“Even dream jobs involve a ton of compromise and grunt work. Tedium. Dread. Anxiety. Moments of self-doubt. And cold feet. If I made career decisions based on how “passionate” I felt, then I’d probably be broke.”
On a dull and quiet afternoon at work, I came across this Medium article by Jessica Lexicus on the Dangerous Myths of Passion. The passage above jumped out at me. Yes! I thought – my dream job in social justice had started with immense passion and excitement. Yet here I was on yet another sunny Bangkok afternoon, stuck behind a computer, unmotivated, wondering if I was actually accomplishing anything.
I’ve been mulling over that passage ever since, wondering if I should have chosen a career that served me better financially. If I’m already feeling disenchanted and rather cynical about my field of work in my mid-thirties, would it have been any different working in a well-paid corporate job? I might have even saved enough to quit work and travel the world by now… and so on and so on went my little monkey mind.
But after some time, I realised there’s no point for me – or anyone else for that matter- to feel doubt or regret about the life and career choices we made in the past. The most important step is to acknowledge and appreciate what we’ve learned from life so far, and to build on those lessons to craft the future we want.
Everyone’s path is different
When I first discovered the world of financial independence, I came across the inspirational stories of so many people who had used their twenties to make good money and chart out their financial freedom. By their early thirties, they were free of the tyranny of salaried work, and could live out their passions on their own terms.
By comparison, I had also spent my twenties working hard and building a career. But I was focused on building a career in international development, with smaller non-profits that had low prospects for leading to a very-paid job. By pursuing this career abroad on Thai-level salaries, I was further derailing my prospects of buying a house in a desirable part of London, tending to a rooftop garden, and cuddling with puppies (which is how I often imagine my dream life).
But I realized most of us who finally discover financial independence probably kick ourselves about our earlier choices. Maybe you also discovered it a little bit too late and have racked up huge commercial debt. Or maybe you’ve succumbed to lifestyle inflation, and wonder how you’ll manage to pare back your family expenses.
Looking at financial rockstars who’ve built up a sky-high net worth can feel disempowering when you feel so far behind. But comparison won’t get us anywhere – rather we should learn from these rockstars and start implementing advice and tactics that make sense for our own lives. It would be worse to just get stuck in a cycle of despair and regret and fail to take any action at all.
Why I’m glad I chose passion over money
I think that the question of whether you should choose either passion or money can be a false dichotomy. I’m sure that the founders of Google followed their passion, and are definitely being paid handsomely for it now. There is no correct answer as to whether you should choose money, or passion, or both, nor any correct order in which to pursue them. Passion is also not synonymous with career – you can indulge in a whole range of passions that have nothing to do with work.
In my case, however, choosing my field of work was a conscious choice to follow my passion and reject money, as I hadn’t yet honed a healthy money mindset. I’m definitely poorer for making career choices I have, but I definitely would have been worse off if I had succumbed to consumerism, credit card debt, and whole host of other destructive money habits. A person making £200,000/year is poorer than me if they’re spending £200,001/year.
Instead of wasting time mulling over what could have been, I decided to turn it on its head and instead seek some gratitude for the choices I’ve made so far. Here’s what I came up with:
My work has given me an appreciation of money
I realize that by pursuing a career revolving around humanitarianism and social justice, I’ve always had a keen understanding of my own relative privilege and the value of money. By earning little and somewhat inconsistently (at least before my current job), I’ve learned how to live on less. This means that I can make necessary adjustments and embrace a level of discomfort more easily than others who may need to start tightening their belts. I realise that while I really need to work on earning more, my values and experience have given me a framework that is conducive to financial independence.
I’m already partly living the dream
Although I am mostly stuck behind a desk Monday to Friday, I often use the numerous Thai public holidays and my annual paid leave for trips abroad, plus I sometimes have work trips in the region. Over the past years, I’ve managed to visit most countries in South-East and East Asia. Being able to frequently travel to diverse countries has been an incredible privilege and a benefit of living in Thailand, even if I occasionally feel resentful for having to show up for a 9-5 job. Living and travelling in South-East Asia is a dream for others, so sometimes I need to recognize how lucky I am to have lived in a fascinating country and explore others.
I recently came across this timely reminder from the sadly departed Anthony Bourdain:
“To be fortunate enough to be able to visit Thailand, to eat in Thailand, is a deep dive into a rich, many textured, very old culture containing flavors and colors that go far beyond the familiar spectrum. Given our limited time on this earth, and the sheer magnificence, the near limitless variety of sensory experiences readily available, you don’t want to miss ANY of it.”
I get paid to learn and try to make the world a better place
Catch me on a bad day and I will come across as a cynical curmudgeon, railing against the failure of progressive activists to create change. But the path towards economic, social and ecological justice is a long, hard slog. Despite getting frequently frustrated about it, I’ve also developed an appreciation and admiration of the people who keep at it.
I’ve also learned so much through my work. Apart from when I have to stare at budgets and reports, an important part of my work is to keep up to date on what’s happening in the world (which supports my Guardian addiction). I’ve also had the privilege to learn directly from people and communities on the ground trying to forge change – and this knowledge and experience is far more valuable than anything I could learn from reading books or newspapers.
Ok my job is kinda awesome, but I’m quitting
Writing the above has made me realise I do have my dream job, and that I’m lucky I ended up here. But even this dream job comes with office politics, repetition and a feeling of being stuck. While I have lots of autonomy in terms of what I do in a work day, I have less autonomy over my time and location – I feel I have to be in the office during regular hours – and that daily frustration builds up. What’s more, this job is on the other side of the world from my friends and family back home, who I’m missing more and more (the main downside of living abroad).
I realise no job will ever be perfect forever, because I’ll continue to evolve as a person, and my needs will change. Social justice will continue to be hugely important me, but I’m also aware that I can pursue this passion outside of a profession as well.
I’m happy with what I’ve achieved in my career so far, but I’m also open to stepping away from it to explore new horizons. I don’t know what kind of job/work awaits me when I come back to the UK later this year, and (apart from when I’m totally freaking out about it) I’m kind of excited about the possibilities.
Over to you: Did you choose passion over money? Or are you pursuing another route? Sound off in the comments below!