Should I Stay or Go? Unpacking the Debate Between Pay and Passion

Nicole Singh

The debate between following your passion, or going where the money is seems like a never-ending struggle for most. And it can be a decision made harder by the fact that so many people preach that if you’re not following your dreams, you've failed. But, while society tells us that we can have it all (and perhaps we can some of the time) the truth is, there are different circumstances at play for every working professional—let’s be honest, being broke for long enough can have serious emotional consequences—and choosing between living your dream full-time, or pursuing it more as a hobby is never an easy choice to make.  

While you can easily find successful folk who have managed to do both, there is merit in knowing there are also many that have had to compromise, and make the tricky decision between the two. So, if you too find yourself part of the seemingly universal predicament, we asked clinical psychologist, from Lysn, Michelle Pal for her expert tips on making a pragmatic and healthy decision that works for you. Below, Pal outlines the importance of identifying your key drivers, setting a plan and understanding that going with the money, may just be a temporary situation.

There’s a lot of debate between following your passion, or going where the money is. What are important factors to keep in mind? 

The answer to this debate isn’t very clear cut as it really does depend on which core values are driving the individual. Some people are driven by money and wealth which means psychologically they can forgo following their passion because having a lot of money makes them feel fulfilled. In addition to this, a person could be at stage in life where money is incredibly important to their well-being at that particular time. For example, having children or family members becoming chronically ill, so in those cases it really is important to follow money as that’s a key driver. However, for a lot of people, following their passion can mean that they will achieve career happiness and fulfillment in the long run. That particular area of interest could be what drives them and makes them feel motivated so this will be an important area to pursue for career fulfillment. There’s the idea that money will follow if we decide to do what we love and when you put your heart and soul into your work this usually brings results (which can also bring money). While for some careers, the money may always be less appealing, it is important to be happy in all areas of your life. We spend so much time at work that it has to be fulfilling otherwise a person can spend eight hours a day being miserable. If you do feel unfulfilled in your career then it could mean you are on a path that doesn’t connect with your passion. 

What advice would you give for someone who is currently in this predicament? 

A lot of people experience the internal battle of passion versus money and to that I would say try to look for ways where you can have both. If the industry you’re passionate about is typically low paying, then build a plan around the options that can grant you financial success as well. It could be a long-term plan to build your knowledge and experience to enable you to start your own business or go freelance, or adding value to that industry with something that hasn’t be thought of yet. Overall, I think it’s really important to have a professional purpose and to get this you really do need to have passion for your job. Intrinsic goals are inherently satisfying to pursue and usually you’re going to work harder on something that is nourishing your soul. Having passion has been linked to happiness and overall life-satisfaction and that is ultimately what we all need. 

Is there merit in simply taking a job that pays the bills in order to alleviate financial pressure? 

Definitely, and I think that stems back to what the drivers are for your current situation. If you are under financial pressure then it is important to take a job that pays the bills, but that doesn’t mean you have to give away your passion. You can spend time working on this on the side, or consider volunteering on the weekends in that industry to ensure you keep abreast of the work and when the timing is right can go back to following that dream. The risk of this of course can be that you get used to having more money and then are unable to go back to getting paid less. That’s why building a plan is important. Give yourself strict time frames to work towards alleviating the financial pressure then continue following your passion in your chosen field. 

Are there any ways that people can find the balance of both? 

Yes, as it doesn’t always have to be one or the other. ‘Follow your passion’ has become a modern-day career mantra but making enough money to survive is equally, if not more, important, because if you are financially stable or free then you have more time to follow your other pursuits. If you’re working with money as the key driver, try to find ways where you can implement parts of your passion into your daily life. This could mean reading up on inspiring stories, volunteering your time or spending your free time honing your craft. Similarly, if your passion isn’t paying the bills, consider a part-time job on the side where you can earn extra money, or passive forms of income, whilst still pursuing your passion. Also, if you decide that money has to be the key driver in your life due to your circumstances, you can work on shifting your mindset and finding things to feel passionate about within your job to increase your motivation and satisfaction with the job you have. 

What are some strategies they can employ in order to make a healthy decision?

They say that if you do what you love then you’ll never work a day in your life so ideally you would use your passion to fuel your success. Make plans that will ensure you are working towards success in all areas, especially if you know that your passion typically doesn't pay well. Break down all the things that you really need to ensure your happiness and work towards achieving them in incremental goals. Sometimes the answer doesn’t always lie in front of you, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there, so network with others or seek a mentor or professional to help guide you if needed. Trial and error can work in helping you find a way around that works for you. Work towards building your credentials and networks in your chosen field. Reflect on the type of person you are and which core values drive you as a human being. 

Choose what is going to benefit your current situation and pursue that, knowing that it doesn’t have to be a final career move. It will be possible to change again in the future if need be. Once you make the decision you need to remember not to dwell too much and to continue to stay committed to your choice for at least a period of time and focus on the advantages of that choice you made, because ultimately, following either your passion or money will both have their advantages and disadvantages. But satisfaction with our decisions really is about our mindset, if we are sure of who we are and our values, then we can stay firm in our choices even during the tough period, and choose to focus on the advantages of that situation and having gratitude for the life that we are living, whether it be for our passion or for financial stability. 

Explore: Career Advice

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