I walked out of the office and down to the street, trying to sort out my emotions. I should have been ecstatic; I should have been flying high with excitement. It was October 26, just one month and one day after I landed back in Chicago after a thirteen month career break that took me through 20 countries. My biggest fear upon leaving and throughout my journey was that I would not be able to find a job when I returned.
And there I was, just 31 days after returning with an offer in my hand.
And not just any offer – an offer for what I long thought was my dream job. I had an offer to be a travel consultant specializing in Europe, working for a luxury tour company in Chicago.
But I wasn’t happy or excited or even seriously thinking about accepting it. I was stressed out beyond belief because contrary to all of my expectations, I couldn’t see myself taking the job. At the same time, I worried that I was a fool to turn down a job when I had no idea what else might be out there. In the end, though, I just couldn’t accept it – it just didn’t feel right.
So why did I turn down my dream job?
1. The pay was too low.
When the company first contacted me about the position, they gave me a salary range. The low end was way too low for me to consider, but something in the middle to higher end would have been manageable if the benefits package was attractive. Unfortunately, the offer came in at the very low end of the range because I lacked experience actually working in travel (apparently traveling around the world for a year and writing a travel blog that’s read by thousands of people doesn’t count for anything). And when I say low, I mean exactly half of what I was making in my previous career. Conceivably, I maybe could have made it work, but it would have meant permanently giving up my beloved condo and renting at best a studio apartment or moving in with a roommate (something I have no desire to do in my mid-30s). It would have meant freelancing on the side just to make ends meet. It would have meant living in a city I love but not having any money to actually enjoy it. And it would have meant I wouldn’t have any money to actually travel myself.
2. The benefits and perks were non-existent.
Remember when I said I maybe could have made a salary in the middle range work if the benefits package was good? Well, it was a disaster, at least compared to what I am used to. Only two weeks of vacation (at a travel company!), a 401(k) plan that didn’t fully vest for 5 years and just one available health insurance plan that came with such a high deductible it would have been like not having insurance. Travel-related perks were pretty much non-existent. While they assured me that I could take more vacation time if I secured sponsored trips in connection with my blog, they would have expected me to pull double duty on those trips and be taking notes for them as well. Because I would be specializing in Europe, they would likely only approve trips to Europe – which would be great except that I’m kind of ready to move on from exploring Europe. Ultimately, I want to be able to travel on my own terms, to places I want to see – not to just any place a tourism board is willing to host me or where the company would want to send me.
3. It conflicted with my travel values.
More than anything, I couldn’t take the job because I was certain I would grow to resent it. I had long envisioned myself in a job where I would be planning detailed, customized tours for people. However, I saw myself helping people who have a sense of adventure and want to get off the beaten path, eating in local cafes, staying with local families and taking public transportation – not living in luxury and being chauffeured to and fro. The company that offered me the job was a luxury tour company and I would have been planning two week trips for people that cost as much as my entire YEAR of travel. Typical clients would be looking to stay in five star hotels and eat at five star restaurants, while taking private cars to and from attractions. Everything about their trips would be so far from what I personally believe travel should be that I worried about my ability to effectively do the job. In some cases I would be booking trips for people spending more than I would be making for the whole year and I knew myself well enough to know I would soon hate that – especially when I wasn’t making enough to be able to travel much myself.
4. I had other options.
By the time I got the offer, I had two other interviews set up, had applied to a couple dozen other jobs and had a short-term consulting opportunity. I was living with my parents rent-free and had few expenses outside of health insurance and my condo assessments (which aren’t covered by the rent I get from my tenant). I was also getting some freelance work so I wasn’t feeling strapped for cash – I felt like I would be okay financially even if it took me another couple months to find a job.
In the end, I realized that working in travel isn’t what I want to do.
As I considered the offer, I spoke with other contacts in the travel industry and got a much better feel for what kind of opportunities are out there to do what I thought I wanted to do. The news was disappointing and made me realize that if I wanted to work in travel, I would have to give up the lifestyle I had become accustomed to. I have never lived extravagantly – even when I was a lawyer making six figures, I watched my expenses closely and rarely splurged on anything really crazy. But I am also at a point in my life where I don’t want to be living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to make ends meet. I still have student loans to pay off, I want to rebuild my savings and I want to be able to travel for a few weeks a year – for fun, not for work. I also want to move back into my condo and enjoy life in Chicago without constantly thinking about whether I can afford it.
In the end, my desire to live a comfortable lifestyle that includes travel exceeded my desire to make travel my career.