Did you see the article over on HBR the other day about choosing between making money and doing what you love?
Leonard A Schlesinger, Charles F Kiefer, and Paul B Brown answered this great – and not so uncommon – question:
“If you’re passionate about what you do, but it’s not going to make you a lot of money, should you still do it?”
Their answer was a conditional yes. The condition being that the thing you’re passionate about keeps you financially viable. Because, if it doesn’t, you need to find yourself some other kind of income stream meantime.
Not because you’re a crazy person for dreaming that you could turn what you love into a job.
But because, if you can’t fund yourself today, you risk being unable to do any of what you love either today or tomorrow. As the guys across at HBR point out, it’s a Maslow hierarchy of needs thing. Get the basic requirements for food, shelter and personal safety under control, before you go off up the self-actualisation ladder.
And the post got me thinking about how career attitudes can sometimes trip us up. Pertinent to this discussion is one about focusing on one thing at a time.
Focus on one thing only
Whether it’s said, or implied, a key belief, at least when you’re growing up, is that you should choose the thing to which you’ll dedicate your career. (All the better if it’s something that has kudos and earns money.)
Either this thing OR that thing. Drama or law. Music or accountancy. In my case it was either art or European languages (there’s a whole other story about how I ended up doing psychology, but that’s for another day).
A lucky few find that one thing that satisfies them ongoing.
For the rest of us, it means that we often put away some of the things that really, really gripped us in making the choice of one thing versus another.
Which can appear okay for a while, but it’s amazing how often I hear people in their thirties and forties regret that, in the process of becoming the kind of professional they thought they were expected to be, they gave up music, or writing, or art or that idea they had about running their own business, or whatever.
See, different things fulfill us in different ways and maybe it’s unreasonable to expect one thing to completely satisfy us. But that’s how we’re often hard-wired to think.
Tough at the Top
I used to run workshops called Tough at the Top for senior people who were experiencing their jobs as particularly challenging, and who wanted group coaching and peer support in breaking through where they were at.
One of the exercises I had folks do was to think about why they did what they did for a living; what they expected from it. There was a wide range of things that people were looking for their big jobs to deliver. For example:
- Feeling that they were leaving a legacy
- Being involved with something bigger than themselves
- The ability to connect with and to lead other people
- Wanting to be part of a team of smart colleagues
- Personal development
- Financial reward
Hardly surprising that these people were often feeling frustrated in one or more of these areas.
What if, instead of putting the onus on their big job, they considered all their needs and how they could get them met across a number of different vocational and personal interests?
The romantic parallels
Which reminds me of a client I’ve worked with for a number of years, and a challenge he was having, not with his work, but with a relationship.
See, he’d been dating this one woman, with whom he was very happy and very much in love. They did lovely things together, he told me that their sex life was good, and he enjoyed being around her. However, he’s a pretty intellectual guy and he had become frustrated that this woman either couldn’t or wouldn’t have the big-brained type of smart conversation that he enjoyed having from time to time.
Did this mean that they were not compatible?
His dilemma led me to support him to get really clear about what he needs from other people, particularly from his key relationships. He listed out: companionship, a sense of belonging, sex, fun, intellectual challenge. I then got him to think about whether he needed to have all of these met by one person. This got him thinking of some good friends he had with whom he loved intellectual sparring, and how, if he spent a little more time with them, he’d feel fine.
Here’s the interesting bit: when he gave himself permission that he could have different needs met by different people, he enjoyed both sets of relationships even more.
The moral of the story
It’s the same with work.
If we expect something that we love to make us money when it won’t or it’s simply not yet at that stage, we’ll resent it.
Ditto, if we expect something that makes us money to give us a bigger sense of purpose, if in our heart of hearts it doesn’t.
What if we learned from my client’s story?
What if we reframed that stuff about having to choose one career stream over another and thought creatively about how we might meet all of our vocational needs?
What might we end up doing?
In a nutshell, some of the work you do you’ll love. Some of the work you do will earn you money. Different kinds of work serve different purposes. Get over it and get on with relishing all that you do.