Passion or Paycheck?


The conundrum facing much of the working world, and indeed, looms heavy in the mental foreground of the career-minded individual, is one of following your passion, or pursuing a more stable career. I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, discussing it with friends, and I don't have a single answer, but I believe most personal choices are about having a dialogue with yourself (it sounds stupid but it's true) and thinking about what you want out of your life.

I discussed it in my 9 Lessons from the HCICC 2013 post, but what I've learned is that success looks different to different people, and if you allow people with different ideas of success dictate what your next step is, instead of deciding for yourself where you want your horizon to lead, you'll probably take a lot of steps in the wrong direction.

So let's talk about some of the factors that can affect the sort of ideal future you paint for yourself.

Work isn't everything, but it is a lot.

You will probably spend the majority of your time at work. You'll probably be working longer hours than you spend in class if you're a college student. If where you spend your time has a huge impact on how you feel about yourself and your life, this is something to consider. Don't be somewhere that makes you miserable. Don't do things you don't feel good about. Don't do anything that betrays who you are as a person. We are what we repeatedly do. You should feel good about what you do. Not everything is going to be awesome all the time, but know what challenges feel rewarding overall, and which ones are just burning you out.

Work shouldn't be the only place you go to for fulfillment.

If you plan on that, and if you live like that, you're basically placing all your happiness eggs in one basket. That's high risk. Your overall happiness and life satisfaction is not something you want to high-stakes gamble with. You don't want to be in a position where having a project cancelled or getting laid off sends you into a downward spiral in which you hate yourself and have zero self-worth. If you want a family, and if that is important for you, it is okay to take a different more flexible job or not accept a promotion if it is better for you and the lifestyle you want to lead. Don't shut the rest of your life out for work. Have hobbies. Have passions. Don't feel like work has to be the only or even the main thing going on in your life.

Make deposits into the "work" account early so you can make withdrawals later.

Some women I've heard speak described working their tails off early-on in their careers granted them the freedom to spend more time doing other things later on in their careers. It's like working hard put coins in their "work life" bank and they could be withdrawn later to go on vacations, set their hours, etc. Sometimes you delay the gratification of pursuing a passion early on to build a solid foundation for yourself later on, whether it's a financial security blanket to fund your passion project or the esteem, respect, and rank to more freely set your own schedule and responsibilities.

The side project model is gaining popularity.

People are more and more pursuing side ventures with blogs, etsy shops, graphic design businesses, app development, stand-up comedy, party planning, DJing, etc. It's extremely common for people to simultaneously work on a side project without quitting their day job-- until they're ready. Or for all eternity. It's like having a long-standing hobby but also getting a little extra cash on the side from it. It's getting more popular amongst our generation, and many employers are coming around to being respectful of these side ventures so long as the main business isn't affected. At the end of the day, happy workers work better, and it's better to keep your trained employees working at the company than to force the decision between the paycheck and the passion project and lose a member of your team over it.

There is no shame in needing money. 

If anyone tries to tell you that "your art" or "your passion" is more important than things like having food and a home, tell them that they can shove it in any number of places. Needs and wants are two separate things. If someone tells you that you can't or shouldn't do something unless you are willing to sacrifice everything for it, they are a toxic influence on your life. If you want to be an artist but are constantly afraid of "selling out," consider whether pursuit of art outweighs your very survival, because that's what it could come down to if you sacrifice a living wage. Chances are, it doesn't.

If you are the type of person to consider someone less of an artist because they decided that maybe feeding themselves and/or their families was higher up on their list of priorities than making music or art or games you like, you are a selfish person. (Major understatement.) Not that you have to agree with people's new directions (new sound/look/etc.) but don't begrudge them their means of survival. Seriously, guys. There is no shame in needing money. There is no shame in working a stable job. There is no shame in wanting to maintain the security one has worked toward.

There is no shame in wanting things and changing your priorities.

That said, there are also wants, like a shiny new sports car, that some people will sacrifice their passion projects for. That is okay, too. That is a decision you are allowed to make. If you care about your art more than the car, you'll make that decision. If you care more about the car than your art, you just gotta take that as what it is. Your priorities are allowed to change. If we all lived our lives according to all the standards we set forth for ourselves at age 4, I would probably be training to be a Power Ranger right now.

In the end, I personally believe in finding a balance between both whenever possible. Granted, it's not possible in every situation to find a happy medium. At the end of the day it's about making choices you can stand behind. It requires thought, reflection, and self-evaluation. Some people are super work-oriented, and that's okay. Some people will do anything to make ends meet while pursuing their passions, and that's okay, too. Don't let people who operate differently from you tell you how to lead your life, and remember to center your goals on what is fulfilling to you.



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