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Passion or Money: Gleaming the Career Cube

July 5, 2014

Recently someone I’ve been casually advising on career development asked me, “Should I go for the passion or choose more money?”  The age-old question we’re all faced with at some point—and one that can come at any point in our careers.

When we’re young, it’s easy to just ‘go for the money.’ “Show me the money!” as it were, is what was foremost on my mind when I finally graduated college. I figured if I had the money, the rest will fall into place. Of course that desire was driven by the fact that I’d driven a really crappy car for several years, that broke down repeatedly and sucked up what little money I did make. So when the time came that I was faced with that question, it was a very easy choice to make. I grew up a capitalist at heart, because I came from a large family that required a lot of sharing, frugality and thrived on a culture of hand-me downs. So even at age ten, I knew I wanted to make my own money—and lots of it!

It’s funny though, years into my career, well actually just 10, although it seems like a lifetime, that question has come up again for me too. It probably doesn’t come up for most people in just 10 years, but because I’ve had so many different jobs and worked at many different companies, my career feels like a 25-year career condensed into 10. I’ve learned a lot, face a lot of challenges, grown as a consultant and advisor, and learned how to see the big picture and the minutia as well. Though having had that compressed journey sometimes creates frustration because I want things to move faster—and they don’t—so I begin to question where I belong now, and if I want to keep doing what I’m doing and working in the same old ways.

Even though I get frustrated, I try to focus on the positive. I’ve had the opportunity to shape my career the way I wanted. It wasn’t easy, but I stuck to it. Now I’m beginning to see the rewards in that—and seeing that people do value what I do and how I do it. As I’ve said many times before, I was lucky that I got to weave my passions into my career, but before I got to do that, I suffered several years of very low wages and people not understanding where I fit-in to their business or the value I could deliver. I learned you have to educate people on the value you bring, because they don’t have time to sort out your career for you. People who have a clear vision of where they’d like to end up, or at least a good idea, are the ones that have the most control over shaping their careers. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’ll be hard to navigate everything that’s thrown at you at your job. You need a good vision to keep you motivated and driven.

If you don’t have a vision, then you should just be open to learning, and be flexible with the jobs you do get. There’s something to be learned at every single job you have—even if it’s a restaurant job or scooping ice cream, because the biggest challenge at a job is getting along with different kinds of people in different types of environments and situations. Because no matter how smart or educated you are, if you aren’t good at building and maintaining relationships, you will likely not become a great success.  To do so, you have to be a team player, even at times when you don’t feel like it. And you have to get along with people who are challenging—and sometimes don’t even like you. I learned a lot about these valuable lessons while waiting tables, so for that I am very grateful.

So, what should you choose: Passion or Money? I would say trust your instinct. I learned recently that the part of our brain that helps us to make decisions does so by gut instinct, the limbic system. It does not process language or rational thought, so it goes solely on intuition, “feeling.” So it seems intuition plays a much bigger part in our lives than we imagined—than we wanted to believe. And that’s ok. That’s not denying the value of information, data and experience. I spend a lot of my time doing research, and talking to others, but no matter what people advise me, I have to trust my instinct to do what feels right for me—cause no one else is me. No one else has lived my life. And ultimately, I’m the one who has to live with my decisions and choices, good or bad. So I really have to trust myself, first.

If you take a job that you don’t really want, or like, just because of the money, then just know that no matter how much they pay, it’s still going to suck. You’ll just have more money. But if you take a job that you think you will love, you will probably always love it and look forward to going to work—and you will likely be happier, and you may thrive on many levels, but you may struggle with money. It’s a tradeoff. There’s always one. Will always be one—even when you’re 60, you’ll still be navigating tradeoffs: more money for retirement or more time with spouse….

#Career JourneyThe bottom line is, we should choose something we can believe in. Whether it’s a company, a product, a team, a project, or a vision. If you believe in it, then you can truly get behind it and stay motivated, even through the tough times—because there will always be tough times. No job is perfect. No job is a dream—except in your dreams.

If you take a job and it sucks, but you still do your very best, there’s always a reward for doing so. Always—even if it’s just the knowledge that you took something that wasn’t ideal and by your own power, turned it into something great. That brings a certain kind of satisfaction and pride that no amount of money can deliver. I know, because now that I’m making good money, I’m once again searching for a way to get that kind of satisfaction again and trying to figure out what’s next for me. Success doesn’t always bring what you think it will, nor does it always feel the way you thought it would. So it seems we’re always “gleaming the cube” so to speak, always on the edge.

Be careful what you ask for. You may get exactly that—and nothing else.

I wish you the best on your journey. Enjoy the ride!


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