Are you living to work or working to live? (And does it really matter?)

We want to have our cake and eat it too — but in this day and age, it seems that women are always being told to choose. For those of us not interested in that narrative, how do you find a career that can satisfy your personal and professional needs — while pursuing your passion?

We want to have our cake and eat it too — but in this day and age, it seems that women are always being told to choose. For those of us not interested in that narrative, how do you find a career that can satisfy your personal and professional needs — while pursuing your passion?

I spent more than four years working for a nonprofit with an incredible mission. I found the work valuable, challenging, and fulfilling. To top it off, I loved my co-workers. But eventually, a few important things — my salary, my passion, and my goals for the future — started to feel like they were misaligned. How could I do work that I believed in, while also being smart about finances, and my future? And, which was more important?

Even though I loved the work I was doing for the nonprofit, it was hard to face the truth that my salary wasn’t quite cutting it. I live in San Francisco, arguably the most expensive city in the country to live in, and it was getting harder and harder to invest in and save for my future. Lots of my friends were living more comfortably, and while I know it’s not healthy to compare, I couldn’t help but question if I could be making more money, and whether or not it was something I deserved, as opposed to something I just wanted.

What does “living wage” mean to you?

I kept thinking about what the idea of a “living wage” was, and how that differed depending on who you were. Sure, I made enough money to afford the basics and I had plenty of fun, but how was that different from what a “living wage” meant to someone else — someone who had kids, was hoping to buy a house, or was paying off loans, etc.?

So I made a list of the things I knew I wanted to accomplish in the next two, three, five, and 10 years. The truth was sobering, but it whipped me into shape. Unfortunately, it also meant I needed to seek new employment.

But what about my passion?

Looking for a new job meant I had to come to terms with something I wasn’t ready to come to terms with yet. Was I going to “sell out”? I’d spent a considerable part of my life working very hard on a low salary — but it was worth it, and I don’t regret one day of it, because I felt great about the work I was doing. It mattered to me, and it had a positive impact, and that was truly something that I factored into my “compensation.” I didn’t think I’d ever give it up.

So I was worried about finding work that I believed was important and being compensated enough. I didn’t want to work for what I thought to myself was “some random company” where I’d be toiling away on behalf of something I didn’t care about, only for a higher salary. But I also knew that money was going to help ensure that I would be prepared for the life I wanted in the future.

How do you choose?

I asked lots of friends and family how they felt about their own jobs and income, and how that contributed to their happiness. Their answers ran the gamut from general responses like: “I don’t care much for what I do, but I love my life,” to “I like my job because of x,y, and z and that’s enough for now.”

Everyone understood the predicament I was in because most people had seemed to make peace with similar questions long ago. But I still felt like I had to choose between work I loved for less money, or work I didn’t love for more money. And I didn’t know how.

What I chose was both. And no, it’s not because I found the perfect job with the perfect salary. Those jobs do exist — if you have one, you’re lucky! — but I still haven’t found mine yet. I did, however, come to peace with the fact that I was going to have to choose one over the other sometimes, but not forever.

I found a job that I do like, and yes, I can finally breathe easier financially. But I also do a lot of work outside of my job, including freelancing for my former organization, to keep myself engaged with my passions. And someday in the future, the time will come when I’m ready to switch back. Or, maybe by then, my goals will have changed. And that’s okay.

Once I realized that “having it all” didn’t necessarily have to mean having it all at once, I felt the freedom to act on what I wanted, as opposed to what I needed, and then understood that those two things had been more closely aligned than I thought all along.

This article first appeared on Career Contessa.