As a human resource manager and a person who finds human behavior extremely interesting, I love studying how people approach work and the meaning they place on it. Moreover, being that I am part of Generation Y, I have read a lot of literature on “following your passion and the money will come” as a strategy to career success. Many times the literature makes it sound so much easier in theory than it feels in practice.
That said, let’s consider an example, as a young eighteen year old, we decide to pursue a degree in theater because we love the performing arts. During our college years we act in several musicals and start building our creative resume. We then leave college with a small student loan of $10,000 and proceed to look for employment. We get lucky and land a role as a supporting actress in a well known production and actually make money doing so. The paycheck grosses at $7000, which sets our heart aflutter because we get to do what we love and get paid for it. Yet, we have that nagging student loan bill, need to buy a car and really want to take that trip to Europe with our friends because our friend Anne just got engaged and it won’t be long until she wants to start her family and the probability of a European trip will begin to fade. To help fund these goals we take a thirty hour a week office administration job, which pays $32,000. This is actually great money, given that we still share an apartment with our college roommate. Yet, after we come home from work and our work out, we are quite exhausted and the thought of committing 25 hours a week to rehearsing for another play feels daunting.
We muster the energy to do another play in the following summer and do well, earning another $5,000. At work we are successful as well and are offered a managerial position, which provides a great increase of $10,000, in total more than we could ever dream of making in theater. Given that we are planning a wedding and have found that we really enjoy acting when it’s less of a full time endeavor we take the promotion and that summer play is our last until we start directing our little girl in her breakthrough performance as sleeping beauty.
My intention in sharing the above story isn’t to demonstrate that we all fall prey to the almighty dollar, rather that we have a lot of choices along the way that serve to steer us in many different directions on the journey to creating a meaningful life. One can examine this story and feel remorse that this person gave up their dream. Perceived in another way, this individual followed their dream, had the opportunity to act, travel to Europe, have a joyful wedding and a daughter that she now shares her love of acting with. Moreover, it is our truest desires that lead us to determine our work and its meaning in our lives. We are not simply chess pieces moved at employer’s whims, we own our decisions and what work means to us.
The paradox in the employment world is that often the jobs that provide truly creative outlets and opportunities to help people, don’t always compensate very well. Of course there are some exceptions, such as the health care field. However, this paradox is strong in our society, yet it does not need to be a barrier if you learn to be creative in approaching work and money.
In my observation of people’s work lives, I have found a variety of paths to career and life fulfillment; I share them below as encouragement to grow beyond the barriers that may be holding you back.
The Fearless- These are the people who have a strong passion to pursue a dream that they know either has little chance of providing significant compensation or has a very high probability of making little money and low probability of earning millions. Examples may include: the aspiring actress moving to LA and living in their car, the social worker who knows they will never make more than $35,000 a year, the artist who takes a leap of faith and pursues his art full time. To take this path, one must be fully committed to their ultimate goal and willing to pay any price to achieve their dreams. Many must give up traditional lives and family timing to pursue these dreams. They may not always have health insurance, a nice home or financial security, but they find security in knowing they live a life true to their passions.
The Balancer-These people manage to find employment that speaks to their strengths and areas of passion to a sufficient enough degree that they are content with. They enjoy helping others, so they pursue a job as a nurse. They enjoy building beautiful homes and property development, so they become a construction engineer. They love analyzing numbers and creating financial spreadsheets to help others make better decisions about how to operate their business. They find a good deal of fulfillment from work, but augment their need for more fulfillment by volunteering, becoming a parent, gardening, traveling and other activities. Overall they are satisfied with their day jobs because they connect to a passion area and provide the money they need to fuel extended fulfillment in other areas of their life.
The Side Gigger-These are the folks that despite how hard they try, traditional jobs do not fuel their passion or interests. Yet, they are at peace with this proposition and accept work for what it is, a means to fuel their side gig and make enough money to live. Examples of these folks include the Roofer who moonlights as a guitarist, the waitress, who paints at night and sells her paintings at the annual Art Fair, the office administrator who shelters and breeds dogs that she loves with all her being. These folks may someday make their side gig their full time job. In the mean time they enjoy their gig enough to accept the necessity of their day job to pay the bills and fuel their gig.
The Investor– These people are a growing breed that I find very interesting. One prime example is Mr. Money Mustache, a computer engineer, turned Investor. If you are intrigued by this path, I highly encourage you to read his website.
As an Investor, you understand the value of hard work and the dollar. You are intelligent and well disciplined. As an employee you present strong value to your employer and the value that you create for said employer is invested into a variety of tools that in turn work for you as employees. These people are engineers, accountants, office administrators, bartenders etc. They enjoy their jobs to a certain degree, but value freedom above all ideals. They recognize that any form of employment for another will in time cease to fulfill them.
Hence, they work to solidify financial independence as soon as possible and then apply themselves as they find most fulfilling. Applying themselves may include paid employment, but it is no longer a requirement. They find fulfillment in their work toward financial independence because they value contributing to society and the freedom that it will allow them in the future. Life requires them to be more of a renaissance man or woman, necessitating that they learn to cook well, entertain themselves on a dime, cut their own hair, bike to work etc. It is a path of dedicated work for employers and themselves, fulfillment is found through freedom in choosing how to spend their time.
As indicated in the above paths, there are many roads to a meaningful and fulfilling work-life. It is up to you to decide the best road for yourself and to accept the consequences of your decision. If the road you are currently traveling down isn’t fulfilling you, reflect on the different paths and decide what it would take to readjust your life toward greater fulfillment.