What are the most important factors to consider when choosing a career? It’s a complicated question, but it’s imperative to ask yourself the following: Should I follow my passion? Or should I do whatever will earn me the most money?
Choosing a field that you are very passionate about is the ideal choice. It certainly feels nice to hear such advice, especially when a billionaire speaking in front of the graduating class at a university cites it as “One of the keys to success.” Yes, you too can become rich by following your dreams!
On the other hand, you’ve probably heard of people who champion the pursuit of the almighty dollar, and attempt to persuade others to opt for a career that will ensure a financially stable life. The practical and pragmatic routes are preferred by these individuals. However, it doesn’t feel very satisfying to eschew passion in favour of practicality when settling for a career, doesn’t it?
So which is the better option?
Like most things in life, it’s a gradient; there are no hard lines. There world is not black and white – more like shades of gray. There are many pros and cons to take into account.
Unfortunately, details are lacking in this binary paradigm, so let’s take these two bits of career advice and put them under a microscope for some much needed scrutiny.
The 3 P’s
Career choice can be classified into three types – what I call the 3 P’s:
Passion – Do what you love
Proficiency – Do what you’re good at
Profitability – Do what brings in the money
The ideal situation is where the three cross over: you love what you do, you’re good at it, and it pays the bills (and then some). Unfortunately, this type of setup seldom occurs.
Have you ever been told that you should choose a career you’re passionate about?
Undoubtedly, you’ve heard expressions such as “do what you love and the money will follow”, or “follow your dreams.” This bromide has been drilled into our minds from the time we’re very young. Life is too short, so the optimal choice is to focus on what makes you happy and then find a way to get paid to do it.
The appeal of following passion needs little analysis. In the ideal world, you would be doing what you would do for free. Monetary incentive is not required – you just do it because it’s fun, exciting, fulfilling, etc. Every day would resemble a wild vacation. You wouldn’t feel the need to fixate your weary eyes on the clock every ten minutes, hopelessly and desperately waiting for the weekend to arrive.
There are some drawbacks to approaching your ideal career this way, though.
Let’s not pretend doing actual work out in the real world will be you doing what you love – and perhaps earning huge piles of money as a bonus.
Not only is trying to turn your passion into a career or business unlikely, it’s also dangerous in that it can lead to a life of poverty, regret, and misery.
Settling on a career in medicine because you genuinely enjoy it would not fall into this category, (doctors are in demand and compensated well). For the purpose of this article, however, I am specifically talking about individuals who choose to pursue a career in the arts (writing, drawing, film-making, photography), professional sports, games, etc. I am also referring to some who enter university to obtain certain liberal arts degrees (or any degree whose post-grad career outlook is dubious), or focus there time on an entrepreneurial undertaking.
Most people who cling to the “Follow your passion” mantra don’t realize the odds are stacked against them from the beginning. They don’t fully comprehend the amount of sacrifice it will take to succeed. They also fail to acknowledge that possessing certain skills is a necessity for success, such as marketing, branding, persuasion, communication, relationship building, financial management, etc. They fail to learn these skills, only concentrating on their core competency.
You can write the the greatest book in the world – but if you have no clue how to sell it effectively, it will vanish into the dustbin of history. Focusing on the art only, while overlooking the business side of art, is a recipe for disaster.
The “Dream chasers” can also lose perspective of what it means to be a valuable member of society, choosing only to indulge in their passions. They risk becoming so obsessed with their vision that everything else in their lives takes a backseat, no matter what the cost.
If you deem comfort and leisure to be vital components in your life, don’t bother pursuing a far-fetched dream career or business. You might have to toil at mind-numbing day jobs to get by, cut back on your social life, and live in a roach-infested apartment, subsisting on canned tuna and puffed rice.
There is a great deal of pain involved in the early stages, and you must be mentally and physically equipped to deal it. Not everyone posesses this outlet.
Artists are deeply committed to their craft and they often view it as an extension of themselves. Many pursue their vision full-time, and accept this may entail maintaining a subsistence lifestyle, while waiting patiently for their big break. Some end up living in poverty, with few options for relief. This is the price they must pay for their dedication.
When desperate times arrive, they can inflict great financial, emotional and psychological turmoil. How would this affect someone who’s an artist?
For some, this means they will succumb to the harshness of the starving artist lifestyle and compromise on their art. They will be forced to abandon their unique voice and produce superficial, bland art that appeals to the mass market. Their vision will be diluted by financial motivation and they will become sellouts.
The free market can be cruel at times; it doesn’t care for originality, eccentricity, edginess, or self indulgence. People don’t care that you are passionate about something. They only care about their wants and needs being met.
Figuring out what you’re good at is a common sense way to get an idea of the type of career you should strive for. Following the path of least resistance when it comes to deploying your skills in the most effective way can pay great dividends, provided you work hard enough to excel in your area of expertise.
The best way to find out what you are good at is to start exploring your innate talents at an early age so you can determine what comes naturally to you.
In addition, immersing yourself in a wide variety of activities is crucial. To be effective in learning and applying knowledge you should focus on breadth and not depth. You want to explore and experience as many fields and avenues as possible. Even if you don’t end up employing many of the skills you acquire to a great degree, the potential synergy of these skills will prove to be beneficial in the future, provided they are utilized at the right time and place.
Being proficient at something does not mean you will necessarily enjoy doing that thing for a living. In fact, this describes the average person. Most people spend time, effort, and money building up a specific skill set which they then use to earn a living. Some may actively despise or simply tolerate their career. They focus on finding happiness and meaning outside of work through family, friends, hobbies, charity work, etc.
A good (and perhaps controversial) way to discover the type of career most suitable for you is to take an IQ test. A professionally-administered IQ test can provide a useful framework for career selection. The reason for this is because IQ is strongly correlated with wealth accumulation and the degree of success in the workplace.
Individuals with high IQs tend to earn more money, move up in their chosen career faster, and overall become more successful by a wide variety of other metrics. Individuals with lower IQs tend to earn less money, move up in their chosen career at a much slower pace, and face more hardship, broadly speaking.
For those who avert their eyes any time some concept of biological determinism is presented, it may be a tough reality check. Certain fields require a high IQ in order to succeed and excel. This is an inescapable fact. University programs in fields such as physics and engineering tacitly presuppose that individuals who apply to them have above average IQs.
The notion that hard work will solve everything is a lie. University will not make an unintelligent person intelligent. Everyone is limited by their genetic predisposition in some way.
You must know your limit and honestly assess you capabilities in order to be successful. If a genius intellect is a prerequisite to achieving your vision, you must possess one. If you don’t, seek out and befriend a genius and leverage their intellectual prowess.
Working hard and absorbing as much knowledge as you can is precisely how you come to know your limit (work ethic is a strong indicator of future success, much like IQ). Don’t become complacent and get lulled into a life of ease and comfort. Most people fail to push themselves hard enough and never discover their full potential.
Why not choose a career that will bring in the money?
This can be a simple way to figure out what direction you want to take your life in.
Money is a great motivator and a factor to consider in almost every life decision we make. This is justifiable and noble, as no one should aspire to wallow in poverty. You would be doing a disservice to yourself and the people around you.
I define profitability in this context as “The condition of being able to meet one’s basic needs and generate a surplus.”
Basic needs consist of the following:
- Medical care
The surplus would be spent on the following:
- Savings for retirement (investments in stocks, bonds, GICs, etc)
- Savings for sporadic, unforeseen expenses (such as a major vehicle repair)
- Savings for pleasure (vacations, hobbies, internet access, etc)
Every person’s list will vary, but the career you ultimately choose should cover these eight areas. If you are unable to cover your surplus needs, you need to reevaluate your line of work, as well as your budget. If you are unable to cover your basic needs, you’re doing something wrong. You will need to evaluate your career choice or get your spending under control.
When assessing the financial viability of a career field, it may help to assess each one according to two factors: supply and demand.
The more in demand a certain skill set is, the more profitable it will be. The less in demand, the more unprofitable it will be.
The higher the supply of qualified individuals, the lower the compensation will be. The lower the supply, the higher the compensation will be.
You can assign a specific career, business idea, university major, and even a single skill, to four different groups:
A. High Demand & High Supply
B. High Demand & Low Supply
C. Low Demand & High Supply
D. Low Demand & Low Supply
The specific group you belong to can help predict your overall level of financial success.
Group A – This is the second best position to be in. There is a healthy demand in the market for your skill set. However, a high supply of similarly skilled individuals will be competing with you.
Group B – This is the best position to be in. You have a skill set that is highly valued by the market, and with less competition, you can dominate your field and command a higher price.
Group C – This is the worst position to be in. The market does not value your skill set very much, and hordes of similarly skilled individuals will be fighting you with unrelenting ferocity to secure whatever few jobs exist.
Group D – This is the second worst position to be in. The market doesn’t value your skill set very much, but with few individuals to compete with, you can carve out and dominate a niche.
Another way to view career selection is to think in terms of weighing the importance of both money and happiness. The riskiness of the career you choose to pursue will fall somewhere on the following spectrum:
- Find what career will enable you to live well from a financial perspective
- Know what area(s) you excel in and assess your skill set.
- Narrow your list to a few where you can leverage your skills, and then select the one will provide you with the most fulfillment, meaning, and happiness.
- Know what area(s) you excel in and assess your skill set (not placing any emphasis on compensation).
- Narrow your list to a few careers that pay reasonably well.
- Choose the career that will would provide you with the most fulfillment, meaning, and happiness.
- Know what area(s) you excel in and assess your skill set, placing little, if any, emphasis on compensation.
- Choose a job that will enable you to live modestly, with little to no emphasis on finding fulfillment, meaning, or happiness from it.
- Pursue your passion in your spare time.
- Pursue your passion full-time at all costs.
- Do everything you can to ensure you don’t fall into poverty.
I have purposely been harsh in this article on the “Follow your passion” advice, simply because it has become a cliche; no one bothers to view the argument from the other side.
If you feel that a highly speculative career is your destiny, pursue it with unwavering commitment and conviction. Simply be aware of this fact of life: you have no one to blame if things go sour, as you chose the path of your own volition.
On the flip side, simply selecting a career that will allow you to earn a huge salary is also not ideal. If you sincerely dislike going to work every day, you will eventually be worn out, physically and mentally. Spending countless hours at a job that is devoid of pleasure can trigger depression, anxiety, and other serious illnesses. It can drain the life essence of even the most hardened individual.
If you can’t decide between passion and money, my personal advice is to select a career that will:
- Pay the bills.
- Not cause undue stress in your life.
- Allow you to pursue your passion or speculative business on the side.
I believe this is a good system because it ensures you will be financially secure, have minimal stress, and retain enough energy to focus on your creative or entrepreneurial projects. You can continue working at your modest job until your side project(s) become successful – and you don’t have to lose sleep over not having enough money to cover the upcoming month’s rent.
Finally, some last words of advice:
People won’t give you money for following your passion – they’ll give you money for providing that which they find valuable. So always strive to be a person of value, rather than passion, and maybe one day you’re passion will bring in the money. If you’re passionate about something, do it – but don’t be so selfish that you expect others to give you money for it.