Opinion, Purpose

Purpose vs. a Paycheck

“Do what you love, and the money will follow.”
“Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
“Make passion your paycheck.”

I’m all for inspirational quotes – but these three platitudes get me especially fired up. Because really, how many of us are in a financial position to only do work that calls out to our souls? To make passion your paycheck means it’s likely someone else is putting the food on the table – and we all have to eat. Looking at work separate from the rest of your life is a reductive perspective. I prefer to think of an entire life as a system; a mutually supportive ecosystem where what we do to create financial stability isn’t all we are.
Your purpose may not be your job at all.

How to know how close your job is to your purpose? I use The Lottery Question as my go-to question to get a reading on how someone is feeling about their work and purpose. It’s simple: What would you do if you won the lottery tomorrow? 

There are three primary answers:

  1. Stay! I’d invest my winnings wisely, maybe go on a big trip, but at the end of the day I’d keep going in to work.
  2. Sashay! I’d be out that door so fast that hopefully I’d remember to take my family pictures off my desk.
  3. Delay! I’d give two weeks notice, wrap up my current work and transition things to the rest of my team before heading on to Disney World.

Stay! I am inspired by my friends who would keep working – but it’s a short list and frankly, not that common. If you fall into this category, share your story – how’d you get to do the work you love and earn the necessary money to support yourself? Ask yourself why you would stay and if those elements could change. If they did change, what would you do?

Sashay! If you’d you’d sashay out the door, calling out “Later, suckers!”, do you know why you’re in the job you’re in right now? It can be a lot easier to face Monday morning not going to your dream job if you know that it’s making travel, health care benefits, or living in a certain part of the country possible. And if you don’t like what you’re doing, do you know why? Is it the commute, a boss that micromanages, a boring project? If you can pin-point why you’re doing the work you’re doing and why you don’t enjoy it, you will start to see solutions for making smaller changes will have a positive impact without overhauling your career. Advocating for a new project assignment, negotiating a flex schedule to avoid the commute, learning how to manage your boss… now there are actions you can take to improve a less-than-ideal situation without giving up the reasons for why you need this specific job.

Delay! If you know what you’d do with your time after getting back from that amazing vacation following your two weeks’ notice, do more of whatever that is now. The issue I take with the saccharine “love your job, never work” advice is that it comes from a position of privilege implying we all have the choice to not worry about financial concerns. It would be fantastic if we all had work that we wouldn’t leave for lottery winnings – yet it’s aspirational. “Delay” is the sweet spot – work that doesn’t make Sunday nights miserable yet leaves room for our passions and purpose outside of the workplace.

In a past life, I worked in attorney recruitment at a DC-based law firm. One employee I spoke to a only handful of times taught me key lessons on how to think about what our “real work” can be. She is now a well-known author who ran the legal library after stepping out of a litigation career to focus on her writing. She had a solid, corporate 9-to-5 job with good benefits fueling her purpose, rather than being the purpose itself. To be fair, she is a full-time writer now.

Spend time on your purpose and your paycheck: both are critical, not mutually exclusive and certainly not necessary to fully integrate in order to be happier. If you want to keep reading about this topic, here are 5 Reasons to Ignore the Advice To Do What You Love.


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