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Following your heart isn’t always enough…

People have always told me to follow my passion. They’ve probably done the same to you. For some reason, “passion” is always the solution to uncertainty or hesitation. Whether you’re picking a job or a new place to live, people always seem to point to “passion” as true North.

The conventional wisdom is not only to pursue your passion, but to prioritize it. That often means disregarding money.

Sure, money is important. Make sure you have enough to pay rent, buy groceries, and splurge on the occasional weekend trip. Aside from that, professors, career counselors, and loved ones have formed a consensus: money is a distraction.

They have some good reason for doing so. Liberal arts institutions are supposed to give us a background in various subjects. By trying this smorgasbord of disciplines, we narrow things down — sorting into batches of what we do and don’t like. If you’re lucky, that sorting process will get better and better until you’ve found your passion. (a.k.a. The Holy Grail!)

They argue that if you navigate through this process halfheartedly, you might not get the intended results.

What happens if you worry about money too early?

You won’t know what you’re truly passionate about. High pay and the luxuries that come with it will trap you in an unfulfilling job.

This is the narrative I often heard, and I often agreed with. For much of life, I assumed smart people who became consultants and investment bankers were fooled by the money. They couldn’t do that out of passion, they’re sell-outs. They just thought that’s what they were passionate about.

That reasoning seemed legit. What’s the problem?

(other than my smug assumption that high-paying jobs must be unfulfilling)

Well, once I started gaining experience, I found the opposite can be true. You should always keep in mind what interests you and what gets you excited. But this advice doesn’t carry over into my line of work — freelancing.

Once you get your start freelancing, you’ll probably have a standard hourly rate. You also likely have a specialty (for me, it’s marketing). After that though, there are a number of variables that influence whether or not you take a contract.

The two biggest are time and money. By investing time and quality work into a contract, you expect a certain amount of money in return.

Additionally, freelance projects are short-term. So, when balancing them with other projects simultaneously, it’s important to work efficiently. There can be a long-term project that seems promising, only to become a complete boondoggle once you get into the nitty-gritty.

Just recently, a cool opportunity presented itself. I could’ve worked with great people on a product I’m passionate about. I almost took the role, but it would be at a fraction of my normal rate.

I strongly considered it. Hell, I was more than passionate enough to do it. So what was the problem?

Money.

When you freelance, your hourly rate becomes your opportunity cost. For me, I think of every hour in terms of what I could be making. That may sound tortuous, but it works for me.

In fact, it leads me to really value my leisure time. It puts a price on it and that’s not a bad thing.

But, I know if I took a job below my pay-grade, “passion” could only take me so far. I’d better be passionate enough to remember at all times that I could be making a much better rate.

So, cold-hearted capitalist that I am, I turned the job down. Luckily, my potential client was very patient and understanding of the trade-offs I faced.

My decision wasn’t rooted in selfishness, but honesty. I knew making less money would get to me. And when I’m balancing clients paying 5x as much as those with jobs I’m “passionate” about, it would be impossible to prioritize. I’d have to make up for the financial loss by working 5x as much. When it comes to paying rent vs. “passion”, passion loses. By a lot.

So what’s the point?

Time and money are finite resources. However, when you take a job for the sake of passion at the expense of pay, you better be REALLY passionate.

Honestly, making good money is nice. When you don’t have the financial cushion to only pursue your passion, it’s a strong incentive to work hard. If your work puts bread on the table and creates value for others, you shouldn’t feel that it’s sub-par.

Fuck passion. For many people, simple financial stability is a dream in itself.

What does this mean for you?

Find some balance. You don’t have to live a meager life to be passionate nor do you have to sell out to live comfortably.

Having fulfilling work and a stable income are both crucial to your happiness. Furthermore, it’s okay for pay to be part of what makes your job fulfilling.

Being transparent about that can be crucial to negotiating your next job, or your next client. Let’s stop pretending passion is all that matters.


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