Who says you need to climb the career ladder? Why not instead focus on what matters to you?

Across the globe, our cultures seem to be moving further and further toward the glorification of the drive for power and wealth. We have a lot of little sayings about the downsides of the “rat race” and “keeping up with the Joneses”—but at the end of the day, we need only look in the mirror to see a perfect example of the people we’re mocking.

I’ve decided to pursue a life teaching English, German and whatever other languages I’ll master in the future. There is little to no prospect of “moving up” since I don’t plan to stay anywhere permanently, and I’ll probably spend a lot of time working for far-below-average pay.

So why would someone do something so ridiculous? Here’s my argument for abandoning the career ladder and instead pursuing a so-called “dead-end” career:

If You Have the Right Job, You’ll Love Working

Our society likes to say that a well-adjusted person “works to live” and doesn’t “live to work,” but I say that’s totally backwards. If the part of your day that you spend at work doesn’t count as “living,” then half of your life will be irrecoverably lost.

Instead, find the life you want to live and then figure out how to make a living from it. As a linguist, I’m obsessed with figuring out the systems and semantic intricacies of languages, and nothing fascinates me more than going off and studying them wherever I go. My career choice gives me the ability to do what I want to do for fun, and to get paid enough to live for it.

Getting to Be Different

There’s something appealing and satisfying about leaving behind the pursuit of social status and trading it in for the pursuit of personal perfection. Beware, though, that abandoning the eternal hunt for power and wealth can make you look rather alien in an increasingly suburban world.

The End of Performance Anxiety

I am not ambitious. There—I’ve said it in the simplest terms. I’m considerably more interested in making my work acceptable to myself than I am in making it impressive to my superiors.

Refusing to kiss up to one’s superiors is a luxury reserved only for those who’ve resigned themselves to the place where they are now. Luckily, I’m already there. I don’t need upward mobility, because my current momentum will already carry me to or beyond where I want to be.

Financial Independence

How can making less money give you greater financial independence? The answer lies once again in social status. Many of the most expensive things we buy (like nice cars, large houses with big, green lawns and entertainment items) are luxury items that serve as a black hole for our incomes.

There is, of course, a certain level of income needed to live while being financially independent, but that number rises and falls depending on where you live and your own perceived social status.

What do you think? Do you see the benefits of pursuing a “dead-end” career?

Micha Boettiger is a linguist, blogger and writer. Read his observations and opinions on a variety of topics at his blog, http://www.mindpeeler.com/.


  1. Careerleaf

    You’ve made some interesting points, Micha! I also agree that many should be focusing on living to work, rather than working to live. There are many individuals who find that climbing the career ladder just isn’t for them and prefer to do something that they simply enjoy, even for less pay and stability. It’s important for job seekers to spend time creating a career path that best suits their needs.

  2. The Balanced WorkLife Company

    Micha, I love seeing people define their own version of success and then take the action required to get it! This is a great argument for choosing to ‘look rather alien’! I loved it. Thanks for sharing this very important view.

  3. Micha Böttiger

    It can get you labeled as a hipster which can be tiring, but such notions can be dispelled if you’re willing to take extreme measures like singing Nickelback or Bieber lyrics in response.

  4. Donna Howland

    not for profit career counselor with low pay and no chance moving up the job ladder. I love what I do because I can SEE AND FEEL making a difference every day in lives.

    • Barbara Healy

      who says you need to even step ON the ladder? you can be making a difference while simply living life, or if you want more structure, volunteering. Getting paid doesn’t mean it’s more valid, just have to give up the “I am my job” mindset and shine on!

  5. Heather Harrington

    My dad always says that if you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life. I think that’s something worth aspiring to.

  6. Nalini Johnson

    Interestingly and ironically, a life of language-teaching or interpreting and translating can not only be satisfying, it can also pay more than those other career-ladder jobs.

  7. Morana Medved

    I was surprised at the “end of performance anxiety” in an article written by a teacher. I teach part time, because I enjoy it, but since I’m evaluated by both my students and other faculty as well as the chair and dean, my performance anxiety for teaching is much higher than at my primary job as a designer where I work in a comfortable environment with a great team. And I love both of my jobs, but I still hope they don’t define me so completely that I “live to work”. “Work to live” implies a work/life balance, not the fact that you hate your work, at least that’s how we view it in Europe.

  8. Micha Böttiger

    If you’d like to see my other stuff in the same vein you can check out my article on my blog at http://www.mindpeeler.com/2012/10/26/the-us-addiction-to-comfortable-desperation/ and find me on twitter @MindPeeler.

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