I’ve not mentioned it yet on this blog, but when I was in high school I had the great fortune of speaking with Dr. Maya Angelou. I had just published my first article, which was a personal narrative on the topic of teen homelessness entitled “My Secret Life”. One of the producers of CBS This Morning, a show that profiled my story, knew Dr. Angelou and called upon her knowing that she was my truest hero. She did call me and was generous in stating that the story I had written, filled with late 90’s slang and an ample volume of teen angst, had inspired her. The only intelligent words I could muster were a simple, “thank you”.
Maya Angelou on Love Driven Goals
Maya Angelou motivated many of my early goals. After reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings for the first time when I was 12, I felt that it might be possible to dream a bigger dream for myself. It’s not a mere coincidence that I was the same age of 12 when I had decided that I was going to graduate from college someday. I turn to her words often when I seek counsel. On the topic of goal setting she says:
“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”
Hers is, I believe, the most popular of advice. Follow what you love, and that passion will create value in your life when you become accomplished in that passion. It is also wise because a life devoted to playing the role of a cog in a wheel that generates cash is not a life worth living.
On the other hand, let’s think about this advice in the context of today’s marketplace. Student loan debt in our country is at an all-time high of $1.2 trillion, which is an 84% jump since the recession. The average student debt is $29,000. I have student loan debt, so I get it. College is expensive, and even finding a high paying job, in say business, comes at a cost. However, let’s say that instead I paid that same tuition to pursue my passion in writing. No judgement toward anyone that has chosen that path, but it is a fractional few that make a good living from written words.
Warren Buffett on Money Driven Goals
Now let’s turn to another sage piece of advice on goal setting. This time we turn to Warren Buffett.
“Whatever you like to do, make it a hobby and whatever the world likes to do, make it a business.”
In this advice Mr. Buffett recommends that we build our job based on practical considerations for what drives value in the marketplace. It follows from one of the main tenants we learn in business school, which is if you want to make an income then you need to identify and solve a customer problem. It might sound awesome to tell someone to carry forward and pursue their goal of becoming a comedian as a career. However, we cannot ignore the practical considerations that only a select few make enough money telling jokes to pay their bills. You will be following your passion, but your life could still be miserable, and you could put your family in jeopardy for the sake of a passion. Instead, you should make comedy your hobby, says Buffett.
But what if this comedian became an accountant based only on the fact that being an accountant was the “responsible” thing to do? Pursing a passionless career in order to make a living is not good for your physical health or your mental health.
For the Love and the Money
The advice I have provided to friends is, I believe, an adaptation on both pieces of advice. It’s the advice I believe would have been generated had Angelou and Buffett sat down and had a conversation about it in order to fully form both opinions. First and foremost, I know that any one human has interest in countless things, and our interests vary from person to person. I’m pretty practical in stating that passions like writing, photography, and music production are not ones that fair well in the marketplace. If you choose to pursue these as careers, then I would also advise you to not make others dependent on your income. Both pursuing passions and having children rank among “ultimate sacrifices”, and it is my belief that one precludes the other. In other words, others should not suffer so that you can pursue your passions. On the other hand, I would never advocate pursuing a job purely based on the income that it provides. That’s not a life worth living.
My advice is to find a job that:
- You love: There are lots of things in this world you enjoy. Take an inventory. I was surprised to learn that I found certain aspects of business, like developing strategy, to be a lot of fun.
- Most everyone else finds boring: As I mention in the 1st rule of negotiating, you will make more money when you have a skill that others do not have (and do not want to have). This is why glamorous careers do not pay much on average. It’s supply and demand.
- Provides value that the world is willing to pay you for: This is where you pull in Buffett’s advice. Match your interests with problems that are profitable to solve.
The key to finding a job that pays well and drives your life’s passions is finding the career that meets all three criteria. With your bills paid, your future more certain, and your safety net intact, you will have room to become accomplished in your passions outside of work. Not being paid for them does not make them any less important. For me, I didn’t become a professional writer. However, I get to pursue that passion on this blog. In fact, I was just published as a nonfiction writer yesterday by my local paper due to a post originally published here. The awesome thing about not relying on my passion to pay my bills is that I am able to more freely express my opinions in written word because I’m not relying on those words to, say, pay my mortgage. I rely on my day job for my income. This is how my day job fits the above criteria:
- My job focuses on engaging patients towards better health. I just recently had the opportunity to create the patient engagement strategy for the most unhealthy patient population in this country, and I love that so very much. Better health is a passion of mine. It is not the passion of writing, but better health is very important to me.
- I work in healthcare technology, which isn’t the most glamorous of career paths. I make more because fewer people specialize in technology. Just so happens that I also have to write a lot in my job. I delivered a 60 page strategy filled with words I wrote just last week.
- The healthcare industry is in need of talent. This is particularly true in healthcare technology. Because of this value, I am, again, able to make a good career based on a passion of mine.
So, what do you think? For love or for money?