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Friday, September 20, 2013

Finding the perfect job

Red Cyan, Flickr

I was reading yet another post about passions and fun vs finances and work (actual title of the post: Your Passions vs Your Finances):


Should your choice of career be made with money in mind, or should it be made with your passions in mind? The eternal question.

Bonaparte, the blog's author, focuses on money in this post, stating that $$$ is the tool to freedom, and that having money is necessary to pursue your dreams. Passions, on the other hand, cannot always be trusted to create a sufficient income. Bonaparte is right on those grounds. Solely pursuing your passions could very well leave you broke - and frustrated.

But going for the money is a trap: focusing on your earnings and on your future projects (which will come true ONCE you have the money) has a way of making TODAY less important, turning it into a means rather than an end, a stepping stone to tomorrow, or more likely a stepping stone to "sometime in the remote future". That's risky. Being miserable today in order to enjoy life later is a sacrifice I, personally, am not willing to make. Working hard now in order to have fun later, yes, of course. I doubt anybody has ever fulfilled their dreams and felt great about themselves vegging out 24/7. We need goals, and we need to put in the effort.

But to what extent?

I would rather do a job I really like, because, as Confucius said:

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

How do I know the sacrifice is not always worth it? I know because I've been there. I've been in the situation where I worked too much, made good money, but did not see the days pass, and did not really enjoy myself "here and now". Financial freedom I had. Time to savour life? Not so much. The days would go by and they either had no flavor or left me intensely stressed. I don't think I was pleasant to be around, either.

Interestingly, I've also been in the opposite situation: with lots of time on my hands, but little money to call mine. I was free of obligations and duties, but I couldn't do anything that has a monetary cost, which I found limiting... and frustrating at times.

When I had my daughters, I stayed home for a while, was happy and stimulated, and never even thought of money. But as they grew and needed me less, I knew I had to go get the stimulation I needed... in a job of some sort.

I have been making gradual changes as time passes. I have experienced excess in both directions. With time and many adjustments as the demands from my family decreased and my need for external stimulation increased, I eventually found a recipe that works for me.

First, I had to realize that there is an optimal number of hours one should work every week. Working less than that "magic number" of hours can leave one understimulated and underpaid. Working more than that magic number can leave one very stressed (albeit richer).

Have you figured out your optimal workweek hours number?

Second, I have come to understand that the specific task you busy yourself with carries as much weight in the equation as the number of hours you work. Different jobs come with different benefits... and hassles. If you find yourself constantly looking at the clock, it doesn't matter how many hours you work: you obviously don't enjoy what you do.

A personal example:

In my case, based on my education, credentials and experience, the most lucrative job I can do is translation. Indeed, some translators do pretty good. There's only one problem: I like translation. I actually like it a lot. But I don't love it. I don't wake up all excited: "Yay, I'm translating today!" I'm always happy to do it. I like playing with words. I like to come up with the most accurate terminology and sentence structure I can possibly find. I like the quiet. Plus, I've recently read that translating is one of the least stressful job for the money. And working from home is definitely a huge luxury.

But when I translate, profound enthusiasm is not always present.

On the other hand, there is a job that I can do that does provides great enthusiasm: teaching. I've taught French (on and off) for years, and before that, I taught swimming technique and trained future swimming instructors. From all those years I have realized that teaching is in my blood. It's a second nature. A pure joy. Probably inherited, too, since so many family members have taught at some point in their life (or their whole life).

Don't tell my boss, but I enjoy teaching so much, sometimes I think I could almost do it for free. I don't know why I like teaching so much. Connecting with the students, seeing them make progress, but also planning lessons and grading papers/tests/exercise sheets... I love it all!

Now teaching doesn't pay as much as translation. If you calculate the hourly income, taking into consideration all the time actually spent, the difference is quite significant. But what I don't get in the way of dollars when I teach, I get in in the way of utter enjoyment.

The perfect recipe I have come up with is to translate part-time and teach part-time. This way I get the best of both worlds. Plus, I love the variety. Translating full-time would exhaust me (it's a very demanding job in terms of focus and concentration, a challenge for the ADD in me). And I would feel lonely. But teaching full-time is no small feat either, as any teacher will tell you! Doing a little bit of both keeps me balanced and happy.

Two different sides of your job, or your job and an important hobby, could also play complementary roles in your life.

How do you balance it all out? Please share your insight and experience!

In any case, I really, really hope that as many of us as possible, when picking their job, choose something that they have not only a passion but also a talent for (and yes, we ALL have a talent of some sort). When you do what you love and are good at, not only are you happy, but you share with the world what's most precious about you: your personal, unique gift.

If you missed my previous post (on time, sleep and fitness training), please go take a look!


  1. I grew up in poverty so for me I have to feel financially safe to be happy. The only problem is that no matter how much money you have you don't feel safe. There is no dollar amount or particular investment that means you will never have financial problems.
    Just another issue I guess I have to work on.

    1. You are not the only one, Cindy. I have read many times that even the wealthiest feel unsafe financially.
      Being prepared for any eventuality (including that of losing all you have) is the best way to deal with this I guess.

  2. Love this and the weighing of all sides!!
    We have told our boys since they were little that above everything they should find something that makes them happy. I have seen too many people just passing time with the bulk of their lives because they hate their job. I hope that the boys keep in mind how important their happiness is when they decide on their careers.

    1. Good comment, Kim! It's all about figuring out that balance of "I enjoy my job enough" and "I make enough". :-)

  3. Love your advice to work hard to secure the future for your loved ones but don't work too hard and miss out on the now! It's a fine line. I definitely struggle with it at times. There are days that I think, I work way too hard. I really need a break or a change. Other days I think, I can't believe they pay me this much to work from home. Those days I'm laughing all the way to the bank as I stash that money away for my girls' future education costs, for family trips that create lasting memories, for the ability to retire at a younger age.

    I also agree with your thoughts about finding the perfect balance between working too many hours and not staying busy enough. I personally could never be a stay-at-home mom because I need the challenges and pressures that come with a career. But, as soon as my girls were born, I ditched the extra hours and working in the evenings to get ahead. That time is too precious to waste behind a screen. That's our family time!

    1. You seem to know where your balance lies, Nicole! It's different for all of us.
      I live my life in a way that many years from now, looking back, I won't have regrets. I don't want to be the one who feels she missed out on her kids growing up, or my own "relative youth" (I feel very young), but I don't want to regret not working (and making money) enough.

      You said it well: it's a fine line.

  4. I used to volunteer as a mentor to aspiring cost accountants at the beginning of their studies – what an utterly boring life plan to have at 18 or 20, will you say?
    Well, some people actually like putting numbers together and making them make sense. Because that is what the finality of accounting is: translating reality into numbers that are intelligible to the reader, and making sure they are correct (!) so as not to mislead.
    Aside from generally making sure that those students were really entering a field that suited them (if you are not attentive to details and do not care for accuracy, don't go there), I always asked them where they expected to find a job once they graduated. Most of them had not thought of that. Public accountants will work in accounting firms, but cost accountants? My next question to them was: what are you passionate about? What is your favourite hobby? And then suggested that they try and work in that field, thus reconciling (haha) work and pleasure. You like sports = work for a sports organization, a team or a sports complex; you like fashion = work for a store chain, a fashion designer, a clothing manufacturer; you like music or the arts = work for a show venue, an exhibition hall, an orchestra, etc., thus putting all chances on your side for a happier career.

    1. Lots of great points here! And :-) about the reconciling joke! :-)

      The translation I do is mostly in a field I am passionate about... you must remember that when asked what I wanted as a present for my 14th birthday, I said "a medical encyclopedia"...

  5. Most people, now and over the course of history, have not had the option or the luxury to perform a job that they "love." One can derive great satisfaction from a job well done, no matter the tasks involved, but "love" and "passion" hardly come into play. I find my passion in my creative talents, and I make no money from this although I have been a serious photographer for for 35 years. I sell a little every year, but it's never enough to cover my costs. Luckily, I have a good pension (after retiring early) and so the pressure is lifted when it comes to making a 'living' from art. You can see my stuff at taracrowley.zenfolio.com.

    I have friends who work long hours and very hard because they want great financial security. As a result, they are not really living their lives at present, but are waiting for retirement to begin to live. Not my style.

    1. You have a good point Tara, and I did think about that while I wrote this post. For many there are no options, and they will never love their job.

      I know someone who worked hard all his life then passed away before retirement. :-(

    2. My goal with my art Tara, is not to lose too much money doing it! Such is the price of passion :-)

  6. It may be possible to love what you do or are, but I wonder if it is possible to really love a job, after all it isn't called work for nothing, lol!

    From what I've seen, many jobs have the potential to be great, but people find a way to make them difficult.

    I know a man who is a Buddhist. He seems able to apply his Zen training to whatever his job at the moment is and quite well. He remains content and seemingly happy in his work. Perhaps we need to focus more on the internal than the external.

    As for me, I love being a surgeon, but there have been many days when I did not love my job.

    1. There will be challenging moments at work for sure, but just like in life, if you can deal with them pragmatically and move on, overall you will be happy.

      When teaching, many times you do need a Zen attitude!

  7. Hi,

    Thanks for referring to my article. I've never heard of the idea of an optimum amount of time per week to work, but I really like it. I often think of work that I've done and enjoyed, but didn't want to do 40+ hours a week. Finding a way to make that work part time might be the key. I really like the balance that you've found. I tutor students after school and that helps me fulfill my teaching needs, while still drawing an income.

    The main point in my post was that to make sure that the financial decisions that you are making align with your goals of following your passions. If you want to make your living from your passion, it's going to take money to start or money to live off of. So while money is key, it's a source of freedom that allows you to do what you want, and your choices should reflect that.

    For example, if you're looking to make big changes and leave your current job to work your passion, don't buy a new house that requires a salary similar to what you currently make. It will serve as an anchor that will limit your freedom and your ability to make the necessary moves.

    Great post, and I look forward to reading more!

    1. Thank you so much for commenting, Ryan! As you point it out, there are many factors to weigh in when it comes to balancing out work, finances and passion.

  8. I'm self employed, at a career path I chose when I was 12 years old. Confucius was partially wrong. Work is work, and business is business. At the end of many days I would gladly sell my business for $50 and start over again tomorrow as a WalMart greeter. I would be good at that.

    But then comes context and perspective. I make my living in bare feet, my commute involves stepping over my dog each morning, and I'm never far from my weights. This is good.

    When I was 19 I met Jim Henson. It was back stage at a Muppet production in Colorado. I was a bored and unenthusiastic security guard at that venue. Unsolicited, he said to me, "Work is what we're here for. You better learn to like what you do."

    I have never forgotten that. Work IS what we are here for. Be it as a gym owner, trainer, or WalMart greeter I will work until I am no longer able. The ideal of retirement is a Western illusion that sickens me.

    Until recently my mother had the oldest active nursing license in the state of Colorado. She worked until she was in here mid-80s.

    1. Very nice comment, Roy! I love your kind of commute. I have the same!

      Be it from teaching or translating, I am in absolutely no hurry to retire in my 60s, not because of money but because I enjoy doing it.

  9. Always a tough question! It's great when one is passionate about a job that actually pays a living wage, because even if it's not lucrative one can be both secure AND passionately engaged. Yet so many of the things that seem truly "exciting" are more fantasies than careers. Many people have ditched decent jobs in order to pursue dreams of being famous artists or writers or actors or singers... I confess to being one of them. Doesn't always pay off though! We are all raised on the dream of being exceptional and beating the odds. Yet most of us never will and need to have back-up plans. So some combination of realistic thinking and planning while also pursuing passions seems like a good compromise. (Said the woman with a number of unsold novels and screenplays in the back of the closet... fortunately I married well!)

    1. Great points, Crabby.

      I pat myself on the shoulder regularly for marrying well too. :-)

  10. Balancing finances and passion is not very easy for me, though I always make it a point to choose a job that makes me happy, for me it is important to be happy and not stressed at the end of my work day but I wouldn't say my job is my passion, it's something I will keep doing till I am either financial stable enough to quit and focus only on my passion or till my passion lets gives me some financial stability.
    I just make sure my job gives me enough time and energy to pursue my passion and also spend some quality time with my family.

  11. Just as you will never win anything in the lottery if you don't buy a ticket, you won't find the perfect job if you don't get out there and actively look for it. Its really hard to balance but if you choose jobs where you are happy with, you will be satisfied.