The Big Debate #5: Chasing the Dreams or Chasing the Money?

?This week, The Simple Dollar is taking a deeper look at five common personal finance debates.

A while back, I posted an article entitled How to Choose a Career – The Simple Dollar Way, where I advocated strongly for allowing your passions and talents to lead you to a career, not the money.

This led to a lengthy discussion, where many people argued rather strongly on behalf of simply chasing the money. In the words of Carlos:

I’m not suggesting that you do something you hate, but, one’s income is the single largest ‘asset’ they have. Earn some bling, pile it up to the sun, walk away when you tire of it.

Which avenue is the right one to take?

What Are The Options?
On one hand, you have the option to do what you love. The careers that many people are most passionate about are not high paying – they usually revolve around chasing an artistic dream or taking on a social work-oriented career. Others might thrive on starting their own business, even though the odds of success are long and the income can be very dodgy, especially at first.

On the other hand, you have the option to do whatever makes the most money. For many people, this means doing something they’re not as happy doing as they might otherwise be.

Paul, another commenter, summed it up well:

I agree with some of the others here. I would have loved to continue to follow my passion, but I also have to feed my family. I loved being an Emergency Medical Technician but $10/hr doesn’t quite cover it.

So I switched to dispatch and make $15/hr, a 50% increase. Still in the same line of work, but I’d rather be back on the ambulance.

If Paul did what he loved, he’d be making $10 an hour as an EMT in the back of an ambulance. Instead, he chose to follow a path he didn’t like as much, but it earns him $15 an hour.

So What Should I Do?
The real answer to this dilemma comes down to this: what do you want out of life? What do you see when you close your eyes and imagine yourself in five years, the way (in your heart of hearts) you want things to be?

Do you see yourself working at a job that you’re truly passionate about, doing work that you feel is important? Do you see a career that flows so perfectly with your personal activities that the border between “work” and “fun” doesn’t even exist? If that’s the case, then chase the dream – it will lead you to that life. Find your passions, match those passions with your talents, and run with it.

On the other hand, maybe you see yourself enjoying the fruits of your labor. Do you see travel? Do you see a nice, big home with kids playing in the yard? If your visions show you the trappings of a life separate from work, then it might be wise to chase the money, as this will allow you to fill that life with as much value as you wish.

There is no right answer here. At different points in my life, I chose each path. Earlier on, I chose the money. I followed the training and a career path that I thought would pay well and that I enjoyed quite a bit, but I knew that it was not the thing that my heart cried out to do. Eventually, I jumped the rails and moved onto a path where my work days are often so enjoyable that they just naturally flow with my personal activities – chasing the dream.

The answer only comes with a lot of introspection, and just because you choose one answer right now doesn’t mean that later on you might not choose another. Perhaps you’ll work for the money for a while and spend your time really figuring out your dream and then one day you close your eyes and imagine yourself doing something completely different. Or maybe you follow your passions for a while, then eventually settle down with a spouse, two kids, a dog, and a house in the suburbs.

The only thing you must do is this: close your eyes, right now, and imagine where you’d like to be in five years. Don’t let anything else interfere with it – what do you want, in your heart of hearts? Then open your eyes and start moving in that direction.

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