Choosing Work: Love Or Money?

When you set out to choose your occupation, should you choose a higher paying job or work that you love? I never questioned it myself. I couldn’t imagine spending eight to ten hours a day for thirty years doing work that I hated or merely tolerated. I looked for work that if I didn’t love it, I at least liked. I started to wonder about how other people choose work, however, after a friend recently spent a ton of money on pharmacy school and then informed me that he hated it.

“I hated pharmacy before I even applied to school,” he said. “But I knew I wanted to make a lot of money and, with the aging of the senior bracket, I knew that there would be a big market for pharmacists. I could write my own ticket, make a ton of money, and retire young.”

I asked him if it wasn’t torture spending all those years studying a subject he hated and now to be working in that same field. Didn’t it kill his soul?

“Sure. But I can put off my happiness for ten to fifteen years. That’s how long it’ll take me to save up my retirement fund. I’ll only be forty-five, at the latest. I’ll have many years ahead where I can do the things that make me happy.”

I just shrugged. If that strategy works for him, I can’t argue. But it’s not a choice that I could ever make. I could take a job that I hated if I were in dire financial straits and that job was all I could get. I could do work I hated on a temporary basis to get through tough financial times. But I could never choose something that I hated as my primary career just because it paid a lot of money. Money is great, but when you’re talking about spending fifty weeks a year for ten years doing something you hate, well, life is too short for that, in my opinion.

I didn’t ask my friend this because it isn’t my business, but I really want to know what he’ll do if he gets sick before he gains his freedom. Or if his wife gets sick and can no longer work and he has to be her sole support? What happens if he reaches forty-five, retires, and then gets sick and can’t enjoy his retirement? What happens if some calamity hits them and forces him to work longer than expected? Will he still feel like he made a good decision?

Personally, I doubt it. If you worked for years at something you hate just for the money and then, for whatever reason, you couldn’t enjoy your freedom and money on the appointed schedule, I think you would feel bitter, angry, and that you made the wrong bargain with the devil. It’s great if he retires at forty-five and has thirty healthy, happy years to spend with his wife doing fun things. The deal will have worked in his favor. But if it doesn’t work out exactly as he’s planned, well, frankly, it’s going to suck.

I also don’t think he factored in the collateral damage his decision might bring. Working at something you hate is stressful. Unless he’s very good at compartmentalizing his life, he’s going to spend the next ten years stressed, angry, and bitter, which won’t be good for his health. That could come back and bite him just as he’s ready to retire in the form of high blood pressure, heart problems, or other chronic disease. He may not be a nice person to live with, either, which means his wife might come to hate him and decide to divorce him. I doubt she signed on to ten years of living with a miserable man when she said, “I do.” She may decide that no amount of money is worth that and bolt.

I say choose balance when you’re looking for work. You want work that is going to pay the bills and let you earn enough to get ahead, but you don’t want to spend years of your life in misery. Life doesn’t always work out neatly. There are too many things that can mean those ten years of misery are all you get. You may not get a chance to reach the finish line because of an illness, an accident, market forces beyond your control, or any one of a hundred other problems. It’s better to be able to say you enjoyed each day rather than holding out for some date in the future when you can enjoy your life. Try to find work that you like. If it doesn’t pay that well, cut your budget down or take on some other work to bridge the gap until you can reach a good payment level. Don’t spend years in misery just for money. It’s a risky bargain that may not work out in your favor and you don’t get a “do over” on all those lost years.

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14 Responses to Choosing Work: Love Or Money?

  1. Rose says:

    I must thank you for writing this. I’m on the cusp of leaving a well-paying job for a lower paying one in an area of the country where my cost of living will be lower, but so will my wages. I’m in complete agreement with you about spending your days doing something you at least like, so I’ve only been a little nervous about this decision. Your column today was like getting a sign that everything will be all right – I’ll not only make enough to live just fine, I’ll be so much happier than I am in the overpopulated hell-hole that is South Florida! Thank you again.

  2. BlackDiamond says:

    I couldn’t hate something that paid me a lot. I’d be willing to do just about anything if it meant I had more money. Then again, I think money can buy happiness because without money, there’d be no entertainment, travel or any of the other stuff that is important to me.

  3. snshijuptr says:

    My husband and I both agreed to pursue jobs that we could happily continue in until we die. I may not enjoy every minute of grad school right now, but I’m working my mind furiously and that makes me happy. Afterward I will get a job that I enjoy more fully. Hopefully my enjoyment will grow throughout life.

    Watching my father practically kill himself in a job he hated only to be replaced and find work he loved at less pay, I know that I want to work something I love.

  4. Rachel McTague says:

    One professional I know who sees many clients and gets to know them pretty well told me that about 95% of his clients do work that they do not love, but do it for the money. The other 5% are lucky enough to be working at something they love. Money, as one commenter suggested, buys lots of fun and freedom in the hours that you don’t work. It is unrealistic for most people to look and look for a job that they “love.”

  5. Jaime says:

    Like the article said, I think there is some balance to be achieved. You don’t necessarily have to love your job, but to actually hate your work and just be in it for the money … no thanks. I could see it if it was just for a year or two, but there are very few jobs that can pay you enough in that amount of time to free you for the rest of your life. I would also worry that I’d get hit by a car crossing the street during that time and have wasted my life. Just as you shouldn’t go overboard saving and put off every little enjoyment in life in order to save for the future, you can’t totally ignore your present enjoyment to pursue money.

  6. Stephan says:

    I think ideally you should get a job that you do love, but the reality is that not many jobs pay enough to fulfill your dreams, so you have to take on a job that pays better but does not match your interests. Its a game of give and take, sacrifice a little of your snaity for 50 weeks a year for a little more spending money for those 2 weeks of vacation=)

  7. Squirrelers says:

    This is an excellent article.

    Always remember – you might be able to make more money, but you can’t make more time. I espouse the HWR framework – health, wealth, and relationship as being interrelated.

  8. A few alternatives to being miserable:

    1) Figure out why you’re miserable; it might not actually be the nature of the work you do. Perhaps it’s because you dont’ like your boss or a coworker. Perhaps you haven’t taken enough time off lately. Perhaps you aren’t being challenged or growing in your chosen field. Perhaps it’s been too long since a pay raise or other financial incentive. Perhaps you and the coworkers need to just go out for a happy hour. Find ways to get out of your rut for a minute, then when you return you will have a more attuned sense for whether you really are (or aren’t) happy.

    2) Broaden your interests a bit and focus on changing your attitude. Perhaps there is something about your job that you CAN like. After all, the attitude and temperament of your fellow employees make up a large part of your overall job satisfaction.

    3) Learn what it is about your job you don’t like (and what you do like) and pursue job movement that goes along those lines. Learn what it is that you enjoy, then find opportunities in or out of your company that lean toward the parts of your job that you like.

    A wise person told me that job satisfaction comes with 3 factors 1) you believe in what you’re doing 2) you enjoy the people you’re doing it with and 3) you feel you are compensated fairly for it.

  9. Karthick says:

    I will choose the higher paying job. The second theory will not work for me.

  10. Monkey Mama says:

    The answer to this, is balance. My dad wanted to be a “TV repairman” and a college counselor gave him the wisest advice – get an engineering degree. I grew up with a parent who LOVED his job and was paid well for it.

    When I showed interest in being a bookkeeper, my parents encouraged me to get my CPA license. I could have pushed it and became a CFO, but ending up somewhere in the middle meant a relatively low stress job that I love, with good pay. Balance! (In fact, my current job is more bookkeeping than anything, but I get paid 2-3 times bookkeeper wages). My parents SO stressed practicality and passion – both. Of course, my spouse’s passion is more low paying (teaching or arts), but I know if he is happy and passionate about it, he can turn it into success. I think it is far more important to LOVE what you do. The money will follow, if you enjoy your work. (Or, the money simply doesn’t matter so much).

    On the flip side, being in the accounting field, it is a field that a LOT of people choose for the money. I haven’t seen too many people that has worked out for. I have strongly discouraged many people over the years from going the accounting route because it’s “easy” (cheap education) and “high paying.” The miserable ones burn out fast, and the ones who don’t enjoy numbers simply can not do the job. Ironically, I find it is a profession with like minded people who love their job. No one else makes it past the first year or 2. It’s just a field I haven’t seen miserable people succeeding at, personally. Which more strongly puts me in the “a job you hate isn’t very worthwhile” camp.

  11. Bryan Cooper says:

    I work with folks and their finances and a majority of them hate their job. Those who hate their job feel extremely trapped because they hate their job and they have a mess with their finances. It is tough to stay focused to dig out of a financial mess when you are miserable financially and occupationally.

    Those who I work with who love their job usually don

  12. Susan says:

    Wow, this is really a timely article. I have been very blessed to have a job I absolutely love. The hours are great, the pay is sufficient and the team of employees are far above par. I agree with the comment made about being a volunteer. If times are financially hard for you, they are always harder for someone else. If you cannot find “passion from your profits” then help others in need. Move through your rough patch financially by being of service to those who are even less fortunate. Find your joy!!

  13. bethuel kiprop says:

    i personally think that you should work with somethin you love and not something not part of you at any instance because you will tend to work better with what you love than what you dislike

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