Is Money All There Is? Why Chasing the Big Dollars Isn’t the Answer for Everyone

happiness by 'shana on Flickr!Carlos left an interesting comment in yesterday’s article on finding a career:

The “do what you love, and the money will follow” mantra is getting very old. My loser brother (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) has a Master’s Degree in social work from a well-known and prestigious university. He’s 39, and earns $8.50/hour counseling troubled teens. He could earn more/hour working at a convenience store, and probably have less stress in his life. His ‘passion’ doesn’t provide him with enough income to contribute to a 403(b) or Roth IRA. His ‘passion’ is blinding his attention to his own future and long-term financial well-being.

Perhaps you’ll remember that several weeks ago, I posted an interview with one of my closest friends, Rachel. Rachel had the brains and the opportunity to follow pretty much any career she wanted, but she chose to do just what Carlos’ brother did – she’s a social worker.

I asked her point blank in that interview why she chose to make little money doing social work when she could easily be earning more doing something else. Here’s what she said:

I think the easy answer to is say, “Because I want to help people.” But really, how cliche is that! Also, it might have been an answer that could have gotten me to this point, but it certainly wouldn’t have been enough to keep me here. What keeps me here, simply put, are the people, both the ones I work with and the ones I “care for”. There’s just something very human about this work. Sometimes I think about looking for a job that pays better, but then I think about how much I’d be losing just so I could be “financially secure”.

In other words, Rachel finds an incredible amount of value from the non-financial aspects of her career, so much so that these other aspects make the financial aspects pale in comparison. She has the tools and skills to earn a lot more – trust me, Rachel is one of the most intelligent people I know and if you get into an area where she has some expertise, you’d be shocked at how deep the rabbit hole of her intellect goes. But Rachel finds enough non-financial value in her career choice that, for her, it more than replaces the financial losses of her career choice.

When you’re in the process of defining your career, you have a spectrum of choices available to you. You can look entirely at the choices available to you based on your natural skills and choose the one that simply earns the most, regardless of your actual passions. You can follow your passions and choose a career that fills you with intrinsic joy every single day, but doesn’t earn much at all. Or you can do something in the middle.

I’m a strong advocate of something in the middle. That’s why yesterday, I suggested using both skills and passions to find a career, because a job for which you have absolutely no passion is a job that will make life miserable, no matter how much you make.

SP, another commenter on the thread, was criticizing the concept, but actually agreed with this entire idea:

I like math, I’m good at it. I like problem solving so engineering is a good fit for me. But is math/engineering my passion? Well, no (unless this is a job interview). But it is something I enjoy that people will pay me a considerable amount of money to do.

He likes math and problem solving (passion) and is good at it (skill). Mathematics might not be his biggest passion, but it’s one he was able to transform into a pretty lucrative career (engineering). His job clearly doesn’t depress him, though it’s perhaps not the maximum fun use of his time. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

I took a significant pay cut to do what I’m passionate about – writing. Because of the path I chose, I get to spend 90% of my workday researching, writing, and creating content. That’s the part of the job I’m passionate about, and that’s why at the end of almost every work day, I don’t stumble downstairs depressed and empty, the way I would sometimes feel after my old job. Instead, I bound down the stairs and run out in the yard to play with my son, almost as if I’m going from one fun thing to the next. Again, there is some skill-passion balance here, but I found that I was far more happy earning a little less and moving that slider far closer to the passion end of the scale.

Frugality is all about finding the maximum value in everything, from your purchases to how you spend your time. I get far more value out of spending an hour earning $15 doing something I dearly love versus earning $30 doing something that I enjoyed every once in a while but mostly filled me with frustration. I may be earning less per hour, but those hours are filled with a degree of happiness that was unreachable before, and I’m actually in better financial shape for it – lower taxes, no commuting costs, no eating out all the time, no quick stops at the bookstore or electronics store to buy something to be a balm for the way I felt.

I think both Rachel and Carlos’s brother have found a passion-income balance that works for them. It’s far farther down the passion end of the spectrum than I would choose, but I respect their choice. They did not put their “seeking income” blinders on when making a career choice. Instead, they found something that brings an incredible amount of value into not just their careers, but their lives as a whole – their work and their life choices are intrinsically tied to their core values. I can’t speak for Carlos’s brother, but Rachel has found a lot of creative ways to become very financially stable even while earning a pittance – she gets a lot of free meals, virtually free housing, and is actually funding her own Roth IRA. She sacrifices a ton of material stuff in exchange for other values.

The best career for you is the one with the maximum value for you – and that’s not measured in just dollars and cents. Yes, income is one big piece of the puzzle, but if you lead with just that piece, you’ll likely find yourself doing something that earns well, but something that results in you feeling very empty and tired at the end of the day. And if you find yourself burning that extra money sitting in Starbucks, buying flat panel televisions, and doing activities in the evening and on weekends that are simply there to take some of the edge off the dull pain of the job you hate (except for that paycheck you love), you’d be far better off in a career with a little less paycheck and a little more passion.

Loading Disqus Comments ...