My mentor, Senator John Danforth, told me at lunch a few months back, "When it is all over and you are retired, you have to be able to look back at your life and not feel like you wasted it. And if that means that you switch careers, do it. If that means less money, do it."
The invincible executive "does not define success by a title," according to Express Scripts CEO Barrett Toan. The key to success is intellectual satisfaction, according to Toan. Congressman Gephardt agrees: "The main thing is to be intellectually stimulated and interested in what you are doing," he notes. Money is not the primary motivator either. Most top professionals are well-off, but they do not equate financial success with professional success—and few of them started out with expectations of riches. Manufacturing giant Sam Fox's motto is: "Don't show me the money. When you are looking for a job, do not look for the job that pays the most. Look for the job that fits your particular skills and that which you are going to enjoy."
For example, Dr. Joshua Korzenik is one of the nation's leading researchers in the area of gastrointestinal disorders. He is an invincible executive in the field of medical research—with a stellar worldwide reputation. He has often thought of how much more money he could be making in private practice. While he does fine financially, he knows he is helping more people by forgoing the big bucks and devoting his talents to medical research. Instead of making money, he is making a difference, he told me with great sincerity. He loves the "sense of service" his job gives him.
An acquaintance of mine who was a young partner in a super-prestigious law firm recently left the firm to become an adviser to the Bush administration on immigration policy. He left his law practice right at the time when his compensation would have increased exponentially—into the high six figures. Now he is working on our country's post-9/11 immigration policy for a fraction of the money that he could have made in private practice. However, he knows that the fruit of his labor will likely influence the future of our country. When I had dinner with him last spring, I asked him if he had any regrets leaving all that money behind. "Tom," he said, "I am having a blast."
In addition, he is young enough that there is still time to make money later on. It is amazing how easy it is to make money if you can distinguish yourself in a field without regard to the money. Low-paid politicians become highly paid lobbyists—if they ultimately decide they need the cash. Low-paid military officers who distinguish themselves become highly paid executives and consultants later on. Do what you love and what you are good at without regard to money, and the odds are that the money will follow.