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Doing What You Love Won’t Make You Rich

Apparently, this week I’m in the mood for contentious titles. A lot has been written on the idea “do what you love, and the money will follow.” It’d be nice, it’d be great, but doing what you love doesn’t mean that you’ll be rich or anywhere near rich.

For example, my career plan is to be a librarian. Even if I specialize in cutting-edge information science, my career choice is not one that leads most people to be rich. Micah teaches philosophy. Unless his work becomes extremely popular or he lands a job at a high-paying school, he’s not going to make a bundle. As a rule, philosophers don’t.

The good news: you don’t have to be rich. I’m not going to change my career plan, even though I know that by acquiring a few more skill sets (which I plan to acquire anyway), I could probably earn a great deal more than I do. Because I love libraries.

I love being surrounded by information, managing it, watching it go by, learning how to catalog it and make it more available. It’s even the reason I do blog consulting–I love helping people make their sites more accessible by increasing SEO, by existing in the first place. To me, blogs and websites are another way that information is managed and conveyed and I could follow that path–but my heart is in libraries.

Micah gets the same kick out of teaching. His goal as a teacher is to help young people learn the skills to figure out what they believe, why the believe it. He hopes to equip them for major decisions down the road and for being better people. He loves talking to students, teaching, everything but grading.

What matters is that you can a) figure out what you love doing and b) learn how to live happily on what you make. You will always earn a finite number of money, whether it’s $30,000 a year, $150,000 a year, or $5,000,000 a year. There will always be things you can and can’t do.

Learning how to live frugally, how to prioritize what types of spending will bring you the most happiness, combined with work you actually enjoy will bring you a more fulfilling life than giving up what you love because you can’t make a living at it.

If you have certain financial obligations, you may have to make a trade-off and do something close to what you love. For example, I’ve identified several non-library paths that I could also take with my interests which would make a good deal more money. I prefer libraries (at least now), but it’s eye-opening to take a look beyond the what you love to the why you love it and figure out what else you might love.

Don’t give up doing what you love just because it’s not going to make you rich. You can learn to live on less. You might even be surprised by how content you’ll be when the money isn’t trying to make up for a lack of satisfaction in your professional life.

Do you love your job? Most of the time? Have you had to make certain lifestyle tradeoffs for it, or have you found something that’ll support you.

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The Weakonomist May 7, 2009 at 8:20 am

I don’t love my job, but I do enjoy it. I’m working at a bank during a fascinating time and every day present new challenges. I don’t intend to stay here forever, I’ve got bigger plans. Being rich might by nice but if it happens it will only be a coincidental side effect of doing what I love.

The Weakonomist’s last blog post: Six Lessons Star Wars Can Teach Us About Money

Small Steps to Health May 7, 2009 at 9:16 am

I still have no idea what I want to do with my life. In the meantime, my job provides a good income and I enjoy the people I work with. I wish I could have more passion for it, but I am content with what I do. I think a lot of people fall under this category.

Writer Dad May 7, 2009 at 10:23 am

I’m unwilling to do anything I don’t love, but I’m also unwilling to be wasteful with whatever it is I make. I could be a millionaire and I would still be frugal. Why? Because I’m a dad and I need to teach my children to be financially intelligent, not spoiled.

Writer Dad’s last blog post: The Collective Inkwell Interview: Brian Anderson of Dog Eat Doug

Jeff@StretchyDollar May 7, 2009 at 11:02 am

As a student, a lot of times I hear people say, “I was going to go into …., but there’s no money in that, so I’m going to be a doctor/lawyer/whatever.” I think it’s too bad that these people are trading on their passions. I understand to a certain extent why, but I remember something a teacher I had in high school said, “If you pick a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Jeff@StretchyDollar’s last blog post: Sticking to a Budget

Dawn May 7, 2009 at 11:18 am

Heh, I to am working towards being a librarian. You know? I’ve been wanting to follow that path since I was in college, but instead I went with the more profitable route and got my business degree. I made VP by 30, and guess what? I’m working my way back to school to get that Masters Degree after all. We work 8-9 hours a day, which is most of our waking hours, we should be doing something we enjoy.

Dawn’s last blog post: Financial Willpower

Grace May 7, 2009 at 11:48 am

You know, I thought about being a librarian. But then I discovered that librarians didn’t just get to sit around reading books, so I moved on. Eventually, I did pursue a graduate degree that “guaranteed” high earnings–except that I initially went to work for a non-profit and discovered I loved the work. Bottom line: I’m making good money “for a woman who comes from a working class environment,” though not nearly what my grad school colleagues are making. Still, thirty years later, I still love my work–not all of those colleagues can truly say that.

Grace’s last blog post: Freebie Time

Craig May 7, 2009 at 4:09 pm

So true, doing what you love won’t necessarily make you money. It helps sure, but sometimes not true. You have to be happy with your current situation.

Craig’s last blog post: Steer Clear of Credit Cards Until 2010

Stephanie May 7, 2009 at 6:59 pm

So true! Loving what you do makes the work more pleasant, but that’s it. Riches are never guaranteed. Even hard work won’t guarantee riches. All you can do is find the balance of earning enough money to get by on and loving your work that works for you.

Stephanie’s last blog post: Talk About Overprotective Parents!

mrsmicah May 7, 2009 at 7:48 pm

@Weakonomist That sounds good. I don’t think one can passionately love one’s job every minute of every day anyway (how would we grow without challenges or difficult people?). But if it’s engaging work you like, then it’s a good place to be while you prepare to move into something you like even more.

@Small Steps Good coworkers can make or break a job. If you’ve got those and you don’t dislike the work, then you’re in a pretty good spot. I hope you can find something you like even better–but I know other people who are happy to be content at work and pursue their passions outside it.

@Writer Dad Amen. If I ever did make a fortune, I’d be initially stumped on what to do with it. We live happily on pretty little. What would be hard would be not adjusting to that standard of living–it’s why one hears rich people complaining about not being able to support a family on less than $200k/year.

@Jeff Yep, that only works if people are at least somewhat interested. And it’s not necessarily true that the money’s there anyway. Young lawyers tend to have over $100k in student loans and law firms are dropping people left and right. Med students may make out better, as it’s harder to solve an illness out of court. But they have to worry about malpractice insurance–there’s no perfect career for getting rich anyway.

@Dawn great! It makes me happy to hear stories of people who didn’t abandon their dream because they went on a different track for a while. Your experience could also make you a more valuable librarian than someone who went straight from college to MLS.

@Grace Unfortunately, no. I’ve occasionally read bits of books on the job, but I’m more likely to snag an interesting article for lunch because it’s busy. The nonprofit track is another one that’ll often do a lot of good in the world, hopefully provide personal fulfillment, but rarely pay well. Glad to hear that 30 years in you still love it! 🙂

@Craig I’ve also found that it’s easier to have fulfilling but lower-paying job than an unfulfilling job that pays about the same. It’s easier to live on less if you’re not miserable 8 hours a day! Otherwise you want to compensate.

@Stephanie No guarantee for high earnings–even in a “good” field, even with hard work. And many people who earn high salaries don’t build wealth with them anyway.

sara l May 7, 2009 at 9:07 pm

I love my job 90% of the time. If we had the funds for .5-1 more of me it would be amazing, that and a few of our crazier grant requirements.

I work in the nonprofit world and it is very likely that I won’t ever earn ‘good money,’ but I’m making a difference for the children in my community so that’s enough.

I think the biggest thing is being happy with what you have and finding ways to grow your skills.

[email protected] May 7, 2009 at 10:50 pm

I suppose that depends on how you define rich. I have an alternative way of defining it myself:

[email protected]’s last blog post: What Factors in Your Life Influence Your Goals?

Rob Bennett May 8, 2009 at 6:44 am

I agree with the thrust of the blog entry — it is NOT true that doing what you love insures that you will become rich. Like so many other great simplifications, the phrase “Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow” is a half truth.

But there is indeed a half-truth there. And you point to it in some of your comments, Mrs. Micah. It might not be possible to strike it rich being a librarian. But you might well strike it rich using librarian skills in other fields (as you do in some of the work you already do).

There were about 10 people who I worked with in my first journalism job. They all ended up in very different places. Almost all of them moved on to things that seem “perfect” for them if you know their personalities. There are a lot of ways to shape jobs to make them the work you love even if they don’t seem at first glance seem to be precisely that.

I think that the goal should be to shape the work you must do to make money so that it contains as many elements of what you love to make it at least enjoyable and perhaps something a lot better than that.


CindyS May 8, 2009 at 7:43 am

I think that one of the secrets to happiness is a certain amount of satisfaction with what you have whether it’s a job or a house or a car. I love what I do now and it will never make us rich but eventually we should work our way back to being a little better off than we are now. It also doesn’t mean that I am going to quit saving and investing what little I can. If I manage my money well, I may end up with as much as the guy who is “rich”.

CindyS’s last blog post: Paying for Long Term Care

Bible Money Matters May 8, 2009 at 12:10 pm

That’s so weird that you wrote this post, I was just thinking about writing one with the same topic. Dave Ramsey talks about that in his class, that “do what you love and the money will follow” is advice that a lot of people follow, and then when the money doesn’t follow, their businesses fail, they get depressed.

It’s great if you can find something to do that you love, and make good money as well, but it doesn’t necessarily always happen that way.

Do something you enjoy and that you can make a living at. Find inner peace through faith and family, and a job that can support you. You may not always LOVE your job, but if you have the right attitude you can find a way to make it enjoyable.

Bible Money Matters’s last blog post: And On the Seventh Day, He Rested

Meg from FruWiki May 8, 2009 at 12:55 pm

“Do what you love and the money will follow.”

Well, it never said HOW MUCH money!

Honestly, I never took this to mean that you’ll get rich doing whatever it is you love. For me, it’s more about priorities. If you’re doing what you love, then money isn’t such a big priority. Do something you hate for a living and you’ll spend plenty of money trying to get your mind off of work, but do what you love and you’ll be happier on a lot less.

Meg from FruWiki May 8, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Then again, there is some danger to doing what you love. Often, we love things more as hobbies than as careers. If turning your hobby into a career means that you’ll end up hating it, don’t do it — or at least cultivate other hobbies. We all need something in our lives that brings us joy and some hobbies just can’t withstand career pressures.

David May 8, 2009 at 2:01 pm

I didn’t say it would make you rich – I said the money would come. And it will. 🙂

mrsmicah May 8, 2009 at 8:12 pm

@sara l I think it really helps to have a job where you can grow your skills. I love expanding the area where I consult.

@Steven Yeah, in the post title I meant the conventional type of rich because people often talk about wealth in terms of money. But I often feel rich (unless I start focusing too much on our debt) even though we lived on about $20k last year.

@Rob True, I mentioned the importance of figuring out why you love doing things and what else you can do with that–my interests in databases could almost definitely get me a better job once I have a little more education to back it up.

@CindyS There’s a great book by Jean Chatzky called You Don’t Have to Be Rich and she makes the same point about how good money management may make you wealthier despite a lower salary.

@Money Matters I can see how people would get discouraged. I know I sometimes do about my consulting business and that isn’t even a full-time job…so I don’t have to support my family from it.

@Meg I think smart people don’t use the phrase that way (yes, David, I know that’s not how you meant it), but I’ve heard others imply that just by doing what you love, you’re going to be wealthy–kind of like using the “Secret” to visualize things into your life

You make a good point about the dangers of turning a hobby into a career. I use quilting as an outlet hobby so that I have something besides my job, my blogging (which is not unlike a job), and my consulting (definitely another job).

@David I know. 😉 It was just a good post to link to. I didn’t feel like linking to some of the more egregious sites which do assume you can become rich by doing what you love.

David May 9, 2009 at 12:35 pm

I figured you did :-). I do believe you can make enough to support yourself if you do what you love and make changes to make that happen..

David’s last blog post: Credit Card Research: Biodegradable Discover More Card.

Kelly from Almost Frugal May 14, 2009 at 10:56 am

I do think the money will follow- although like David and Meg said, it never said how much! I am in the process of changing careers, and going from teaching ESL (which I enjoyed, but was just OK as a career for me) to working in internet marketing and communication (which I LOVE) means a big jump in salary, although I will by no means be rich. that’s OK- I don’t need to be rich, it’s much more important to do something that I feel passionate about, which is one of the reasons I’ve kept plugging away at blogging for so long ;).

Kelly from Almost Frugal’s last blog post: College and Money

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