A million dollars or a million otters?  Should I take a big pay cut to help the planet?

A million dollars or a million otters? Should I take a big pay cut to help the planet?

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I still remember the phone call during my senior year of college at Stanford when the Microsoft recruiter offered me a job. I had to ask him to repeat the salary amount several times because it seemed so high that I thought it must be a mistake.

I never really thought of myself as a technician. But I was excited about the opportunity to learn work skills at a reputable company, and I liked the idea of ​​earning enough money to pay off my debts and start saving. I imagined myself living on ramen and hoarding money until I found a passion to invest all my savings in.

It’s now over six years later, and I’ve found that passion. Or rather, he found me.

I live in a hotter, drier, smokier world than it was when I left undergrad, and I can no longer ignore the calls of nature.

I used to hunt for Chanterelles and Boletus on weekends during my years at Microsoft (and later Amazon). The perpetual rain of the Seattle area provided an excellent habitat for fungi. But when I returned in September to visit, I found the hillsides transformed by forest fires. No mushrooms, just ashes.

I worked as a part-time kayak guide on Elkhorn Slough while finishing business school at Stanford. Kayaking exposed me to more weather struggles. Starfish that were once abundant in the quagmire are now largely absent, having fallen prey to a disease called starfish wasting syndrome – a the virus became more virulent as the water temperature warmed during the last years.

It is clear that we must put our brains at the service of the health of our planet. I’m eager to contribute and have started looking for environmental jobs.

I found a role focused on climate change and plastics that felt like a hand in hand given my passion for the environment, my upbringing in a family business that made plastic packaging, and my years of project management in a couple of Fortune 20 organizations.

Marisa Messina has an MBA from Stanford and wants to work to save the planet.

Marisa Messina has an MBA from Stanford and wants to work to save the planet.

(Via Marisa Messina)

But the stated salary is troubling. That’s half of what I was making when I left Amazon to start business school.

Many of my MBA peers talk about their upcoming roles in areas like consulting and finance, which come with mind-blowing paychecks something like half a million dollars a year. Conversations often revolve around the pay boost that an MBA confers.

I was once blessed with a salary that far exceeded my early career expectations, thanks to the way product managers in big tech are compensated. I put aside some savings.

I’m lucky — I don’t have to choose my post-MBA job entirely on salary.

But I still need to pay rent and buy groceries, and it’s hard to imagine taking a substantial pay cut from my pre-trade school salary. Even though I do a job that is close to my heart, the cost of living in California is high. If I took a job that meets my passion – director of ocean justice, for example – I probably wouldn’t be able to save up. I would still eat ramen – which is ridiculously counterproductive given the abundance of plastic wrap around these noodles.

It’s a strange crossroads. Either earn money on par with my peers and save enough to contribute to environmental issues when I retire, or earn a pittance and bring energy and expertise right now. The problem is that the first scenario assumes that things will not get worse over the next 30 years to the point of being irreparable when I retire.

Marisa Messina used to pick up mushrooms in Seattle.

Marisa Messina used to pick up mushrooms in Seattle.

(Via Marisa Messina)

I don’t think that’s a reasonable assumption.

So, I guess my path forward is clear after all: work hard to try to help slow Earth’s catapult to disaster. Burn the savings from my tech jobs to survive on the salary this climate career entails.

As exhausting and undercompensated as it sounds, I feel lucky to have this option. I know that my financial situation is the exception and not the rule.

How many other people are smart, passionate and willing to help fight climate change, but can’t afford it?

The question is painfully ironic because soon all those better paying jobs will be producing things for a world that is collapsing too quickly for its people to consume. It’s hard to slow environmental catastrophe when sustainability work feels more like volunteering or is only available to the 1%.

How can we expect meaningful change to be made to save our planet when we won’t pay significant money to make it happen?

Marisa Messina is an outdoor enthusiast who likes to bring people and nature together. Currently earning her Masters of Business Administration at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (where she focuses on sustainable businesses), Marisa spends her off-school hours working as a fellow for a start-up venture capital fund. , guiding tours with Kayak Connection, exploring new hiking trails and listening to the ocean. His previous piece for Lookout, “I failed at surfing, but the otters of Elkhorn Slough changed my life,came out in September.

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