Finding the Compromise Between What You Love and What Makes Money

by Jessica Sommerfield · 8 comments


Marc Anthony is credited with saying “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Many successful motivational speakers and businessmen like Warren Buffett tells young people to choose the job they’d pick if they didn’t need the money too.

But is it true? Does pursuit of a dream job always lead to success? There are plenty of people who don’t think so, and they’d warn you that blindly following this advice could not only lead to disillusionment, but becoming the proverbial “starving artist.”

Let’s face it – some of us have passions that aren’t very lucrative, but are rather known for low wages and long hours. Another problem is that most people’s dream careers fall within the same categories: the arts, environmental causes, and the nonprofit sector. This means highly competitive job markets that requires you to be extremely qualified and well-connected to be able to do what you love.

Skeptics of the “do what you love” mentality remind people that the definition of work is what you do to pay for the time and resources to do what you love. This doesn’t mean you should choose a boring 9 to 5 and settle for dreading Mondays, though. I think it’s possible to find a comfortable compromise between the two, and here’s how I recommend doing it.

1. Find something you’re good at that has value to others.

Some of our passions aren’t tied to anything that will earn us a living, but some could be. The key is to identify the skills and abilities you have that are valuable, rare, or at least highly marketable and hone their money-making potential. With a truly marketable idea or product and some effort, you might even be able to turn it into a small business.

Get started on this train of thought by thinking about the things you do well, then thinking about how they could translate into products, professions, or services people are willing to pay hard cash for.

2. Don’t let stubbornness or idealism about your dream career derail you from doing what it takes to make money now.

We’ve all heard or known college graduates who, failing to find the perfect job or get in at a certain company, stubbornly refuse to take anything less. Meanwhile, their credit card bills get higher and they’re moving back in with mom and dad.

It’s easy to be so focused on a goal ahead of you that you endanger your finances and miss out on the potential to develop the things right in front of you. It’s not wrong to pursue your dream career, but is it making you devalue or underperform at the job you have now? Are you declining a better-paying job that’s right in front of you because it will mean being “untrue” to your passions?

find your passion

3. Find meaning in an “imperfect” career.

If you take that advice and secure the job that’s less than perfect but pays the bills, don’t fall for the trap of thinking you’ll be stuck forever. Don’t even see it as time wasted. Find meaning by considering the gig as time spent developing useful career-applicable skills like discipline, thoroughness, or good communication — things that will always pay off, no matter where you work or what you do.

4.Choose a job that allows you to enjoy your hobbies.

Even if you are lucky enough to pursue your passions in a work setting, don’t be surprised to find that they become just that – work. It’s better to be doing what you love for a living, maybe, but anyone who runs their own business will tell you it’s not the same. It’s still work. That’s why it’s important not to limit the pursuit of your passions to your career. Do this by choosing a job that leaves space, time, and energy for simply enjoying your hobbies and passions without the pressure of production, deadlines, or earnings.

David’s Note: Don’t forget that doing what you love doesn’t have to mean being set on the line of work you can pursue. We can be in love with our work if the mission of the company is one we truly believe in. We could also love our job if the work environment is pleasant. Many people also love their work when they are competent and feel appreciated at the workplace. Loving your job is more than skin deep. Don’t give up on finding work that you love even though you may not think you are working at something you enjoy. Working at a different company can change everything for the better.

Jessica also brings up a good point about finding work that leaves you time to enjoy what truly makes you happy. Let’s say you are given the choice to choose between job A that is okay but pays a bundle of money, and job B that is great but pays barely anything. The right choice may actually be job A for some people because the first option lets you use the extra income to make your life more comfortable. You could even save a whole lot faster and retire earlier with extra income, giving you even more time to pursue your passions later in life.

There’s no right answer, partly because it depends on what you’ll do with that extra income. Will you actually reap the rewards of higher income by saving the sum to propel you to financial freedom? Or will you end up wasting it just on impulse purchases because you always feel stressed about that “okay” job? Weight the consequences and make sure you are honest with yourself and what you are willing to do.

I’m still learning all of this in the process, but I think there’s hope for a happy medium between doing what you love and learning to love what you do, whatever it is.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • I believe that if you find something you love, and become a rockstar at it, there is almost always a way to monetize it in the future. It’s better to love what you do and do it GREAT, then let money come – than focus on the money first and try to force the other parts.

    • GawkFace says:

      “being a rockstar”
      I can’t believe I am reading this written by someone else because few days back I realized I wanted to be a “rockstar” at my job and only then would I find it fulfilling :O
      This mindset infused a great deal of motivation in me.
      Will subscribe to your website too Brad 🙂

  • GawkFace says:

    I liked your mention about learning career-applicable skills in any situation.
    Also, there’s a catch I find in ‘saving fun for your retirement’; I read an article where it threw caution to the aspect of delaying gratification upto a point it’s no longer feasible (due to say old age). Even then, rather than being perfectionistic in seeking work filled with passion right now, seeking passion while doing whatever job is “wiser” and working your way up seems more prudential

    • David Ning says:

      A balance approach to saving is always recommended. Many power savers actually have a hard time getting themselves to spend more come retirement time.

      Obviously, the heirs will thank them for leaving a ton of behind but the person who saved the dough definitely deserves to spend the hard earned dollars more than any heir ever will.

  • Mel says:

    I like your fourth point. I’ve been a stage manager for 14 years. I still remember how theater felt when I first started, but it sure doesn’t feel that way most days anymore. It really does become just a job, although I know some younger stage manager’s would probably kill for mine. Additionally, the really fun to work on projects usually don’t pay a livable wage in the arts anyway, so you often wind up working on big commercial ventures that REALLY become just a job and have little do with art anymore anyway.

    • David Ning says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience Mel. The grass is always greener on the other side, but people who get there often realize that grass is still just grass!

      I hope more people will seek advice from people like you who’ve been there so they don’t blindly chase their dream job that just isn’t there.

  • steveark says:

    I loved my career of over 30 years at one company and it paid me extremely well both in feelings of significance and in financial compensation. But I think it wasn’t a matter of finding a dream job, it was finding a job I could learn to do well at and then putting in the thousands of hours required to excel at it. I think that trying to find a “dream job” is a low probability quest. But finding a job you’ve got talent at and committing the hard hours to become one of the best at that job is a higher probability way of building a “dream job”.

    • David Ning says:

      Well said. “Building” a dream job is definitely a much easier way to wealth and happiness than “finding” the dream job. Of course, you are taking the long view with the first approach and that’s where people give up because everyone wants instant gratification.

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