Earn Your Passion

We often see articles on the internet about finding your passion.  Usually this refers to finding or creating a job you love to do.  This is a great concept although in reality it’s not as easy, or beneficial to your happiness, as the writers make it sound.  Keep in mind many of the writers are people who didn’t like their job and are now trying to make money as a “life coach”.  They need to advertise and get clients to survive.  Their message needs to have a positive appeal to draw clients in.

But lets ignore this cynical view and take the advice at face value.  It’s sounds reasonable.  Figure out how to make a career out of things you love.  Sounds great!

Unfortunately, many well-paying jobs are not something many people would do for fun (think patent lawyer….no offense to the few out there that are passionate about patent law), but they can be financially and emotionally rewarding for some period of your life.

In addition, many of us have multiple passions and those passions can change with time.  It’s very difficult to figure out a way to combine our diverse interests in useful way.  And for the many of us with multiple passions and a desire for balance, it’s not very fun to be one-dimensional while we put in the entrepreneurial-like-hours of effort to make it a single “passion job” a financially successful one.

Your “passion job” quickly can become so much work that it’s less fun than a non-passion job!

Specifically, if you need your passion to earn a living, then by definition you are going to have to focus on making money from your efforts.  Since many of these “passion” jobs are working for yourself, that means you need to spend time marketing and selling.  For some of us, this is not appealing at all.  I got into science partly because I didn’t like sales!  The required tasks to earn a decent living can significantly take away from your true passion.

The “passion job” argument is a simplistic one of finding something you love that you’d even do for free.  But the actual need to monetize this distorts your passion and usually makes it less personally rewarding.

The “passion” you’d do for free becomes a different thing when you need to make money from it.

Many people discover this when they try to turn a passionate hobby into a job.  The much longer hours and need to monetize it turns quickly sours your passion for the hobby.

I love to climb mountains.  But its a small fraction of my time.  That’s actually part of why I love it.  I’m certain that if I started climbing mountains full-time, it would quickly lose it’s appeal.  There are too many other things I am passionate about that climbing mountains full-time would take away from.  It just wouldn’t be as fun if it was full-time…..like a job!  And in this case, I’m assuming I don’t even need to make an income.

To actually earn money, I’d have to do something like become a mountain guide.  But then I’d need to spend my time with paying clients, doing routes that are not very challenging like the ones I’d climb on my own.  I’d have to move slower.  I’d have all the additional responsibilities of taking care of less experienced clients.  Plus I’d periodically have to deal with the difficult clients all because I need the money.

Maybe your passion is crafting things.  Woodworking, or painting, or whatever.  You want to spend your time crafting, not trying to sell your crafts.

Think of doctors.  Many love the actual healing part of their job.  But since they need to monetize this as a career, they are stuck doing a lot of administrative paperwork.  They need to work long hours, especially if they have their own practice, even if they don’t want to because they have overhead to cover.  The simple fact of needing to make money from their efforts takes away from their true passion of healing others.

You can think of many other examples.

So maybe it’s not quite as fun or even very realistic to “find your one passion” and do that for a living for a large portion of the population, and giving this trite advice can be a big disservice to many readers.

Maybe this sounds a bit depressing, or at least like we’re settling if we don’t follow this advice.  But if a more financially rewarding job enables you to save a lot more, you can gain more freedom, much earlier in life than those who want the instant gratification of a “passion” job right now.

For many people, having a career they like well enough that pays well is not a bad choice at all, particularly if it’s not a lifetime commitment but is actually a period in your life that allows you to build financial freedom early.  It’s also something that you’re more likely to achieve versus finding that one job that is so perfect that you’d do it for free (and to make sure you feel that way for a long time to come so that you’re successful in it).

Interestingly, studies on human psychology indicate that simply by spending time doing something, we tend to enjoy it more.  Familiarity bias is a powerful bias in everyone.  Things we are exposed to, we like much better.  This has been proven very widely.  From introducing kids to new foods, to voters strongly preferring candidates they have seen on TV more often.  Also, studies on mindfulness show that being present on the task at hand increases our enjoyment of it, even if it’s an inherently unpleasant task.

I bring this up because many people are not miserable in their jobs (and could improve their happiness in their current job).  Simply by spending so much time at work, people generally end up getting pretty into their jobs, especially for the first 10-20 years (coincidentally enough time to gain FI with a high savings rate)!

We gain expertise, a social network, learning opportunities, and simply become more comfortable through daily exposure.  We gain a pride in our work and gained capabilities.   And this happens in most jobs, assuming the job is relatively aligned with your fundamental personality type.

It’s important to note that I’m not advocating doing a job you hate or are fundamentally misaligned with.  But there are many jobs out there to choose from and you can find a financially rewarding one that fits your interests well enough if you look.

I’m also not saying most people love their jobs.  In fact, it seems that engagement at work is overall quite low.  But being engaged at work and hating your work are not the same thing.  I believe most people fall in the middle.  They don’t mind their work overall but given the choice they would rather spend their time doing something else.

But since these statistics on happiness (or unhappiness depending on your perspective) seem to be quite similar regardless of type of job, you might as well pick one that pays well!

In fact, interestingly enough, even though well-paying jobs are more challenging, they are also more interesting and people can be happier doing those jobs that an “easier” job.  I have not seen good research on this topic but it seems that there is a sweet spot to be found.  A mentally engaging job that is challenging, but not extreme, seems to be that sweet spot.

On the one end are easy but repetitive (i.e. boring) jobs.  My first job as a lifeguard was one of these…..great at first but horribly boring after a while.  These are not usually fulfilling and they tend to be low-paying jobs.  Cashiers and data entry jobs fall into this category.

At the other extreme are high-stress, long-hour jobs.  These are very lucrative and some people thrive in them but many people are unhappy in these jobs.  Think wall-street investment banker, patent attorney, surgeon, and high-level corporate manager.

Then there is a middle that seems to be a good place to be.  Skilled craftsmen like a plumber or carpenter.  Chemical engineer.  Research scientist.  Computer programmer.  Accountant.  Psychologist.  While some of these jobs can be very demanding, most of them don’t require extreme hours.  They also tend to pay well.  And many people seem to be quite happy in these types of jobs.

It’s worth noting that most of the happy FIRE bloggers had well-paying jobs before they retired early.  This is no coincidence.  A high income makes a high savings rate possible with relatively little sacrifice.  I doubt many of them regret their pragmatic career choices.

Is it really such a bad idea to look for jobs that pay well and have a reasonable work/life balance?  Something that allows you to enjoy your working time, challenges you to learn and gain skills, and add value to others while allowing you to save a large portion of your income for early financial freedom?  Isn’t this maybe better advice than telling people to forget delayed gratification and “find their passion” when they still have significant financial needs in life?

I can already hear the counterarguments coming through the screen.

You’re wasting the prime years of your life in a job you don’t love just to make money?  This is so sad and so wrong!  You can never get time back and you never know if there will be a tomorrow so this just makes no sense.  So you’ll be old and financially free but you’ll have missed out on life when you were young.  This writer is an idiot.

I’ll admit it’s possible.  But let me offer a few counters.  When you are young, particularly in your twenties and early thirties, it’s usually not a huge sacrifice to work hard, regardless of whether it’s a “passion” job or not.  You have a ton of energy and ambition.  You typically have few obligations.

You generally like work, regardless of your actual job, at this stage in your life.

I haven’t seen specific studies on this but I suspect very few people regret working hard in their 20’s.

About the only psychological sacrifice is if you’re saving a lot of money.  This can feel like a big sacrifice because you have so many desires in life that cost money.  Again, this is something much easier to manage if you have a good income.  A pragmatic, well-paying job wins.

When do people regret having worked too much?  This is one of the top regrets based on surveys of those near death.  I suspect this regret is really about working too hard in the 30’s and beyond.  Often it’s tied to missing time with young children.  Or missing out on travel or other things before reaching an age where this isn’t as easy or fun anymore (typically in your 60’s).

Typically around your mid-30’s and later is where you really feel the value of time.  This is where the biggest work/life balance complaints come.  This is the point where many people start thinking seriously of saving for retirement because they both realize they won’t be able to work forever.  More importantly, they start to feel like they won’t want to work forever.  This becomes more stark in your 40’s.  It’s not typically a big psychological factor in your 20’s.

So I’d agree with the detractors if you had to work until you were 65 at a job that didn’t stoke your passions.  But making a more pragmatic career choice (assuming some reasonable fit with your personal skills and interests) and then saving a lot to have financial freedom early in life, is not a bad path to follow.

So let’s say we picked a job based more pragmatically on the income it provides and managed to save a lot so that we are financially independent relatively early in life.

Now what?

Well, pretty much whatever you want assuming your savings will support your level of spending.

What is great about this is that your passions can be done on your terms.  If you don’t want to focus on monetizing your passion, you don’t have to.  Ironically, it seems there is a good chance that money will still find its way to you even though you don’t need it, but that is the topic of another article.

You can also have multiple passions.  You don’t need to specialize and become an expert in one area like you typically do in a real job.  You don’t need to spend too many hours on just one passion to make a career out of it.  You can split your time between diverse passions.

Maybe you want to exercise a few hours each day but don’t have interest being a cross-fit instructor.  Then you might want to spend a few hours writing a book but don’t mind if it takes years longer to finish your book compared to someone who dedicates most of their day to writing.  Later you can indulge your passion for cooking (although you have no interest in being a full-time chef), as you prepare a nice meal for your family followed by a leisurely evening with loved ones (hard to monetize that part of your day) and a few hours of reading (again hard to make a career out of your love of reading since this doesn’t directly add value to others).

It’s hard to figure out how to monetize a “passion” day like this but many people have a day like this in mind when they visualize an ideal day that is unconstrained by the need to work for money.

Maybe when you think of being free from your current job, your “dream job” is clear in your mind and you want to work as many or more hours at that job and can hardly wait to get started.  If that’s you, then I agree that finding your passion and creating a career out of it is a good choice.  But for the other 95% of us (my made-up statistic) we prefer the previous, more balanced ideal lifestyle better.

For us, our “dream job” is actually not a job at all.  It’s a set of activities that we love to do that fulfill different core desires around relationships, health, learning, relaxation, and active fun.

So if you truly want to be able to explore and indulge in your true life passions to the fullest extent, maybe the best approach is not to cobble together a job that has some of this.

Maybe instead you should earn your way to financial freedom early in life so you can have decades where you can truly live your passions without the happiness-detracting need to make money off them.

So back to the arguments earlier.  Isn’t it maybe better to target a well-paying job and work hard in your 20’s and early 30’s in order to earn your ability to live life the way you want as early as your mid-30’s to mid-40’s?  Wouldn’t this more likely maximize your lifetime happiness compared to the instant gratification of a “passion” job that likely pays worse?

What do you think?  Is it better to live your passion as much as possible and as early in life as possible?  Or do you think being pragmatic early in life until you earn your ability to fully indulge in your passion(s) is the best approach?  Which path is most likely to maximize your lifetime happiness?  Please weigh in with your thoughts!



2 thoughts on “Earn Your Passion”

  1. You make some good points. To quote a pro basketball player “it’s a fun job, but it’s still a job”. Sometimes you just need to think of it as paid work instead of some passionate calling in life.


  2. Good comment. I definitely think we lower our happiness needlessly by expecting too much from our paid work sometimes. This is especially true if you are supposedly “living your dream”. It’s as though the expectation is to be happy all the time and love every minute. My guess is the probability of that being true is 0%. We are all human and have ups and downs even when our lives are pretty great. Thanks for the comment!


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