Realizing that Money Isn’t Everything

I grew up in a household where money was often the concern. As a child I remember living in an illegal basement apartment where my sister and I shared a bedroom while our mother slept in the living room. For years, my mother remained in a verbally and physically abusive relationship just so we could have another source of income. We rarely talked about plans for the future or career options, but I knew one thing for certain – I refused to be poor or to depend on someone else for money. I saw the way that financial worries negatively affected my mother’s life and promised to never let that happen to myself.

Fast forward to my senior year of college. Somehow I had stumbled into Computer Science as a major and had a job offer making six figures at Microsoft. That was more than double what my mother made at the time. Obviously I took the job. It paid well, had great benefits, and provided a kind of security that no one in my family had previously had.

Working at Microsoft wasn’t as glorious as I imagined it would be though. While the work was challenging and my coworkers were enjoyable to be around, what I actually did on a day-to-day basis was simply meaningless. In fact, much of the work I did – and even didn’t do – went unnoticed. I realized that if no one noticed what I was doing, then clearly it wasn’t important at all.

About the same time I started doubting my work at Microsoft, I began volunteering for an organization called TEALS. With TEALS, I taught Computer Science at a public high school before attending work each day. Within a few months, I found that I enjoyed teaching more than my actual job. Thus I decided to quit my job at Microsoft, and take a huge pay cut, to be a Computer Science teacher.

Because I do not have a teaching credential, I could not be employed in a public school and thus took a job at a private high school. Although the work was more fulfilling than my work at Microsoft, it did not allow me to truly give back as I did with TEALS. I knew that I was helping people, but most of the students did not fit into the demographic of those I truly wanted to help – those in situations closer to the one I had as a child.

While teaching, I also learned more about money. Although I was making a lot less than I did at Microsoft, I was still happy and comfortable. In fact, I realized that most of what I had spent my money on was simply stupid – clothes I never wore, expensive meals that weren’t very good, overpriced cocktails, etc. When I thought about what I really enjoyed having and doing, most of it did not cost very much at all. When I worked at Microsoft, I had never even saved any money outside of my company-sponsored 401k. As a teacher, I ended up with extra money each month that went into an investment account. Simply put, I realized that making a lot of money didn’t matter to me. As long as I could support myself and be comfortable, I would be happy.

With this in mind, I decided to leave my job and take a pay cut yet again to attend grad school. I felt that I could, and should, do more with my technological skills to truly help others and enact social change. I don’t yet know how I will do that, but I feel that this course will be a great way for me to start exploring my options.

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