“Do what you love and the money will follow,” is an appealing belief with a great promise. There’s just one catch: it’s a money script. Like all money scripts, it is a half-truth that works in certain circumstances and fails miserably in others.
Most Financial Life Planners, myself among them, support the notion that people need to do what they love. Why spend the best years of your life in a job or career that you hate? Of course it is far more rewarding to find a career or a job that seems like getting paid to play.
Yet in reality, just a fortunate few actually find the job that fulfills their dreams and passions and also offers plenty of pay. All too often, what feels like play just doesn’t carry much, if any, pay.
As an example, what is play to my wife is acting. She comes alive digging her emotional chops into a juicy role and performing. She recently celebrated her 25th year of being on the stage by playing Lady Macbeth with our local theater group. She was in thespian heaven for six weeks of rehearsal and three weeks of performances.
How much did she earn? Nada, zero, zilch. Fortunately, her day job and mine allow her to enjoy her payless passion of acting.
This is my point. For most of us we need to balance our play with our pay.
Jonathan Clements, author of the HumbleDollar blog, agrees and gives some jolting advice to those that embrace the “Do what you love” philosophy. In his newsletter from November 10, 2018, he says, “Forget pursuing your passions in your 20s and 30s. Instead, you should spend those years pursuing dollars, so you can spend your 40s and 50s doing what you love.” He contends that pursing your passions in your 50s brings greater happiness than endeavoring to do so in your 20s, “when you probably don’t really know what you want and when the conventional work world will likely still seem novel and exciting.”
I once attended a conference where a speaker related how her life was changed when in her 20’s her fiancé was murdered in front of her. As a result she started working with people who are grieving. It was probably the best presentation of grieving I had ever heard by a therapist.
Afterward, I told her how incredibly powerful her talk was and asked her where she practiced. She said, “I don’t. I’m not a therapist, I’m a portfolio manager.” She explained that her passion was working with those grieving but her day job, for which she earned a handsome six-figure salary, was managing millions of dollars. “I hope someday I can quit and afford to do what I love,” she said, and then apologetically added, “I know that doesn’t sit well with you or your peers who preach a person should be doing what they love.”
Without hesitation I heard myself respond, “There is nothing wrong with doing what you don’t like so someday you can afford to do what you love.” Her face lit up in surprise. She gave me a big hug and said, “I really needed to hear that.”
Maybe you need to hear that, too. I certainly don’t advocate staying stuck in a soul-crushing job that you hate. But work is not necessarily the only way to satisfy your life aspirations. An “okay” job that gives you financial stability and allows you to do what you love outside of work may be a perfectly acceptable compromise. The goal is to find a balance that meets both your financial and emotional needs.