Would You Keep Your Job Even if You Didn’t Need the Money?

Hi Dr. Hurd,

I was visiting my chiropractor yesterday. Not sure how we got around to the topic, but I posed the question if she had millions of dollars, would she still work and be a chiropractor. Her answer was yes, but she would probably adjust her hours differently so she could focus on other areas in her life as well.

She asked me the question back and while I have certainly considered the thought, at that moment I was a bit lost for a definitive answer. While I like my current job, a 15 year career in corporate technology, a management position, decent money, I couldn’t honestly state to her or myself that I would continue in this position or field. In the moment I was asked the question, I offered a vague ‘lifestyle’ that included writing, speaking engagements, exercising, self-focus,  creative endeavors like art and photography, yet all still using the technology I love.

Why am I sharing this?

I think it’s a good question to ask one’s self. Am I doing what I want to be doing? As Paulo Coelho would put this, am I “living my personal legend”? If money wasn’t a concern or issue, would I continue in this career?

The hard part begins when you realize, maybe I’m not. And if I am not, do I intend to continue the current path due to fear, complacency, how others will view me. I have some hard thinking to do.

My reply:

We’ve all heard the saying: “Do what you love, and the money will follow.”

I prefer to rephrase it this way: “Do what you love; and figure out how to make money at it.”

In a best case, you become skilled at what you love, people will pay you for it, and then for the rest of your days you do what you love, with the money following. Treat this as the achievable ideal, and get as close as you possibly can to it.

For various reasons, you might or might not get all the way there. But you’re continuously trying, and the effort itself becomes the pursuit of your most important life’s value or passion.

A lot of people focus on finding a job, but they don’t focus on choosing and developing a career. This is how they get into trouble. They get a decent job, but they never identified whether or not the job actually fit into their vision of what a career might or ought to look like.

Your question of your chiropractor is an excellent one. It forces one to refocus: To identify what, at least implicitly or subconsciously, your career vision actually might or should have been. The obvious follow-up question is, “How well does this job fit into what I want for myself?”

The key is to find what you’re passionate about, and to make that as much a part of your daily life as you possibly can.

Survival is the first and most primary or basic of motives. Survival is an end in itself. You do what you (rationally) have to do to survive, including holding the job or work that enables your survival.

But if you think about it, survival is also a means to an end. It’s the means to the end of subsidizing your passion. If you have a job that’s merely OK, or even that you dislike, but is the best you can find for now, it’s important to look at it as a way of subsidizing what you love. If you don’t know what you love … well, therein lies the problem!

All of this stems from the fact that while money cannot buy happiness, it does buy choices. People tend to make one of two mistakes with respect to jobs and income. One mistake is to assume, “I must have the highest paying job possible. The higher the salary, the better.” While this is perfectly fine, you cannot treat money as an end in itself, not in this way. The right question to ask is, “How much money do I need to accomplish what I want to accomplish?” If you don’t have any particular goals or ambitions outside of what you’re seeking your income to purchase (travel, nice home, nice car, kid’s private education), that may be fine. But if you’d really like to be doing some other kind of work, it’s wise to challenge the assumption that you necessarily need all of the income this particular job requires. Maybe you can find work which pays less, while still subsidizing what it is you really want to spend most of your life doing.

A related mistake is to assume that you cannot change. “I can’t ever make less money. I cannot go backwards.” But if you assume this blindly, then you become a slave to what you currently spend money on. You take it for granted that you cannot ever change, or even set a long-range goal to spend less on “X” in favor of spending more time on “Y.” Material fulfillment and pleasure are perfectly fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting and working to pursue or maintain these things. But you become slaves to these things the moment you assume you must always possess them, even at the expense of pursuing work you’d more completely love.

People sometimes get obsessed with finding or keeping “the right job.” But jobs are merely the means to an end. The end is always your career, i.e., your definition of what you consider productive, fulfilling, rewarding work. Sometimes the job is the career, and sometimes the job is merely the means for subsidizing the career (partially or fully). We’re all responsible for figuring out what our basic life’s purpose (subject to change at different stages) actually is. Neither job nor money can take the place of this determination on your part.

It’s a fascinating question which brings up many related concerns we’re wise to face. Thank you for pointing it out.


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