of “The Lottery” as it pertains to certain people who want to have it all in their careers. What’s winning the lottery to them? Living in a big house in a highly desirable location like San Francisco or New York with a wide range of cultural options nearby to take advantage of. How do they hope to win that way of life where high costs may be offset to some degree by high wages? Perhaps by being lucky enough to work at a place like Google or Microsoft or Apple or Facebook.
As you might imagine, just like the winners of the lottery itself, this group is an awfully small one. Therefore, for so many others, it might be smarter to explore a perspective where “having it all” doesn’t have to mean working in the most expensive area while living in a much smaller apartment or house.
Instead, what if you explored a different kind of place to work and live – such as Chicago – where the pay could be slightly less but the standard of living could be substantially higher? It’s potentially a more reasonable progression, where a high degree of professional success doesn’t have to be accompanied by an extreme sacrifice to one’s living conditions. Some might even call this outcome “the best of both worlds.” Or, at the very least, it could be a far more preferable option.
The key ingredient for job seekers in evaluating the best area that fits their goals and lifestyle may not be the cost of living alone. We’ve always aimed to ascertain the true cost of living by asking questions like, “What’s the cost of living in Manhattan as opposed to Toledo?” But is that really the best way to quantify cost of living?
No. Instead, a better approach may be to consider the cost of living in connection with one’s family circumstances.
After all, for a 23-year-old single person, the cost of living is going to be very different than a 35-year-old married person who has two kids. If you’re 23, you don’t care if your bedroom is the size of a postage stamp and might actually enjoy the fact that you’re finally on your own. You don’t expect to live in a house with a backyard anytime soon anyway. You’re more likely to be living with a roommate in that tight apartment space and can even walk to work. There aren’t a lot of responsibilities in life that you’re currently tied to.
Now imagine if you’re 35 with two kids in the same space or similar. Instead of feeling independent and free, you’re feeling more confined. The demands of what you need to sufficiently provide for your family create a tougher situation financially with more mouths to feed, more clothes to buy and more soccer practices to drive to.
From this point of view, it’s my feeling that the person considering their first job out of college and thinking about whether or not to relocate needs to picture the “movie” version of their lives as opposed to looking at the “snapshot” version right in front of them. In other words, the more you can picture yourself beyond the current phase of life you’re in and are able to envision what life may look like for you a decade or more from now, you may be best prepared to change your plans seamlessly when the time comes rather than be caught off guard.
What’s Your Movie Telling You?
Here’s what the long-term movie version of your career may be telling you as opposed to the quick snapshot of the here and now: It’s quite possible that you might live in many different places over the course of your career. Therefore, as you plan for your career path, it’s important to think in terms of a lifestyle plan at the same time – one that is designed to recognize the realities of how things change and can help you pivot appropriately based on the phase of life you’re not only in but the next one you’re progressing into.
For example, if you’re a single individual, you may be able to move to a very high cost of living area such as San Francisco because you don’t have a lot of expenses compared to a large family. By the time that you’re ready to buy a house, however, a home in San Francisco may not be financially feasible for you. So you start thinking about moving to Chicago, where you can not only buy a home but possibly get much more of one.
Then, when you’re living in Chicago for many years and see your retirement years on the horizon, you may ask yourself, “What’s my cost of living going to be as a retired person?”
Here again, we have to evaluate cost of living not in an independent way but in the context of our particular stage in life. In this instance, you may know of some friends who have moved to a community in Mexico and found their dollars were going very far. For one, medical care in that part of the world is cheaper. In fact, there is a wide range of things that might be significantly cheaper for a retired person to benefit from.
You may be wondering how a recruiter like Roy Talman & Associates has this kind of conversation with a candidate, especially since we’re obviously dealing in the present day with a potential job opportunity right in front of the individual. The answer: What we get into is more of a discussion with people who are currently working in Silicon Valley or somewhere on the west coast. Some of these people may have even “won the lottery” going to work for a company like Google and have been there for several years. Still, even as a lottery winner, guess what? They’re ready for something different.
Interestingly enough, we find that people who move to high cost places that are not native to them are also not putting roots in the area. After a period of time, they leave. We see this all the time with people going to Seattle and coming back to Chicago or people going to Silicon Valley and coming back to Chicago. The rationale for going to these areas in the first place is usually very different than the rationale for coming back. Unquestionably, part of that difference from then and now has a lot to do with cost of living in relation to changing family circumstances.
We have to make adjustments for cost of living for different people – not just speak of “cost of living” as a term that applies to everyone in the same way.
In working with a variety of candidates over the years, have we seen winners of “the lottery” as it’s often defined? Yes. But is that the only path to winning? Absolutely not. Unfortunately, the real problem is what’s called survival bias: The “lottery” winners are far more frequently written about even though there are many more people who are perfectly happy and successful living in an environment far from Silicon Valley and not necessarily working for Google or Facebook. Many of them have great success stories in their own right, even if that story isn’t as frequently told.
In reality, winning the lottery in your career can be influenced by your ability to not only evaluate the potential work environment that lies in front of you but also how well you can envision working there many years from now when your family priorities may shift and change. How likely is that workplace, from a culture and management perspective, going to be in sync with how your life evolves?
You may not readily know the answer to this question and others like it, but you don’t have to discover it on your own either. Roy Talman & Associates has been working with a wide range of tech and financial trading companies for over 30 years, giving us the insight to know which types of businesses are more likely to mesh with the life at work you want to achieve while helping you balance the life at home you want to live. In fact, in our follow-up post, we’ll share a story of someone who settled for nothing less than achieving this balance on his own terms – communicating as much to his employer on his very first day.