Whether you’re looking for work or pondering your current job situation, you may find that two conflicting “Ps” are top of mind: whether you should prioritize finding the highest paycheck you can get, or if choosing something you love to do and feel passionate about should be the top criterion for your career choices.
This can be a tough conundrum, particularly if opting for passion in your work means foregoing the income goal that you’d targeted, or forfeiting funds that you need for certain expenses. “It’s an age old career dilemma that every generation has had to grapple with,” says psychologist and CEO of ServingSuccess, Dr. Andrea Goeglein, PhD.
Here are some guidelines to help you navigate whether passion or paycheck makes the most sense to prioritize based on your current job situation and career stage:
When to prioritize your paycheck.
While it may not be popular to advocate for making money over finding meaning, the decision isn’t always cut and dry when it comes to your career. “The truth is, it’s okay to follow the money,” says Goeglein. “Choosing a job with a higher paycheck and benefits is not the same as making a decision to sell your soul to an endeavor that sucks the breath out of your body.”
She adds that timing can help you determine whether passion or paycheck is most important: “It’s a smart strategic decision for the point in your career when you need financial stability and growth. You will always be free to make other choices, including quit if the situation really has no additional redeeming features.”
Why it’s okay to put paycheck before passion.
Goeglein notes that it makes perfect sense to prioritize earnings in your career when doing so also leads to greater overall opportunity: for achievement, greater learning, and greater potential to grow in your life in general. “If all you get is more money but no opportunity, no learning, no potential, then following the money may permanently derail your career,” she explains. “Why, because you will show such a lackluster interest in what you are doing your contribution will not be noticed. That is why it is important to distinguish when you are following the money to achieve a personal goal such as financial stability versus taking a job in your career just because you will get more money.”
Must you leave your job to find your career passion?
According to Goeglein, leaving your current employment should always be an option, especially if you’re not energized—the byproduct of passion—by what and how you get to do your job. “The problem is, jobs and careers don’t make you passionate,” she says. “You bring the passion with you by knowing yourself and valuing how you want to contribute. At some point, you may ‘value’ earning more money for a specific period and for a specific reason.”
What to do if you feel stuck.
It may not be what you want to hear if you feel strongly about ditching the higher or more stable paycheck to pursue what you really want to do—but sometimes you may have to opt for the middle ground. The fact is, when bills need to be paid, you may feel stuck putting a paycheck first, at least temporarily. In cases like these, it’s better to find a way to bring at least some of what you feel passionate about into your current daily reality.
“You can apply your passion to any type of job,” says Goeglein. “Let’s say you want to be a musician because it brings out your personal strengths of honesty and authenticity. You can tell yourself that taking a job as a car salesperson is ‘inauthentic,’ yet what greater qualities for a customer to encounter in a car salesperson other than honesty and authenticity? Are you getting a weekly paycheck, yes. Are you being true to your strengths, yes. Do you have to stop pursuing music, no way!”
In short, it can be a job in itself to figure out whether your career/personal passions should guide your job search, or if targeting a specific salary (or career that provides a high salary) is most important. Take the time you need to think this through—and remember that you can always make a different choice to flip your “Ps” in the future.