Over Christmas, a friend of mine and I were talking about our families and got on the topic of her younger brother. He’s in his 20s, lives in New York City and just barely making ends meet as a free-lance writer.

My friend, who is a well-compensated project manager at a pharmaceutical company in Southern California, shared her regret that she hadn’t taken a similarly risky route after college. She went with the secure job with the company she’s now been with for the last 15 years.

While the pay and the benefits are good, she doesn’t enjoy it and wishes that when she was a college student she’d been less concerned with security and more with discovering what she really wanted to do. Because she’s been in the same industry since graduation, her skills – though deep – are very narrowly focused.

Companies outside her field aren’t interested in offering her the salary she needs to cover her mortgage and since the health benefits offered by her company are better than those offered through her husband’s job, there’s extra pressure to stay where she is.

“A gilded cage,” she sighed to me. “I’m grateful for what I have, but I wish I’d tried a few other things first.” I once heard the expression, “In your twenties you learn, in your thirties you earn.” With the current economic challenges we’re facing, I wonder how many people in their twenties are worried enough about the job market that they’re skipping the “learn” phase and trying to head straight to “earn”– by majoring and interning in fields and with companies that are perceived as “safe” rather than something they think would be interesting or fun or a great learning experience.

While there are very real economic pressures facing this generation of college students, I hope that when it comes time to think about their careers, they give their hearts as much attention as their heads.