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Don't let your mortgage imprison you in a job

"Today" financial editor Jean Chatzky offers this advice and more on how workers under 45 can make the best of their careers.

What's your idea of a career nightmare? Is it long hours and low pay? Or a micro-managing boss and disrespectful co-workers? For the vast majority of workers under 45, new research shows that it's the latter. Today, people very much want to love what they do — and they have a considerable amount of freedom to get the job done their way.

Problem is, there's a generation gap, says former advertising executive Sally Hogshead, author of the research and of the new book "Radical Careering: 100 Truths to Jumpstart Your Job, Your Career, and Your Life" (Gotham, 2005). In many companies, the over-45 bosses still believe ruling with an iron fist is the way to go — which is precisely the thing that alienates younger workers. Hogshead spent the past few years trying to figure out how Generation Xers in particular can make the best of a job in this baby boomer world. Here are her tips for making the best of your workaday life:

Recognize that opportunity can be more valuable than cash. Particularly in the early stages of your career, there's nothing more important than working at a company where people are, as Hogshead says, "crazy smart," or where you deal with clients who have the ability to think about things in a totally out-of-the-box way. You can't just look at the salary today, you have to look at the trajectory for making more in the future. If you are offered one job that pays $65,000 but gets you stuck and another that pays $50,000 but will make every other employer in town drool at the notion of eventually stealing you away, take the latter.

Work projects through to the end. The best way to gain the respect of that over-45 boss (or an under-45 boss, for that matter) is being able to tell that boss what you've done for her lately. But being able to point to the results of a particular assignment at work — whether it's an ad campaign that boosted revenues or a switch to a new courier service that cut expenses — means being involved in the project at its conclusion. "If all you're doing is pushing papers in the middle, you're not participating in a way that allows you to take credit for the end result," Hogshead notes.

Build your reputation in your industry, not just your company. If you ever want to switch jobs, start your own business or moonlight on the side, it's important that people outside your company know just how wonderful you are. The best ways to accomplish that? Get involved in your industry's most well-regarded association. Serve on a high-profile committee. Then run for the board. Contribute articles to industry publications. And when you meet someone in your field who you admire, pick up the phone and ask them to lunch. "You need a personal board of directors," says Hogshead, "People you can call for advice who are above you, below you, beyond you." That way, when you need the lowdown on how much you should be rewarded for that spectacular product launch you just carried out, you can call this board and ask for advice.

Finally, never allow the size of your mortgage to exceed the quality of your work. This is a toughie — but it is so incredibly true. I have, in my career, worked with incredibly talented folks who felt the fact that they were well paid — in jobs they didn't love — was the equivalent of a set of handcuffs. They would have loved to quit, to take jobs at other companies where the work was a little more exciting, a little more challenging. But they couldn't. Why? They had to pay the mortgage. It's better to live a little further from the edge and give yourself a lot more flexibility.

Jean Chatzky is the financial editor for “Today,” editor-at-large at Money magazine and the author of “Talking Money: Everything You Need to Know About Your Finances and Your Future.” Her latest book, "Pay It Down: From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day," is now in bookstores. Copyright © 2005. For more information, go to her Web site, .