I Wish I Had Known: Chase Passion, Not Pay

When I was originally assessing a potential career path, I made two mistakes.

First, I had this concept of base and variance pay cemented in my mind.

Base was what any particular job paid on average. If you were going to be a crossing guard, you made a certain base – same went for a chef, fireman, lawyer or anything else. On top of that, there was the variance. Depending on how good/senior/effective you were, you could go plus or minus on this base with some variance amount. That was what determined pay.

The second mistake I made was focusing on pay as a primary objective – when in fact; it should be much more of a derivative.

I Thought Choosing a Career Was About Chasing the Highest Pay

Let’s all admit one thing before we begin this conversation: everyone wants to make a lot of money. If someone can whole heartedly convince me that money is of no concern to them, then I will eat my words – but in my years I have yet to come across anyone thus far who has. Maybe money isn’t on the top of your list – you would rather work fewer hours, have more family time, or anything else – but it is always somewhere on that list.

So, with that in mind, every college/university student is thinking the same thing: what do I do to make a lot of money? Depending on your grades (see: marks matter), connections and general skill set, several different venues will be open to you. Perhaps you are a stellar student with a perfect GPA; you can do almost anything you want. How do you assess these different opportunities? How do you compare the different options available to you?

My instinct out of the gate was easy: which one will make me the most money? I would flip to the section where it said “weekly pay.” After all, that mindset wasn’t really my fault either. I had been conditioned up to that point to focus on pay. Maybe your parents told you to get a ‘safe job with a steady income’. Maybe you went to one of the 100’s of business schools that glorified a career in finance. Maybe you just watch too much MTV cribs. Whatever the reason, there are several possible causes as to why pay is the go-to decision factor.

Pay is a simple metric to compare different jobs. When you are new to the corporate world, you don’t really know what you are looking for. I didn’t understand the concepts of work environment, mentors, culture or personal growth opportunities – it was all somewhat alien to me. That’s why it is easy to go on something that is easily measureable and understandable: pay.

I also thought pay was an indicator of ability; if I wasn’t getting paid well, then I wasn’t valuable. I had grown to think that your pay was the markets way of rewarding your value – it paid you what you were worth. Taking a low paying job was a way of indirectly admitting that I wasn’t worth a lot. I also made the mistake of thinking current pay was an indicator of future pay. I was sure that if I got into an industry that was paying well now, it would mean only earnings growth in the future – I thought that pay was an ever-lasting perk.

Finally, I thought pay would motivate me – I thought it would make me work longer, harder and smarter than anyone else. I thought I could use it to validate my efforts in the eyes of friends, family and peers. I thought it would carry me through those late nights and early mornings; well guess what? It didn’t.

I Learned it Was All About Passion – Pay is a By-product

Here’s the gist of what I learned over the last five years: if you find something you love, figure out how you can use it to provide value to others, do it really well, and get a bit lucky, you will make great money (or at least good money).

Here’s the other part of what I learned: if you are doing something you aren’t passionate about, you will never be the best at it. No matter how many hours you force yourself to put in, you heart will never be there. It will be like running on a hamster wheel. However, somewhere, someone who is working in the same field as you, who is genuinely passionate about it, will run circles around you. They will WANT to eat, breath and drink the material. They will enjoy the work, and as a result of that, be able to put in a better effort with a lower level of required motivation. The paradox here is that by chasing the pay, you have actually limited your earning potential – you will never be able to get the full value of that which you seek. If you are competing with someone who loves their job (while you don’t), they will always put in more effort then you, and always be better than you – including better paid.

However, following your passion has several upsides beyond the monetary benefits. You will be happier – enjoying your work can do wonders for personal morale. Instead of setting an alarm, you will leap out of bed! You will be healthier – maybe you eat healthier (because you don’t need the escape mechanism anymore) and your stress levels will be lower (as you actually enjoy your work!). You will be more creative – you are doing something you love now! By pursuing your passion, everything else will fall into line – including your pay.

Personally, the one part about my experience at my past employer that hurt me the most were the mornings – waking up at 5:00 am is not a pleasant thing – especially after going to sleep only a few hours earlier. I thought the money would make it bearable – and it did – for a while. Soon enough though I started questioning whether it was all worth it – whether the sacrifice was worth the pay. After leaving, I can safely say that given the same situation again, I would not hesitate to make the same decision. No amount of money can quantify the joy I get out of my new career – and I don’t have to wake up at 5:00 am!

If I Could Go Back

If I could go back, I would spend more time figuring out what my passion was and less time my pay grade. Understanding your calling is not something you can do in one sitting – it requires a number of books, periods of reflection, and moments of study – it’s an investment in time and thought.

I would have spent my first years exploring every possible career, and talking to anyone who would listen. The truth is that we as students only hear about a fraction of the possible jobs we could potentially pursue – partly because the information is not made available to us, but also partly because for the most part we are too lazy to go find it.

Also, I would try not to be jaded by the potentially low initial pay. The goal is to find something you love, not something you endure. Your career is not a sprint, it’s a marathon – taking a lower pay upfront might result in a higher pay in the long run.

Caveat – Your Passion Has to Add Value

Here is a very important caveat: in order to pursue your passion, you need to figure out some way it actually adds value. If you enjoy staring at the sky, and you think it truly is your passion, that’s fantastic – but you won’t be able to make a living off of it – at least not in that form. Maybe you need to start offering star gazing classes, maybe you make a website, maybe you teach classes; whatever it is, it needs to add value to others. It’s great that you can find your passion – but you still need to turn that passion into a value add vehicle somehow. If you can find your passion AND find a way to use it to add value, you will be unstoppable.



Blair Livingston Blog


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