I read an interesting blurb in Pink magazine recently regarding the idea of following your passion for a job.
So many times we hear-and I’ve even written about it many times-the idea of following what you are passionate about when looking for a new job or a career opportunity.
If you want to start a business, doesn’t it make sense to do so in a field in which you are passionate about? After all, who would want to do something day in and day out that they hated? I did that for ten years-trust me, it’s not a way to live.
In the blurb in Pink the writer stated that she felt this idea of following your passion was a bit misleading. After all, she said, maybe not everyone has a creative talent that they can capitalize on, and if they can’t follow their passion is it fair to encourage people to follow what they love?
It’s true: We need a paycheck to pay the bills. If we can’t make money doing something that we love, what is our alternative?
Yet when I think about this, I consider my answer very carefully, because for the next 14-16 years I will be teaching my daughters that in order to find happiness in life they should be doing what they love.
I believe this, to the core.
But I understand the flip side.
When I went to college, I was persuaded to NOT follow my dreams of becoming a writer. This advice came from my mom.
Now, before you throw stones, consider her position. A single mother, she worked three jobs for the majority of my life just to pay the bills.
We didn’t wear designer clothes or drive a designer car. In fact, the car that we DID drive had a hole in the floorboard. In the winter, any trash we threw on the floor of that Datsun would freeze in the ice, and then spring would come, the ice on the floorboard would thaw, and out would roll a few soda cans, a bag that had once contained edible chips, and enough change to play a few games of Pac Man at the nearby pizza shop.
Yep, in the spring we hit the jackpot big time.
In my mom’s (aka an English major) mind, writers struggled. Follow your passions, she said, but do it by finding a job in which you can pay the bills.
That is a fine line to cross there, isn’t it? How do you follow your passions, particularly if your passions fall within a creative category, and still ensure that the bills will be paid on time? That your floorboards won’t freeze every winter?
This writer said that if you are in a career for which you are not passionate, the idea should be that you balance that with the other areas of your life to make yourself happy. Spend your time focusing on family, etc, and that will help make you a more balanced and happy person. After all, you can’t be happy if you can’t pay the bills. Hungry people are generally not elated people unless they are so hungry they are hallucinating, right?
I know many people who are not in love with, or whom even like, their careers. I won’t name the professions, but in one group of friends that I have in which they are all involved in the same career I can honestly say that only a few of those friends like what they do. The rest count down the days until retirement, which to me is no way to live.
Yet many people simply can’t change careers, or feel that they can’t, because they have invested so much time into that career that in order to change at a certain point in their lives would be detrimental to their paycheck, insurance and other assets.
And those starting out in the careers in which they may follow what they love but not make any money have to worry about the rising costs of housing, gas and groceries. How can you pay the bills if you aren’t making enough money? Will the unhappiness of being poor overrun the unhappiness of following a career that does not bring you passion and pleasure? In Southern California, where houses cost in the mid $500s, a single person who wants to be an actor has it a little tough, to say the least.
I didn’t go into writing in college, and I hated the first ten years of my working adult life. I regretted my decision to teach, and I regretted the fear I felt when I considered writing and turned in the opposite direction.
Now I write, and yet I know, deep down, that if I were doing this full time with no other financial help I would not be able to make it well with my two girls on my salary. Not at this point, anyway.
Following a passion sometimes means sacrificing the material things in life.
When you are single, this works.
When you have children, this generally does not.
So what would my advice be? If you can swing it, do it. If, financially, you are okay making less than you currently are, then try it for a while. The worse thing that can happen? You won’t succeed and you’ll have to switch back. The best? You’ll do great and be able to work doing something that you love, for the rest of your life.
One of the things I have always felt, and what I want to instill in my daughters, is the fact that you should always live your life understanding that as far as you know you get one shot and that you don’t want to look back when it is too late and say, “I wish I had . . .”
It may mean choosing to go without for a while in the hopes that you will one day have it all.
It may mean the difference of buying a Beamer and watching your trash freeze in your car’s floorboard every winter.
But if you know what is most important, and you choose that and try for a while, then no matter your choice or the outcome you’ll know that you gave it your best.