How much for career freedom?

In the mid-1990s, I was a federal prosecutor enforcing violations from bad acting white collar types.  I had a funny off the record conversation with a couple of these Bernie Madoff like guys one day. The topic: How much money would you steal if you definitely would escape but thereafter had to worry about getting caught?

I was expecting a pause as they pondered the question.  But the main criminal had an answer: $30 million.

“I already figured this out.” I would disappear into a country that had strong laws preventing extradition and I would hire high level security in order to help prevent getting caught.”
“How would you feel on a day-to-day basis?” I asked.

“Great.” he replied, assuming I was talking about his conscience. “I’m not bothered by God. I’m an atheist. I would enjoy life.

”Wouldn’t you worry about getting caught?”

”A little. I suppose but that’s why I would hire security guys.”

”Wouldn’t that be enough to make your life miserable. I’m not talking about God here or anything related to ethics. I’m simply talking about the way you would feel. And, worrying about getting caught would take away your freedom.”

He didn’t want to lose an argument particularly to someone so young.

His friend chimed in: “the kid has a point. He’s basically saying that $30 million wouldn’t be worth it if you would be looking over your shoulder every day. That’s not freedom.”

Why is this story on a career counseling site? Because every day I work with people who have given away their freedom for far less money than $30 million. In the last month alone, I’ve worked with people who were highly unhappy in their careers who could take marginal pay cuts for a chance at far greater happiness. In one instance, the client was highly worried about his income dropping from $90,000 a year to $60,000 a year. He could pay his bills for $60,000. Is happiness worth $30,000 a year?

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