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decisions I nearly made

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Yes, I know that you’re supposed to review the past year between Christmas and New Year, and then start on fresh stuff. I’m of the opinion that you can’t have too much reflection.

I also can’t be the only person that does *what if* reflecting. There are a few decisions that I’ve made that would have altered my life immensely all of which I took between the ages of 20 and 23.

early ideas

When I was a teenager, one of my heroes was the fund manager Nicola Horlicks. On paper I have the qualifications to make a great high finance person, or actuary.

If I’d chosen this career, I would be living in London, I would be much better off (probably earning around twice as much), job security more precarious but not too bad normally. In practice, I hate working with money. I hate ridiculously long hours. I really can’t imagine being happy with this choice - which is the actual reason that I decided against it.

a move abroad

In my penultimate year at University, I seriously considered moving to the States to pursue a graduate degree. It would have been in Mathematics (in particular probably complex variable theory or topology). My top choice was Northwestern University but I think I was also considering UT-Austin (my current all time favourite American city), UPenn, Columbia, UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, Chicago and Dartmouth College. I did extensive online research and got as far as buying GRE test prep books. In my final year, however, I didn’t really enjoy my project and started to find some of the algebra courses extremely difficult. I drifted in to the decision that I probably wouldn’t enjoy five or six years studying pure mathematics, and began to get enthusiastic about a new field of interest.

If I had taken up this option and managed to finish the degree, I probably would have ended up staying in the States either working in industry or teaching in a college. I would have lost out on several years income, but otherwise I would have a similar earning potential to the one I currently enjoy. The cost of living is lower in America, so I reckon eventually this would have ended up being a wash financially. If I was the type to enjoy doing the PhD this could have been a really interesting alternative career - I would have still ended up with a job that I liked a lot and a comfortable income but as an expat, which has its own complicating factors (how much does it cost to import Robinsons?).

a gap year

At one point, I contemplated taking a gap year and travelling round the world (again). I’m not too sure whether the main destination would have been Australia or New Zealand, but I’m sure the experience would have been amazing. If I’d taken up this choice, I’d almost certainly have ended up living and working in London once I got back. My likely career choice would have been in a similar field to the one that I work in now. I would be earning around the same amount that I actually do, but would be living in a house/flat share situation.

Financially, I think I would have had the same amount of money and income as I actually do. Other complicating factors might have included living at home for a short while in the midst of my parents’ separation and eventual divorce and also that I really hate living with other people. On the other hand I would have been living nearer to family, and in a city that I really, really love.

a different career

I often think that if I had to pick another career to follow, I’d be a librarian. This would need a further degree, and it’s not as well paid as the career that I actually have. On the plus side, I really love books. As far as one can tell without actually trying it out, I think I would enjoy this job. I’d be significantly worse off unless I managed to find a job in an area with a much lower cost of living (like rural Wales or something). Job security would on balance be about the same.

food for thought

What’s interesting to me is that some of my choices are semi-reversible. I’m probably too old to go to a top-flight graduate school in mathematics (pure maths is definitely a young person’s game). Now is not quite the time to switch to finance. On the other hand, I could try for a PhD in a more applied field if I wanted to. I could certainly move abroad temporarily, or permanently, and this is on my list of potential ideas for the future. As with everyone else, there’s an excellent chance that I’ll have a second different career, and that might be in library science. Just because I’ve moved on a few years, doesn’t mean that those doors are permanently closed.

It also means that many of the decisions that I make now and in the future can be decided again, differently, without impacting on my financial stability and piece of mind. The future is wide open, and full of possibilities.

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15 comments for “decisions I nearly made”

  1. Interesting way of looking at things. Just as a note - I am a professional librarian by qualification and trade. I’m fortunate enough to have worked in special libraries in my interest fields, but would note that the most important thing in librarianship is a love of *people* rather than books. Particularly in today’s information fields where much material is virtual, but the people aren’t :-)

    Posted by Annie | January 7, 2009, 6:50 pm
  2. @Annie:
    The other reason that I think I’d like being a librarian is that I like finding things out for people - and I’m pretty good at it, and helping people access information seems to be the sort of thing that librarians do whenever I’m in the library. OTOH I’m not a big people person, maybe it wouldn’t be a good fit - if it’s something that I actually decide I’m going to do, I’ll try and work out whether it would suit properly, before committing to it.

    Posted by plonkee | January 7, 2009, 8:06 pm
  3. lol, I can’t get over that your hero was a fund manager when you were a teenager.
    I was oddly into finances too at that age, but I wouldn’t say that I idolized people in the finance world.

    Librarian seems like it would be a fun job to me too!

    Posted by Sam | January 7, 2009, 11:24 pm
  4. What can I say, I’ve never been cool.

    Posted by plonkee | January 7, 2009, 11:58 pm
  5. I’ve actually daydreamed about going back to school for a Masters in Library Science so that I could become a research librarian and work in an academic environment. The thing is…graduate school costs a lot and I don’t want to incur a large student loan for a less-paying career. I was hoping that I could pursue this later in life after retiring from my current career.

    I work in finance and I have a crush on John Bogle…the creator of the first index fund. He initially documented this concept in his college thesis!

    There’s a difference between having an interest in personal finance and working in corporate finance.

    Posted by J | January 8, 2009, 4:51 am
  6. What’s with all the librarian wannabes? I too have considered going back to get a masters in library science, I think I’d really like to be a research librarian in my field.
    I often look back at the “road not travelled” decisions- mostly I will be forever grateful that I realised that I would be miserable in medicine before I went to uni- that was a close call.

    Posted by Looby | January 8, 2009, 6:04 am
  7. @J:
    Definitely corporate finance isn’t for me, I love writing about personal finance but that’s about it. Bogle is cooler, but he’s not British or female :) .

    There are a lot of librarians on the ‘net given that I don’t know any IRL. Must be something in the tubes.

    Posted by plonkee | January 8, 2009, 8:56 pm
  8. Even at a podunk school like the suburban campus of my beloved Great Desert University, Ph.D.’s in accountancy start at the assistant professor level with six-figure salaries. Something to think about.

    Certainly if I had it to do over again, I’d have taken the doctorate in some field of business. Ph.D.’s in business management — which is far from rocket science — also do well. Jobs are plentiful and pay is excellent. If you can’t get an academic position, a doctorate in business will certainly lead to something in the real world or government.

    You can get an MLS through the University of Arizona 100% online. I understand it’s an accredited program…would allow you to get the degree without having to quit your job. Libraries in general are struggling; under the best of conditions, pay is not great. And…uhm…is rural Wales really your style? ;-)

    Posted by Funny about Money | January 9, 2009, 6:51 am
  9. I am a librarian at one of Canada’s top research universities. Although I do feel I am well-suited to librarianship, it does feel that current management is trying to turn us into a cross between Walmart and Amazon … we do less and less of the real digging and helping people find obscure information which was why I went into this in the first place. Perhaps I will try to move into cataloguing instead of reference librarianship.

    Posted by Canadian | January 9, 2009, 8:11 pm
  10. Everyone knows librarians are the BEST. (Yes, I’m one also!) After working in a public library for several years, I’ve taken an alternate career course and now work for a library vendor, which requires both tech and library skills.

    It’s an interesting, useful, flexible career, but job security is … debatable. Trust me. I’m on some of the library email lists for new librarians!

    Posted by bethh | January 10, 2009, 12:30 am
  11. (to clarify.. MY job security is good. industry-wide, libraries are having big budget issues)

    Posted by bethh | January 10, 2009, 12:31 am
  12. @Funny about Money:
    No, rural Wales is definitely not my style. I think you’ve got a good idea about getting the degree in librarianship without leaving my job, if I ever decide to become a librarian that’s something I’ll definitely consider seriously.

    Doing a PhD in business certainly can lead to quite a good salary, and getting a PhD is usually much cheaper than getting an MBA.

    @Canadian and bethh
    Sounds like I’d need to think very carefully before becoming a librarian.

    Posted by plonkee | January 10, 2009, 10:10 am
  13. If you got tired of people, you could also work managing materials in Technical Services. Cataloging librarian, perhaps? You’re still making information available to people, but you’re focused on putting it in terms that make it easy to find (using the right subject headings, for instance, and the proper forms of author names) and in its proper place (call #).

    It’s a bit like SEO, actually, only you have much better control over the search engine. And a bit like blogging in that using proper subject headings and whatnot is rather like using the proper name of a category.

    Says the girl who doesn’t do any actual cataloging. But I create hundreds of item records a day!!

    I think I’ll probably specialize in some form of databases and/or metadata. First, I want to be marketable for years to come (and being good with databases opens up other possibilities) and second I find them interesting. But I also have a soft spot for cataloging, so I may take some courses in that too.

    Anyway if you like being mathematical and finding the proper place for things, I can see how you’d like some library jobs. And if you like tracking down information, even better!

    Posted by Mrs. Micah | January 11, 2009, 1:33 am
  14. I agree people are exhausting. For me that was the major downside of office life.

    Yet I can’t deny it was also the upside I miss. (I am a self-employed consultant nowadays).

    This is a very interesting idea - looking at decisions you made and considering reversing them. You’ve a good line in these ‘thought processes’ blogs (just read the one about ‘what do you assume’.

    Posted by Monevator | January 14, 2009, 2:34 pm

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