Passion v. Paycheck, it’s an age-old career dilemma that every generation has had to grapple with. Somewhere mixed up in all those generations the stories of “I never found career joy because I was forced to take a job to pay the bills” came to life. Many of those stories took over people’s lives. Who does not have a friend who has said, “I wanted to be a singer or an artist, but my parents told me I could never make money doing that. They told I need to get a real job.” When did following your passion become an either-or proposition?
You either follow your passion and starve, or get a real job and live an unhappy life? The truth is, it’s okay to follow the money, just remember to take your passion and your strengths with you.
Do not get confused. Choosing a job with a higher paycheck and benefits is not the same as making a decision to sell your soul to an endeavor that sucks the breath out of your body. Choosing a paycheck can be a smart strategic decision for the point in your career when you need financial stability and financial growth. You will always be free to make other choices, including quit if the situation really has no additional redeeming features.
Plus, you can apply your passion to any type of job. Let’s say you want to be a musician because it brings out your personal strengths of honesty and authenticity. You can tell yourself that taking a job as a car salesperson is ‘inauthentic,’ yet what greater qualities for a customer to encounter in a car salesperson other than honesty and authenticity? Are you getting a weekly paycheck? Yes. Are you being true to your strengths? Yes. Do you have to stop pursuing music? No way!
Unless your mother owns the dealership, being a car salesperson may not be on the top of anyone’s high school ‘passion career list’. Passion is an emotion teens know well. Passion is fiery. Passion feels strong. Passion can cause you to do things you would not have done if you were thinking with a little less fire and a lot more natural character strengths. Same goes for adults. That is why passion is not the most important goal when determining what career opportunity to pursue at different points in your life.
The best advice about passion may come from a recent Stanford University study wherein the authors stated, “Urging people to find their passion may lead them to put all their eggs in one basket but then to drop that basket when it becomes difficult to carry.”
It is a fallacy to think you can ever put your passions on hold. Just know passion is an emotion that can show up at any time. The same way you create the stress in your life when you think you are not passionate about the job you go to every day is the way you create or restrict passion in your life. An easy way to help passion show up more in your life and career is to fuel your passions with your natural strengths. Using your natural strengths can help you develop different passions throughout your career.
That is why you can be momentarily passionate about selling cars or being an Uber driver if those opportunities will help you achieve a financial or time goal you have in your life at a given moment. If you just use passion to direct your goals, you will limit your choices. Knowing and applying your strengths to any opportunity gives you a better shot at feeling passionate throughout your life.
What about those times when you have a career you like and have a real passion about what you get to do, who you get to work with, and where you get to go to work? Those times when you have hit your career sweet spot and then you are selected for a different job with more money. Do you walk away from a job you are passionate about just to have more money? Maybe.
Before you do, heed the advice of Robert Maricich, Chairman and CEO of IMC as he enthusiastically answered questions from a diverse audience at an executive women’s council. When Maricich was asked if he ever regretted a career choice, he paused and with a quick smile said, “yes, when I took a job for more money. My wife told me not to do it. I knew the fit was wrong, but I wanted the money. It is a mistake I will only make once.”
It does make perfect sense to follow the money in your career when following the money also leads to greater opportunity for achievement, greater learning and greater potential to grow in your life in general. You don’t need all of those things at once but make sure you have at least one of them in addition to more money.
If all you get is more money but no opportunity, no learning, no potential, following the money may permanently derail your career. Why? Because you will show such lackluster interest in what you are doing your contribution will not be noticed – or will be noticed for all the wrong reasons. Think of those coworkers you knew would be a challenge before you took the job. They will be the same ones who will have you remembered as the uncooperative coworker or boss.
Remember all that travel that you knew would disrupt other responsibilities in your life? Those are the same responsibilities that will create untold stress causing you to lose effectiveness that is sure to show up just when you needed to do your best.
The bottom line is this: Doing your best and being inspired by your best is the real choice you should make to be passionate about life and your career.