Do you remember your answer to the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Whatever your answer was, chances are it changed a lot over the years.
Hopefully, you’ll be doing something you love after you graduate, or at least be on track for what your adult-self would consider their dream career.
But what if your dream job doesn’t pay the bills? How do you decide between pursuing your dream career or paying the bills? Is that even a valid choice?
Let’s take a look at what you can do when you don’t make enough money in a career you love.
But first: Does money buy happiness?
Overall, what's important to you: job satisfaction or a certain lifestyle? Once you’ve determined this, you’re able to further understand what level of purpose you need within your job and how much you’ll require financially to be satisfied.
I need a lot of money to be happy!
If you choose a high-paying career over your dream career that doesn't pay well, will that money buy you happiness? For some, it might.
If you consider a job to be just a job, and not your whole life or a major part of your identity, it might be more important for you to be able to fund your life outside of work. In other words, a big home, fancy cars, and lavish vacations might be more important to you than what you do to bring in the money to afford that lifestyle.
I just need enough to live comfortably
For others, it’s a mixed bag. You need enough money to afford the life you want to live but what you want isn’t lavish homes and fancy cars. It’s more being able to own a nice home, a good car, and to be able to go on a relaxing vacation once in a while. You don’t want extreme luxury; you just want to be happy and comfortable.
If this is more how you identify, your career will have to bring you some level of personal satisfaction, and it also needs to pay enough so you can live the life you want. Finding the right balance will be up to you.
Love what I do first, money later
And then there are the people who throw themselves into their careers, regardless of the money. Their career is their life; they’re passionate about what they do, and their world revolves around it.
These are the people that only require their jobs pay enough to support their basic needs. As long as they can pay their bills, they’re happy because they get to do what they love for a living.
Photo by Saulo Mohana
Jobs with purpose can be as good as a dream career
Many of us assume that having a job with purpose means charity work or working for a non-profit. While there’s no denying that careers in healthcare, social work or the performing arts, for example, can be personally fulfilling, even the most seemingly mundane job can be rewarding beyond the paycheck.
In fact, every job – even in corporate America – has a purpose beyond the bottom line.
It's important to recognize this way of thinking. You might be in a job that pays a lot, but you find it unfulfilling. By looking at it in a different light, however, you may see that you've actually got the best of both worlds.
Let’s imagine you’re in the finance department of a large corporation. Not exactly the stuff of dreams. But part of the company’s outreach program that you’re responsible for supports entrepreneurial development in disadvantaged communities. You get real satisfaction from the help you provide; you know you're making a difference in people's lives.
That aspect of your job may be enough to make it a rewarding career.
More >> First job not you're dream job?
Here's why it's okay!
Consider your emotional well-being
Another important factor when considering your career versus money is your overall emotional well-being. While physical necessities, such as a roof over your head, obviously have to be covered, selling your soul simply for a great salary isn’t worth it if you’re stressed, anxious, and unhappy all the time.
How does the job you’re in affect your overall emotional well-being? If you dread going into the office every day or feel that you’re not getting any satisfaction from the work you do there, it might be time to consider a change.
While no one should delude themselves into thinking they must like every aspect of their job (a truly impossible feat for most), the overall day-to-day should be enjoyable. You can derive enjoyment from the tasks and projects themselves, from the people you work with, from promotions and added responsibility, and from the sense of accomplishment for a job well done.
Finding a career that brings you moments of joy and fulfillment instead of working for the weekend is important for long-term job satisfaction. This can be worth a lot when considering the question of career versus money.
Photo by Austin Chan
What should you do if you love your job but don’t make enough money?
What happens when the career that brings you fulfillment and happiness isn’t a lucrative one? The reality is that you have to pay your bills. Still, you don’t have to give up your dream job to do so.
Consider some of these alternatives to bring in more money:
Look for advancement opportunities
Just because you enjoy the job you’re at now doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a similar position in the same field of work that might pay more.
Look into advancement opportunities, which may include taking on more responsibility right now.
Ask for feedback from managers and peers, and act on that advice. Don't be shy about making your hopes for advancement known.
This is the basis of networking, which is imperative for any successful career.
Enhance your education
Sometimes furthering your education in the field you work in can earn you more money and allow you to stay in the career you’re passionate about. This doesn’t necessarily mean going to grad school or getting another degree.
Look at online certifications in your field that are in demand, and that prove to employers or recruiters you are progressing in your career. For instance, if you’re in project management, PMP certification is a recognized validation of expertise, much like a CPA is for accountants. In practical terms, a project manager with PMP certification generally earns 20 percent more than project managers without that certification.
Check out how a master's degree could advance your career
While this may not be an option for everyone, it is important to know that different countries and states can value skills and experience differently.
For example, according to Investopedia, lawyers who work in Washington, D.C. bring in more than those in California or New York, with an average salary of $192,500. If you’re in one of the highest-paying industries, like cable and other subscription programming, for instance, relocating to a high paying state could well be worth the move.
Start a side hustle
Getting a side hustle is the fastest way to bring in extra money to help pay your bills. Offering to help people or solve their problems can get quick results, from which you can build a recurring income. You can do everything from dog walking to tutoring in your free time. This extra money may be just enough to allow you to stay in your dream job, and also live comfortably.
Start your own business
If you’re at a point in your career that you think you can do your job on your own, consider starting your own business. You could start it as a side hustle, and then – as you bring in more clients and become a recognized expert in your field – establish your own sole proprietorship.
This approach can allow you to continue doing the work you love, plus there is no limit as to how much money you can make.