17 How much money do you want?

One of the reasons for going to university is to improve your prospects of getting a good job.

But what exactly does that mean?

Like a lot of things, I think it comes down to money. A lot of people choose a job and then decide what to do with the money they earn afterwards. (There’s a nausating magazine produced by the Financial Times called How To Spend It. I think this represents everything that’s wrong with our society, but this may not be the place to debate that particular point.)

I think you should consider doing things the other way round. Figure out how much money you want (and what you want it for) and then find a job that pays you that much money. My hope is that this will allow you to choose a job that you really want to do, rather than one that you think you should do.

I have a law degree from Cambridge. Therefore I should be a lawyer. At my age, if I’d gone into the law and stuck with it, I’d be earning a cool hundred grand a year. Probably. Maybe. Kerching! I’d also be bored to death and standing on a ledge plucking up the courage to jump.

Instead I followed my dream which, believe it or not, was to teach. Right now my main source of income is from private tuition. I charge £40 per hour. There’s a lot of demand for maths tutors in Harrogate and I could probably teach thirty hours a week for, say, ten months a year. That’s not far off £50,000 a year before taxes and expenses. Slightly-smaller-kerching!

I don’t in fact teach thirty hours a week. This is partly because it would drive me insane. Private tuition is quite intense and that many hours would be exhausting. I’d be tired and fed-up and the quality of my teaching would suffer.

But another reason why I don’t teach thirty hours a week is because I don’t need the money. I don’t want that much money. Or, rather, the extra money isn’t worth the sacrifice I’d have to make to earn it.

You see, I really did sit down and ask myself how much money I wanted. (Well, strictly speaking, the starting point is how much money I needed: to pay my rent, and buy groceries and so on.) I then figured out how many hours a week I’d need to work to earn that much money. And that, more or less, is how many hours a week I actually work.

How do you imagine your adult life? Do you expect to have children? (According to a report from the Centre of Economic and Business Research, each child will cost you over £200,000 up to the age of 21.) (My students wonder how I manage to spend so much money on Apple products. Easy: I don’t have kids. They’re crazy expensive and I’m really not sure they’re worth it. Children, I mean. Apple products are so worth it.) Do you expect to own your own home? What kind of car do you want to drive? How many holidays a year do you want to go on? And to where? Do you like camping, or do you prefer five-star hotels? Economy, or business class? Do you expect to get married? Will your partner work as well, so that you have two incomes?

Now, you can fantasize all you like, but do bear this in mind: if you plan on being rich, you’d better plan on working very hard and for very long hours and for a very long time. There are no easy or quick routes to wealth. If you really are determined to get rich (and if you’re not determined, you won’t get rich) at least try to find something you’re happy to work hard at, and for long hours, and for many years. I hope you enjoy it. I hope you somehow find time to be there for your children when they need you, too. I hope you still think it’s worth it when your partner divorces you and takes half the cash, and your kids, with them.

In Chapter 11 I mentioned one of my former students who’s now a model. Of course not all of my students go on to become models. One of them is a billionaire: Mark Zuckerberg. (He was a student at Phillips Exeter Academy when I taught there.) What’s clever about him is that he’s genuinely not running Facebook for the money. It was never about being rich. It was about building something that would change the world. I’m not sure he would have succeeded had he merely been in it for the money. He’s also got his priorities right: his wife has just given birth to their first child, and he’s taking two months paternity leave.

But don’t be deceived by public perceptions of careers, as The Telegraph recently warned. (For balance, The Telegraph also published a list of underrated jobs that are more fun than they sound.)

So you know what you want to study, where you want to study it, and what you want to do after you graduate. Are you sure?

NEXT: 18 Don’t rush it