Should I follow my passion or money? It’s a question that anyone looking for fulfilling work will eventually have to answer. Why, because all too often, the number one thing that prevents a person from leaving a job that’s misaligned with their passion is the financial uncertainty that lies ahead.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Do what you love and the money will come”. If what you love is dentistry or banking, then you’ve got little to worry about. But for some precarious fields (eg. performing arts, creative writing and even entrepreneurship), the reality is that most people in that industry have to wait a long time to make a decent living from it and for many, that day never comes. But we’ve all read stories about wealthy bankers who remain miserable despite their millions or the Hollywood actor driven to decades of self-medicating with drink and drugs to deal with feelings of emptiness. Yes, money doesn’t buy happiness, but how wise is it to leave a job that guarantees you’ll never have to worry about paying your bills on time to pursue a dream that may never work out?

If you were hoping we’d tell you the best thing to do, sorry, we’re not going to do that (and you should be very wary of anyone expert or otherwise who tries to make this decision for you). Ultimately the decision has to be yours, but here are three questions that should help you reach the best conclusion for you.

Do you have any significant long-term financial responsibilities?

If you’re in your late 20s and 30s, the belief that it’s time to settle down rather than experiment may have been so instilled into you that diligently climbing the career ladder may have become an automatic action you’ve never questioned. In reality, age has very little to do with choosing your passion over money. It all comes down to what you need that big income for.

If the urge to follow your passion is inescapable and has haunted you for years, it goes without saying that ignoring that passion will most likely be a big life regret. But before taking a leap of faith into the unknown, look at your current lifestyle. Do you have any financial responsibilities that you can’t put on hold to explore your passion for a year (if it doesn’t work out, a year is not too long a gap to return to your old career)? By this we don’t mean your clothes or make-up habit, we’re talking about young children that need to be clothed and fed, or mortgage payments that need to be made.

For those of you who have nothing actually tying you to the wage you’re so scared to walk away from, if following your passion is something you’ll live to regret, it’s worth seriously looking at what you need to do to make that happen and exploring if it’s possible to return to your old career if things don’t work out (trust us it’s almost always possible to return as long as you can swallow your pride).

For those with inescapable responsibilities, don’t despair. Instead, look into ways you can dabble in your new field without giving up your job OR look for a version of your current job that may be more fulfilling.

money or passion career change
There’s no universally ‘correct’ answer to the money versus passion dilemma. Instead, you need to think long and hard about the benefits each will bring

What kind of money can you expect to make from your passion… realistically?

Most fears about going broke from making a career change are built on speculation and stereotypes that often come from people who have never even worked in the field you want to break into.

Before deciding if following your passion automatically means a life of poverty, go and do your research. This should involve:

  1. Speaking to people who do your dream job. Ask them how much a newbie in the field can expect to earn and how this changes with experience.
  2. Visiting job sites and contacting recruitment agencies. Check the salary associated with the field you want to break into. Glassdoor, Randstad and Reed all have great salary-checking tools to get you started.
  3. Think laterally. Are there other variations of your dream job that pay better than the mainstream version? For example in the UK, a newspaper journalist can expect to start at £18k and climb up to £40-£45k (this is on average, there are the exceptional few editors for big-name publications who can earn up to £100k). However, a journalist working on a specialist trade publication, especially for sectors such as healthcare, pharmaceuticals and finance can find themselves earning twice that.

Are the two mutually exclusive?

By this we mean, does your passion have to be the way you earn your living. Think about it. When asking the question, “Should I follow my passion or the money” there are two issues at play. First up is the burning ambition you want to fulfil: you need to find a way to satisfy that ambition and achieve the fulfilment you think it will bring.

The second thing to consider is the issue of your current job. Is it intolerable, soul-destroying, mind-numbing or bad for your mental health? If so, it goes without saying that you need to plan your exit, but that doesn’t mean you need to leave it to follow your passion especially if that passion doesn’t pay well and you have financial obligations to meet. Throwing yourself 100 percent into a new career is a very admirable trait of high achievers, but sometimes a leap of faith isn’t needed at all.You can achieve fulfilment in a slow and steady way that doesn’t dramatically disrupt your life.

So, if following your passion definitely means you’ll have to sacrifice your income, the question you need to ask yourself is:

Does my passion need to be the way I earn a living or can I do it as a hobby or part-time venture, while staying in a well paid job.

If the answer to the latter is yes, the next thing to consider is if that well-paid job is going to be the one you’re currently in or if you need to find a different well-paid job that’s a better fit for you. If the answer is no and you really can’t follow your passion in a gradual way (maybe that’s because of time commitments, location etc.) then you have your answer to the ‘money versus passion’ question.

Which is more important for you: money or passion? Let us know in the comments below.

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