How many of us have ever been told to do
what we love and the money will follow? Since time began, this cliché must have been spouted
as often as "just be yourself."
Too bad both pieces
of advice only work in select circumstances.
If what you love to do is accountancy,
plumbing, or teaching, then doing what you love should
yield some kind of payoff. A love of the work will bring greater enthusiasm to
the job, more clients, and a greater livelihood. But be forewarned: the extent of the greater payoff will be determined
more by the type of work you choose than your enthusiasm. If I am bright enough to get into the University of
Toledo's medical program and wind up an unenthusiastic
general practitioner, while you're much brighter and attend
Harvard's linguistics program but pursue a career as a
passionate high school teacher, I'm going to be taking home
the larger paycheck, a much larger paycheck I might
add. I know
people who went to mediocre law schools and got positions at
marginal firms. Nevertheless, they earn more money their first year out than
a very bright and multi-talented friend of mine, who has an
Ivy League Ph.D. degree and has worked as an assistant
professor for almost ten years.
Enthusiasm will help a plumber become a
more likable plumber, a professor become a more likable
professor. Likability may at some point translate into greater
prosperity, but I say that with great reservations. When you were in high school, did the more likable
teachers earn more money than the ones with dispositions
similar to a wet towel? You already know the answer. Likability had nothing to do with
remuneration. High school teachers are paid according to their
degrees and their tenure. That's it. If they're affable, it's a bonus -- to their students. It doesn't translate into a higher income. Being enthusiastic only has a chance to reap you
greater rewards when you're in a job that's not based
entirely on a pre-negotiated salary. An enthusiastic doctor or salesman, for instance,
stands to attract more clients, and thus, more income.
But, as already stated, the profession you
go into has a greater bearing on your income than your
the real world, it's difficult to think of enthusiasm as
entirely separate from your job. You might be the most enthusiastic teacher within a
thousand mile radius, but if you were suddenly forced to dig
ditches for a living instead, could you still summon that
same enthusiasm? The degree of your enthusiasm depends, in large part, upon
how satisfied you are, both with your current living
situation and your prospects for the future.
This explains why everyone with the
necessary aptitude does not become a lawyer or a surgeon or
a general manager of a hotel. Instead, they choose to offer new age dance classes
or teach yoga or own a scuba diving shop in some tropical
locale. It might
seem easy to tell yourself you could work X number of years
at a high flying respectable job, just because it pays very
well, but if you're not that excited about it, life becomes
less meaningful and summoning the energy to go to work
another day turns into an ordeal.
I've met plenty of
people who abandoned superb paying jobs to pursue a life
more to their own making, a life filled with more
sure you have as well.
We've all been told that each of us has
something worthwhile to contribute, and if each of us
pursues our personal missions, the world would be a better
place for everyone. Well, for the sake of argument, imagine a baker in a
small town. He's not a very good baker.
In fact, he's quite a
bad one. His
breads aren't moist or doughy. His cakes are crusty. He's not a terrible baker because he lacks the
enthusiasm for it. No. This
baker rather enjoys baking, but just has no talent for it. Lucky for him, he's the only baker in town and he's
an extremely nice fellow, so people buy his mediocre baked
goods anyway. I
appreciate this is not a completely realistic example
because in today's franchised world, a chain would soon
appear in this second-rate baker's town and knock him out of
generation or two ago, however, when people knew their
bakers and grocers personally, a run-of-the-mill baker
might've been able to eke out a living.
In our example, baking brings our baker
his greatest passion, even though he can't do it well.
Eventually, the economics of supply and demand shut him out,
and our baker is forced to do something else for a living
which he has less enthusiasm for.
Welcome to life. Most of us are like this baker in one way or another. We're not particularly great at our jobs. We may be competent or acceptable, but we're not
sitting at the top of the heap. But, unlike the baker, we're not enthused with our
work, so we have an excuse.
What about the people who are
enthused with their work and pretty darned good at, too, but can't make an acceptable living at it, people
such as character actors, musicians, writers, and singers? If these people can't earn enough to support
themselves and their families, they necessarily have to seek
other employment in jobs they may not be so enthusiastic
about. Think of all the actors you meet waiting tables in New York
Now, not all these characters actors and
musicians and writers and singers are good at what they do. Most are like our baker friend -- pretty average. In the long run, it's to theirs and to society's
benefit that they be forced to seek employment elsewhere, in
something they're better at. Still, a minority of the crowd is immensely
talented. A few
of them find their big breaks and go on to a life doing what
they love with the money following. The rest need to find alternatives.
I think it's quite true that if you
surveyed the wealthiest people in the world, none of them
would have struck it rich doing work they hated. Each of them had a passion for the projects they
invested their time in to produce their wealth. Their success doesn't verify that doing what you love
leads money to follow. Not at all. More accurately, by doing what you love, you've just
got a better chance of the money following.
The trick in life for us all is to try to
find a way to balance enthusiasm with the greatest possible
payoff. A very few of us are extremely fortunate. We hit the lottery and become movie or pop stars or
channel our enthusiasm into entrepreneurially creating our
own jobs and wind up with a huge payout. A lot more of us are not so lucky. We feel we can't pursue the work which fills us with
the most energy because the statistical odds against us
succeeding are too great. Therefore, we trade some of our enthusiasm for a more
secure job that yields a greater payout but brings no sense
of greater satisfaction.
I call this balancing act the Baker's
Dilemma. The highly paid lawyer who works for a prestigious DC firm,
dislikes his job, but feels he can't leave because he'll
suffer a standard of living drop -- he's facing the Baker's
Dilemma. The actor resembling Marlo Brando who's been turned down for
his fortieth straight audition and is feeling the pressure
to get an office job -- that's the Baker's Dilemma. You're mentally trapped in some sort of eerie limbo
state, where you feel that what you're doing isn't bringing
about any contribution. Either you're receiving some validation for your
work, but the validation means nothing because the work
means nothing to you, or you're receiving no validation at
all and wonder if you're really meant to pursue the path
There's no cut-and-dried answer to the
Baker's Dilemma, and if we make the wrong decision, there
are no do-overs. Money isn't everything, but it's insipid to believe that
money is nothing either. Money -- or the lack of it -- has the ability to make
us do things we normally wouldn't consider, and sometimes
sticking it out in a well paid job which bores us to tears
is worth the while because if we left that job, we'd really
have no clue what better job we'd go after. How can we expect to if we have no idea what 'better'
to not make a move if you don't know where you want to
go. You'll never
know if you've arrived.