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How to Make Lots of Money...Your Way

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The headline caught my attention: "The 10 Best-Paying Jobs of 2014." The top five were surgeon, physician, psychiatrist, orthodontist and dentist. Well thank you Captain Obvious. Did we really need a study to learn how to make money by being a doctor? Really?

The article begins by asking a question on many people's minds these days: "Is college still worth it?" The answer? "If you want a sure path to making lots of money, yes." What a misleading conclusion. Although the top-paying jobs require advanced degrees, that's far from conclusive that college is worth it. I think it is, but that's neither here nor there.

Look, we all want to make a good living, right? And I don't think it's a stretch to assume that we all want a fulfilling career and maybe even to retire in comfort someday. Well, I'm here to tell you there are lots of ways to accomplish that without becoming a doctor, lawyer, or some other profession requiring a Ph.D or equivalent.

Related: 10 Pitfalls of Being Your Own Boss

Let's take a step back for a minute. The median salary of the top 10 jobs on the list compiled by CareerCast was $138,000. Now let me give you a few more data points to provide a somewhat broader perspective on making lots of money … and perhaps even enjoying a bit more satisfaction in the process.

Got Tech?

A PayScale survey lists the median mid-career pay at Google, and Yahoo as $158,000, $150,000 and $141,000, respectively. LinkedIn, Microsoft, Adobe and a host of other tech companies were close behind. That's across their entire workforce. And it doesn't include equity that can sometimes dwarf cash compensation at tech companies. As a veteran of the tech industry, I can certainly attest to that.

Climb the corporate ladder.

According to a joint study of U.S. tax return data by the Treasury Department, Williams College and Indiana University, about 60 percent of the top one-tenth of one percent of income earners are executives, managers, supervisors and financial professionals. That, of course, includes equity-based compensation. If you've got the ability and the drive, climbing the corporate ladder pays off big-time. Again, it did for me.

Do it your way.

According to The Millionaire Next Door, two-thirds of America's millionaires are self-employed or small business owners. Half consider themselves to be entrepreneurs. Just 20 percent were professionals, such as doctors or lawyers, and 62 percent have a bachelor's or no college degrees. Meanwhile, the average household income was $247,000 and the average household net worth was $3.7 million. And that's 18-year-old data.

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Now here's the catch. The vast majority of those millionaires work long hours (45 to 55 hours per week), live well below their means, and are diligent and demanding investors. And I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the same is true of the top earners in management and technology.

While there is some overlap between the categories, we can draw three conclusions about becoming financially secure:

1. Take individual studies with as much salt as you like. Each report tends to present a single viewpoint. That's great for reinforcing a decision you've already made, but if you want to be objective, drawing conclusions from a single data point is not such a good idea. Cast a wide net.

2. You have more options than you think. The entrepreneur or small-business route can be a good way to go but it is not the only way by any means. You can climb the corporate ladder, join the exploding tech industry or become a professional. And there are lots of other ways to achieve your financial goals. Don't feel boxed in. You're not.

3. Success is never easy but your odds go way up if you like what you're doing. There's no shortcut to financial security. It takes hard work, perseverance and fiscal responsibility. And that's the best argument I know for doing what you love for a living. If you don't, you are going to have a hard time being patient and going the distance.

Related: Neurotic? It's a Good Thing.

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