This is what the administrative assistant at my tax adviser’s office said to me yesterday when I lamented the household income of a husband and wife who are both educators (read: me and my wife). I had been discussing my realization that an elementary school teacher and university staff member don’t exactly reap and sew lucrative salaries, and she was quick to counter with a simple series of questions:

Do you love your job? 

“Yes,” I said confidently.

Does your wife love her job? 

“Yes, she does,” I replied.

And that’s when she shook the earth on which I stood with her acute observation regarding the currency of sanity.

Sanity pays the bills, huh? I thought.

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Growing up as a youngster in a middle-class family situated in a small-town suburb outside Lansing, going to college wasn’t an “if” for me; it was a “when.”

My parents made it fairly clear that I ought to aspire for enrollment in a college or university, and they were gracious enough to offer to pay for a percentage of my schooling. As it came time for college exploration during my junior and senior year of high school, I matched their expectations with uncanny enthusiasm for spreading my wings and flying away to a higher education institution where I could meet new people, learn a great deal, and find out what I really wanted to be when I grew up. Going to college was an expectation. And in my eyes, identifying my career of choice was an expectation, too.

Like millions of other wide-eyed high school graduates from Generation Y — we’re called “Millenials” by scholars, supervisors, and critics — I figured 4 to 5 years in college would lead me to my calling. My destined career. The job for which I was meant. But when I walked across the stage of WMU’s Miller Auditorium to receive my diploma, I remember being more confident in the core skills I had developed than the vocation I was meant to pursue. Which is a vastly different circumstance from the many generations before me…

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Teenagers from “The Greatest Generation”  as well as Baby Boomers and even the notorious “helicopter parents” of today’s Millenials enrolled in and graduated from a college or university under a myriad of contextual differences compared to those braved by me and my peers in today’s economy. The path to college wasn’t a forgone conclusion, it wasn’t an ingrained expectation. And graduates in the 50s and 60s didn’t necessarily have the luxury to pursue the career of their choice.

Bottom line: bills had to be paid and food had to be placed on a table.

So what if you weren’t doing the job of your dreams? Next month’s mortgage loomed and there wasn’t always time to continue the “career exploration” beyond the formidable boundaries of a college campus. Most college curricula streamlined rather nicely into a profession.

Today’s graduates are entering a different climate. The knowledge economy is a different beast than the previous ages of industrialism and agriculture.  Transferable skills are the name of the game. Which is why so many twenty-somethings are confused beyond belief….

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Chained to shackles by student loan debt, held to higher expectations by our parents and society, students are entering the workplace in droves without a concrete sense of what they’re meant to do. Our greatest luxury — the freedom to pursue our passion and call it our job — is also seemingly our biggest burden. The choices for vocation are endless. Many college programs of today aren’t streamlined into a professional school, particularly those in the liberal arts, where core competencies such as critical reasoning, reading, writing, communication, and citizenship are a primary focus. In some circles, if we’re not engaged in a job that we love, we’re made to feel like we’re missing out, like we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing.

The remark from my tax adviser’s office reminded me of the burden of my luxury.

I do love my job. I’ve identified a set of transferable skills that I hope to ride like a magic carpet into the next stage of my career.

I wake up every morning excited to attack the day.

But with that bliss comes the stark realization that I’m not afforded the liberty to lament my educator’s salary. My household income is a direct reflection of my conscious choice to pursue something worthwhile to me. Something about which I’m passionate. Sanity pays the bills.

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As you wake up this morning, I encourage you to reflect on the career you’re pursuing and how it fits the life you hope to have. What kind of job interests you? Do you want your avocation to be your vocation? Do you prefer a job that pays handsomely so you can do what you want outside that 9am – 5pm window? Will your preferred career afford you the balance and lifestyle you’re after?

For me, I’m facing the music that my happiness won’t necessarily come from my bi-weekly paycheck. My burden is my luxury.

My job keeps me sane; my career makes me smile every morning, afternoon, and evening. I’ll use that currency when the bills pile up.

At least that’s what my Tax Adviser said on Wednesday

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Chris Sell is a proud graduate of MSU’s Student Affairs program. During his time in graduate school, he worked as a Career Services Assistant student employee for MSU Alumni Career Services. Currently, he is an Assistant Director/Career Services Specialist at Western Michigan University. You can find him and his terrific blog at http://www.christophersell.com/ to learn more about my professional work and ways he’s been able to combine his vocation and avocation. You can follow him on Twitter @WMUBronco_Chris.

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