Only 20% of workers feel very passionate about their careers. On the other hand, 4 in 10 U.S. workers feel they’re underpaid. Of course, it would be great if everyone could love their jobs and get paid a lot to perform them. But in reality, we often have to choose one or the other.
So what’s more important when it comes to work: following your passion, or choosing a well-paying job? We reached out to career experts who shared their thoughts. Spoiler: There’s no one clear-cut answer — but their responses could help you make a decision if you’re grappling with this age-old career question.
Money isn’t everything.
Annette Harris, a financial coach and Human Resources professional, said that choosing a career you love is more important than one that pays as much as possible. Not only will it lead to greater happiness, but it could help you perform better at work — which may lead to better pay and opportunities down the road anyway.
“Doing what you love can create an inner satisfaction that permeates into your work and other aspects of your life,” she said. “The quality of work…will be noticed by others and can increase your income later.”
On the other hand, working in a career that you aren’t passionate about or is overly stressful can lead to poor work performance. Plus, job dissatisfaction can lead to health issues and strain your relationships, she said. “Everyone’s financial situation and motivations in life are different. However, weighing the costs of money and happiness should be a priority focus in one’s life.”
But passion doesn’t equate to skill.
There may be an abundance of inspirational quotes and stories about the importance of following your passion, but Ashley Stahl, career expert at SoFi, said you shouldn’t listen to them.
“While passion does matter, I have found there are a few other aspects of yourself that matter far more, especially if you want a fulfilling career,” she said. Many Americans are unhappy at work, and Stahl believes it’s actually because too many people are doing work that is aligned with their passions, and not their unique skill sets or natural talents.
Just because you enjoy something doesn’t mean you’re necessarily good at it. And in the end, strong job performance is what leads to a fulfilling and well-paying career. “Instead of looking at what topics and passions you enjoy, focus on determining what tasks you do best or what skills you use best every single day,” Stahl said. “Whether that looks like writing, supporting others, analyzing data or organizing information, your skill set is where the best career path lies for you.”
Finding balance is key.
Meredith Turney, a leadership coach, says it ultimately depends on your personal priorities.
For example, she said, some people are pursuing FIRE (financial independence; retire early), so they’re willing to work for money over passion. “They can still be highly competent in their role and find ways to be fulfilled even if they aren’t in love with that particular line of work.”
“Conversely, I’ve coached many professionals who had a financially successful career, but left it because they wanted to wake up each morning and jump out of bed eager to make a difference in the world,” Turney said. “They now work for nonprofits or small companies.”
When working with clients, Turney said she helps them hone in on their core values and highest motivator, which are the keys to answering this question for each person. “In an ideal world, everyone could find work they love that pays well,” she said. “Hopefully with more conscious leadership, we’ll get there soon.”
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