It’s tough to know what career path to embark upon as an 18-year-old. Or a 23-year-old. Or even as a 40-year-old. How are you supposed to decide what to do with the rest of your life when you still have trouble remembering to turn the stove off? If you can’t be trusted to operate a gas range, how can you decide the trajectory of your life?
A lot of us grew up with our parents whispering in our ears, telling us to consider becoming a doctor or lawyer. They wanted us to enjoy the big-time paychecks often associated with those professions. Well, guess what? Our parents lied to us. Sure, many doctors and lawyers make a great living—but not every situation is straight out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
There are a ton of misconceptions flying around about careers you may have considered—maybe you’re pursuing them right now. The truth is that each career, and every individual’s experience in their career, is incredibly unique and specific. While it’s easy to make generalizations about certain jobs, it’s important to remember a lot of variables are at play.
Below are some of the most common misconceptions about certain careers—with real-life examples from real-life workers who have paid their dues in the workplace:
1. People just become teachers for the summers off.
It’s kind of of baffling that today, in 2018, teachers are still dealing with a horribly outdated view of their profession. That somehow their time and effort is somehow “lesser” than the work in other careers and therefore doesn’t deserve adequate compensation. That they should be able to find a way to “make do” with the supplies they have when budget cuts are depleting classrooms of educational basics. Or that the draw to becoming a teacher is that sweet, sweet summer break. News flash—being a teacher is no cake walk.
“Unless you are/were a teacher or live with a teacher, you don’t know how much work goes into this job,” says national urban literacy specialist for elementary schools and former classroom teacher Kathryn Starke. Teachers put in tons of extracurricular hours—because they have to. The “extra” work isn’t extra. It’s time spent creating lesson plans, grading papers, or helping with after-school activities.
“The 30-minute daily planning period can be lost when a resource teacher is absent or there is a meeting to attend,” says Starke.
The average teacher puts in about 50 hours a week just on classroom prep and teaching time.
“It’s important to know that teachers are compensated for the instructional day of work—so lesson planning and preparation after school, at home, and on the weekends (which great teachers always do) is on their own time and not part of their contract,” Starke tells Urbo.
Not only are the excess hours built in and expected, but the average salary for teachers has been continuously falling over the years. The “teacher pay penalty” is severely affecting the future of education. When you throw drastic budget cuts on top of that, you’ve got a recipe for some seriously distressed educators.
During the recent Oklahoma City teachers strike, the hashtag “#OklahomaTeacherWalkout” was created. Teachers flooded Twitter with photos of their shoddy, outdated, and crumbling classroom amenities.
Oklahoma has the deepest, most severe education cuts of any state, with some of the lowest paid teachers on average in the country. While the strike recently ended with some success, a lot of work is left to be done to fix Oklahoma’s education mess. Teachers in Arizona and Colorado also recently went on strike over education budgets and salaries, with the hope of sparking a change in their own states.
2. Lawyers are all rich.
“Lawyer” is one of those jobs that everyone associates with raking in some serious cash. Thanks to plenty of TV shows, many people think the life of a lawyer is full of dramatic, high-profile cases, exciting courtroom antics, and a hefty payout after every case. Sure, for some lawyers that may be true—and the type of law you go into does factor into future pay. But in the real world, many lawyers are elbow deep in paperwork and student loans.
“People think lawyers make a ton of money, but in truth, that’s not the case,” attorney Jennifer Ruiz Garay, Esq, tells Urbo. Garay has five years of experience, two separate state bar certifications, and has worked in both the private and nonprofit worlds. Her salaries average around $50,000 a year—while she chips away at more than $200,000 in student-loan debt.
For Garay, “the nonprofit was actually the best deal, since it came with public service loan forgiveness after ten years.” That’s especially helpful when many places don’t even offer health or retirement benefits.
Many people also believe if they are good at arguing, then they’re bound to be an amazing lawyer. Objection! That’s not necessarily true. Karen, who’s name has been changed, made it through one full year of law school before realizing it wasn’t for her.
“I am stubborn, sometimes overly logical, and really do enjoy learning the specifics of law,” she tells Urbo. “But my desire to prove something was eventually outweighed by the thousands and thousands of pages of required reading and dozens of written papers I had to write.”
Law school is work. Which might sound like a “duh” moment, but it’s true. Just because you enjoy a few aspects of a career doesn’t mean you’ll actually enjoy everything else that comes along with it.
3. Anyone can sell real estate.
If you’ve ever been a part of the home-buying process, you’ve probably heard someone complain about real estate agents. “Anyone can sell homes!” they say. “Watch out because all real estate agents will keep the price high so they can make their own profit,” they say.
Sure, some agents may be a little sneakier than others, but the REALTY (get it?) of it is that it’s a tough and meaningful job, and most realtors really enjoy introducing families to the homes that will shape their lives for years. Real estate is a hotbed of myths and half-truths, and people have a lot of wrong ideas about realtors themselves. We’re talking about myths like:
“When the local market heats up, all realtors make more money,” Ontario real estate agent Mark Steele tells Urbo, describing a common misconception. “When the news reports markets are getting hot and average prices are increasing, everyone looks to the realtor in the room and thinks they’re about to get rich. Not the case!”
Realtors still have to find people to buy these homes, and they work off commission. Plus, the bidding process when selling a home can get pretty intense. One place might receive dozens of offers—which means nothing is certain when it comes to these sales.
Lots of people think they would make great realtors or that really anyone can sell homes. Realtors make it looks so simple! How difficult can it be to sell a house? The answer: It’s a lot harder than you might think.
“[Plenty of realtors] quit the business within their first five years, and only a small majority of them make a longterm career for themselves,” says Steele.
The National Association of REALTORS’ 2017 Member Profile (sent to Urbo via email) reflects this: Twenty percent of their members have one or less years of experience, but that percentage consistently falls to 3 by year five. Things get better after that—the 6- to 10-year range jumps to 12 percent, and the 11- to 15-year range jumps to 17 percent—but no level of experience tops that one-or-less range.
“… The biggest challenge for new realtors is finding clients to work with—especially when everyone they know is also becoming a realtor,” says Steele.
Also, just for the record, a good realtor isn’t going to hike up the price of a home so they can get a little more cash.
“Little do [home buyers] know, agents are paid on a percentage,” says Steele. “So in terms of a commission for the realtor, the difference between a $400,000 and $410,000 purchase price is $250.”
4. The fact that unskilled labor exists at all.
Have you ever thought about the term minimum wage? It’s not great wording.
“Oh, they’d like to pay me less…but they can’t. Legally, they can’t,” quipped the comedian David Cross in a riff on the self esteem–crushing notion of it being literally illegal to pay you less for your time and labor. “I win! I’m the winner!”
Together we can build an economy where the minimum wage is an actual living wage — and no person who works 40 hours a week is forced to live in poverty.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) May 3, 2018
But as belittling as that phrase can be, there’s another labor-related idiom that’s even worse: unskilled labor. Tellingly, the folks who do unskilled labor tend to be the ones making minimum wage. But wait a second: Unskilled?
You run the fryer during lunch rush without training or practice and see how long you last. Remember, you’re making minimum wage.
No labor is “unskilled.” None of it. Even the guy in the Statue of Liberty costume hyping the local tax preparer has to know how to work a crowd, which is itself a skill. So whether you’re running the register at the fast food window or caddying for the lawyers and real estate agents at the golf course, don’t let anyone tell you your labor is unskilled.
Jobs are hard. That’s why people have to pay us to do them. The least we can do is retire the myths that make some careers seem “easier” than others.