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Job Satisfaction or Large Salary?
Old 04-26-2010, 04:58 PM   #1
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Job Satisfaction or Large Salary?

I will be completing my MBA soon and also most likely leaving my officer job with the Air Force. I am coming to a crossroads and I'd like to hear some input if possible. Once my service commitment is up I have two opportunities. The first is to get into air traffic control (what I am currently doing in the Air Force). This pays very well in the civilian side, however it usually takes between 2-5 years to really get the good pay, between $125K-$160K. The salary generally doesn't get much higher (usually only raised to offset inflation; government job). My second option is in the business world where I have the opportunity to start at about 200K right off that bat and this has an unlimited earnings potential as the years go on (I love capitalism).

Here's my dilemma. I love ATC, it's what I've been doing and there isn't any job like it. I would also like to keep doing it because I like working for a cause (keeping the skies safe). I like to feel like I am truly contributing to society. The camaraderie in the military is unmatched anywhere else, however the ATC community is pretty close which is pretty important to me as well. Lastly, if I buy back my military time, I could retire in 20 years, which would put me at 46 with a full ATC pension.

In business, the salary and future salary potential would be unmatched. It would provide the lifestyle I have literally been dreaming about for years. It would also provide a great start for my wife and I to start having our first child. Money is very important to me (say what you will, but I like nice things). ATC is great but I love the business world as well. I am fascinated by stock trading and the economy however if it was just a choice of the actual work, I'd pick ATC. Nevertheless, with the earnings potential in business, I could possibly retire earlier with more money if I save properly. In high up business positions, I imagine camaraderie to be weak as it's all about the dollar, then go home.

I know nobody can make this decision except for myself, but I'd like to get some feedback if you were in the same situation.

Thanks in advance!
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Old 04-26-2010, 05:08 PM   #2
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There is more to life (and work) than money. Many of us wish we'd had the opportunity to make a decent income doing something we really like. Since you apparently do, I'd jump at it.
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Old 04-26-2010, 05:11 PM   #3
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If the question is job satisfaction or large salary, Id go with the job satisfaction without a doubt...unless the large salary is so large that Id only have to put up with it for a few years. I think I could handle that.
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Old 04-26-2010, 05:15 PM   #4
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There are considerations in satisfaction, lifestyle and risk. Taking the last first, recognize that part of the pay differential between the jobs is a risk premium for the more volatile job. Unlike a gummint job, nothing is guaranteed or stable in the private sector. So comparing the two pay levels is apples to kumquats. This also ignores the value of the richer benefit package. But taking risk can have upside as well: bets do sometimes pay off and it is possible that you could make a lot more in the private sector.

As for lifestyle, I do not know much about ATC hours and stress, but you are likely to have plenty of both in the private sector at that pay level.

As for satisfaction, well, maybe you are built differently than me, but I have found that the tidal wave of BS eventually washes over the tropical island of joy in an interesting/fulfilling job pretty much regardless of the employer (and I have worked for everything from a 12 man hedge fund to a partnership with tens of thousands of employees to a public sector organization). What you know for sure is that if you go to ATC and buy back pension credit, you will have golden handcuffs on no matter how good or excruciating the job becomes. In the private sector, you at least have a little more freedom to leave, although this might be via defenestration.

Lots of tradeoffs, so I guess this is useless advice in the end.
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Old 04-26-2010, 05:35 PM   #5
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I agree with Brewer. There is BS is every job - that's the portion they pay you for

I wouldn't assume that there will be no camaraderie, satisfaction or fulfillment in a private sector job. Some of my best friends are ex co-workers and I've had great friendships and camaraderie in my career which was entirely in the private sector. I've also had long periods when I loved my work & looked forward to each new work day. So, explore the options with an open mind and ask questions, ask to talk to the people who will be your peers, and even look online for information.
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Old 04-26-2010, 05:39 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by REWahoo View Post
There is more to life (and work) than money. Many of us wish we'd had the opportunity to make a decent income doing something we really like. Since you apparently do, I'd jump at it.
I'd agree with REW. So few people get paid to do something they really enjoy, in part because most don't have any idea what job they would really like to begin with. If you've found a job you really like that pays $125-$160K/yr, I would jump at it - most people live a lifetime without finding a job situation like that. If it loses it's luster in time, the private sector will always be there...

I've made more money than I ever dreamed because the work itself has always been a distant second priority. Now after 33 years of it, I have almost no interest in the work/position that I've worked toward all these years. I wish I'd stopped to explore other work options and/or known of any decent job I might have enjoyed - would have improved the quality of life considerably.

From the book Do What You Are: "If you spend forty to fifty years - not an unlikely scenario - working at jobs you'd rather not be doing, you are in truth throwing away a large part of your life. This is unnecessary and sad, especially since a career you can love is within your reach."
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Old 04-26-2010, 05:40 PM   #7
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Brewer and Walkingwood:

that's a pretty cynical thought..that you will be miserable no matter what, so you may as well go for the money.

I am not so sure that I agree.
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Old 04-26-2010, 05:51 PM   #8
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The plus side for an ATC job is the early retirement.

I think it's 25 years of service to be able to retire before 50 or at least 20 years at 50. Then you could try and make the big bucks in the corporate world while your getting your government pension and keeping your health insurance.
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Old 04-26-2010, 05:53 PM   #9
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Brewer and Walkingwood:

that's a pretty cynical thought..that you will be miserable no matter what, so you may as well go for the money.

I am not so sure that I agree.
I don't think I said or implied that, although it has certainly been my experience at times. I was trying to surface a variety of issues rather than be one-sided. I could see OP going either way, really.

Having said that, the biggest disadvantage of accepting the golden handcuffs willingly is that you lose the ability to run for high ground if the tidal wave of crap comes your way. I get bored easily and have a low tolerance for institutional stupidity, so I value this option quite highly. I know many others who do not feel the same way I do on this subject. Different strokes...
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Old 04-26-2010, 06:39 PM   #10
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A job is a job is a job. I wish I had known this back in my 20's.
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Old 04-26-2010, 07:30 PM   #11
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I'd agree with REW. So few people get paid to do something they really enjoy, in part because most don't have any idea what job they would really like to begin with. If you've found a job you really like that pays $125-$160K/yr, I would jump at it - most people live a lifetime without finding a job situation like that. If it loses it's luster in time, the private sector will always be there...

I've made more money than I ever dreamed because the work itself has always been a distant second priority. Now after 33 years of it, I have almost no interest in the work/position that I've worked toward all these years. I wish I'd stopped to explore other work options and/or known of any decent job I might have enjoyed - would have improved the quality of life considerably.

From the book Do What You Are: "If you spend forty to fifty years - not an unlikely scenario - working at jobs you'd rather not be doing, you are in truth throwing away a large part of your life. This is unnecessary and sad, especially since a career you can love is within your reach."
This. I spent my career doing highly paid work that wasn't bad. I also liked many of the people I worked with. But, over time I felt trapped by the income (a trap of my own making but a trap nonetheless). I wanted to extricate myself 20 years ago to do work that was more personally fulfilling and interesting to me.

In my case I spent several years (at night) earning a degree in an entirely different field. One that was quite low paid. Basically an entry level job in that field would have been roughly 20% of what I was making.

At some point I decided that W2R was right...a job is a job... I decided not to seek my fulfillment in work and decided to stay with the higher paid job and to enhance more family related activities (in my case, that meant more children). So I stayed with the higher paid job.

As I get ready to ESR at the end of this week, I look back on it all. I do see that I wasted a lot of my life doing work that I didn't really enjoy all that much. If I could do it over again, I would have made a change 25 years or so ago.
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Old 04-26-2010, 07:37 PM   #12
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This is a values question. What do you value most?

ATC is satisfying now. Will it be equally satisfying for the next several decades? How much do you value change, opportunities to learn new things? Or do you place a higher value on security?

Each job is well paid. The private sector is associated with higher initial earnings and more risk.
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Old 04-26-2010, 07:56 PM   #13
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To me it is so interesting reading the various posts on corporate work . It's amazing how many of you disliked your jobs . I worked as a RN for forty years many of them in an Operating Room where I would take call and frequently spend the whole night assisting in emergency surgery . I would then go home grab a few hours sleep and return to a full schedule . My top salary was $60,000 and yet I truly liked my job . I found it challenging ,interesting and rewarding so I'd go with doing something you enjoy .
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Old 04-26-2010, 07:56 PM   #14
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The OP presents three options which are all fairly similar to each other. They all involve anywhere from high to extremely high amounts of hours, but at good pay.

I think Brewer's/Walkingwoods points about this particular situation are the most relevant. You are going to have to deal with high levels of BS and hours at all of these positions, the ones that pay significantly more, may have significantly more BS, and will very likely be more hours, I am thinking in the 80 hour/week range, while the government job is probably 45-50 hours/week.

The OP has not presented a job, yet, which he would likely really love, not have to put up with much BS, and still make a decent, though significantly less, income. All three of his options right now are going to be relatively high to high stress jobs.

Personally, the OP situation is very similar to mine, I have the option of choosing various levels of incomes in the low 6 figure range, with increasingly higher amounts of BS+hours as the $ increases. The work is interesting, but it requires significant hours and BS shoveling. I will probably go the private/most mobile/high pay option first, get rid of my minimal debt, get 2-3 more years of experience under my belt, then choose a slightly less stress/lower $ position. Then in another 2-3 years, I will go down to part-time work. Then in another 2-3 years after that, I will be FIREd. I can put up with high levels of BS, but only when necessary, my ability to endure BS completely evaporates when there is no longer a strong need.
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Old 04-26-2010, 08:00 PM   #15
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Have you also considered the AF Reserve? Pension, fun, and a great break from whatever career option you choose...
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Old 04-26-2010, 09:20 PM   #16
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Wow

Thanks to everyone for their responses up to this point, a lot of great advice out there. I think plex is closest to hitting it on the nose. Although I'm not at a point yet where I can make a decision, this thread has helped me think about the issue differently. Generally speaking you get paid more for the more BS and/or work hours involved. In addition you are compensated for risk in the private sector.

Anyone worked in a high paying corporate career? I have little to no private sector experience as all my professional time has been in the military so I guess it is harder for me to understand the work environment of a higher level corporate position. Insight in this area would probably help me out a lot in my decision. I think really it boils down to the fact that I know the ATC environment but not the corporate one.

Thanks!
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Old 04-26-2010, 10:29 PM   #17
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I am impressed that you have an offer at $200k as a fresh MBA grad. I have friends at top schools and no one is getting offers that high, if they're lucky enough to get an offer at all.

Congrats to you. I'm not sure I have anything useful to offer, but I say chase happiness first and money second. Life is short. Oh, and $125-160 ain't too bad as it is.
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Old 04-26-2010, 10:32 PM   #18
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Anyone worked in a high paying corporate career? I have little to no private sector experience as all my professional time has been in the military so I guess it is harder for me to understand the work environment of a higher level corporate position. Insight in this area would probably help me out a lot in my decision. I think really it boils down to the fact that I know the ATC environment but not the corporate one.
Thanks!
What kind of "high level corporate position" can you walk into out of an air traffic controller job? Especially since you say you have no corporate of other business experience?

Ha
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Old 04-27-2010, 12:59 AM   #19
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<snip> Once my service commitment is up I have two opportunities. The first is to get into air traffic control (what I am currently doing in the Air Force). This pays very well in the civilian side, however it usually takes between 2-5 years to really get the good pay, between $125K-$160K. The salary generally doesn't get much higher (usually only raised to offset inflation; government job). My second option is in the business world where I have the opportunity to start at about 200K right off that bat and this has an unlimited earnings potential as the years go on (I love capitalism).
<snip>
Go with the one you would rather do every day. ~ $142,500 in ATC is not bad pay if you can stand the job -- better if you like the job. Would you rather do what you want to do every day or "sell out" and possibly do something you may not like -- and be tortured every day by the job you don't like?
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Old 04-27-2010, 04:07 AM   #20
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This pays very well in the civilian side, however it usually takes between 2-5 years to really get the good pay, between $125K-$160K. The salary generally doesn't get much higher (usually only raised to offset inflation; government job). My second option is in the business world where I have the opportunity to start at about 200K right off that bat and this has an unlimited earnings potential as the years go on (I love capitalism).
How realistic are you being with those salaries? The ATC salaries you have quoted seem to better reflect the old pay scale for the busiest facilities. Over the next few years, the pay is going to increase to roughly what it used to be; however, you would need to be at the busiest facilities in order to possibly see around $125k+ in total compensation as a new controller. What happens if the initial FAA offer is for a smaller facility where you would be making $60-$70k after being checked out? All I'm saying is to not make plans assuming you will be making $125k-$160k in two to five years; it could be more like 10 to 15 or never, depending on a number of factors. Likewise, are you being honest with yourself about making $200k right off the bat in the business world? That starting pay seems very high for a new MBA, but I might be wrong.
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