Choosing Between Making Money and Doing What You Love


I read an article recently in the Harvard Business Review that posed the question:

If you’re really passionate about what you do, but it’s not going to make you a lot of money, should you still do it?”

What a great question! Of course, telling someone to do what they love, and the money will follow is certainly inspiring, but is it true? Couldn’t you do what you truly care about and very well go broke?

Absolutely. I have a friend who left his high-powered corporate career to pursue his passion, and three years later he is broke and looking for work again. But that doesn’t mean he regrets his decisions or that you shouldn’t go after your dream…

Research shows that when we do something we love, or at least work towards doing something we love, we become more creative, more resourceful, and more persistent – which of course helps us get further faster. Not to mention, people who make progress every day toward something they care about (even if it’s just for fifteen minutes a day) report feeling far more satisfied and fulfilled. So doing what you love is not only uplifting, but hugely productive too.

But, let’s be real. None of this guarantees wealth, or even financial security.

And so we are back to the question: “If I have a passion that I’m pretty certain is not going to be super profitable, should I still go ahead?”

Of course you should. Here’s why:

1) Money Does Not Guarantee Happiness

More than ever, we are defined by how much we earn. But does a higher salary make us more content? No. More and more research is confirming that there is, in fact, little correlation between happiness and income. Work by the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman indicates that a higher wage delivers little in terms of personal wellbeing – and even suggests that, above a certain point, earning more can actually cause a decrease in contentment levels. That is not to say making no money is good either – as Kahneman notes, “Money does not buy you experiential happiness, but a lack of money will probably buy you misery.” The point is “Making more money is, in itself, an empty enterprise.”

The truth is there is far more to our happiness than money. Personally I think it has much more to do with our relationships (with God and with others) than it has to do with what’s written on our paychecks.

2) Great Stories Are Told With Risk and Sacrifice

I was chatting to a friend of mine Sean Temple, who left his corporate job to pursue his passion of starting and running a functional training centre called Flux. Now most people who look at Sean would say he is “living the dream”, which he is –  Flux is successful and growing. But I know it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Whenever you try something new, you’re always going to face a lot of obstacles. Most people who leave their job to earn more and work less, usually end up working more and earning less (at least in the beginning). But here’s the deal –  if you had to ask Sean if it has all been worth it – I know his answer would be “Absolutely yes!”

You see, security and comfort are overrated. What matters more to us is purpose and passion.

3) It Just Might Work!

Something you might not be considering when choosing between making money and doing what you love, is that it just might work! You might, indeed, end up making money if you engage in your passion, even though you currently think you won’t. Remember, the future is unknown. Who knows what people will want or buy in the future. After all, who knew you could make huge amounts of money figuring out a way to connect all your friends (Facebook)? At any moment in time, you are only one thought away from an insight — an insight that can change everything.

So, don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive. 

Footnote: If you are seriously considering leaving your job and pursuing your passion full-time, I highly recommend reading Jon Acuff’s book Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job

19 Replies to “Choosing Between Making Money and Doing What You Love”

  1. Your second points was a powerful one – nothing good comes without sacrifice and risk. Taking a pay cut, even a severe one, may be necessary. What makes us think we can have our cake and eat it too? 🙂


  2. thank you for this post…trust me i mean it… i was asking god and self whether i am in right profession and was comparing self with ppl around me…and was restless too…but as your article says choose what you like…..thank you.god bless!!!


  3. I just posted how my passion is reading and I LOVE TO READ. In my recent post I tell of how I got started and that all the things for me are falling into place. I do book reviews for pay. I have requests coming in and so far keeping up. The one thing authors need are a book review and that is where I come in. Thanks for educating me and keeping me inspired. Bless you!! Jackie


  4. Great article! As a college student aspiring to be a professional musician, this article is totally relevant. I’ve realized that this even applies to deciding between what specialty you choose to have, even within the field that you love. Back in high school, I aspired to pursue the commercial music field as a composer (i.e. film, t.v., popular music, etc.) because I could be a musician and supposedly have the chance of making more money. After being in college for a while, I recently realized that writing concert music is what I am actually more passionate about, and as a result, I have decided to journey in that direction instead.

    Do you mind if I reblog this post? 🙂




  5. Reblogged this on Sakari Dixon and commented:
    Tom Basson’s post last week based on the Harvard Business Review’s article, “Choosing Between Making Money and Doing What You Love” hit home for me as an aspiring professional musician and composer. When I initially enrolled in college, my dream was to become a film/t.v. composer out of the rationale that I could do what I love and still make a decent amount of money. However, within year and a half or so, I realized that not only was that a logical fallacy (since the economy has hit the film/t.v industry too, and it sometimes seems like EVERYONE wants to do film music), commercial music wasn’t exactly my passion. Instead, concert music is where I have decided to place my focus. Part of this realization occurred after I recognized the irony of telling people I wanted to be a film composer, yet I lacked a true desire to study film–I’d much rather be listening to Q2 or going to a concert than spending the same amount of time watching most movies or anything on television (especially cable).


  6. Great post! I am actually finding myself in this situation right now – keeping my paycheck/being bored, or taking a leap and starting a business. It’s scary but so exciting at the same time!


  7. Thanks Tom, great read. My husband and I took the leap last year and started our photography business together and I have to say yes we are not making nearly as much money but the reward of health and happiness is worth a 1000 times more than wealth!! Do what you love, take the risk but be sensible about it if you have a family to support. South Africa NEEDS more entrepreneur!


  8. Nice one, Tom! I know Sean too. A friend of mine’s Dad was MD of Shell SA and then one of the top guys at Anglo after that. After he retired my mate got his Dad into flyfishing and being well off they flyfish around the world. They had a heart to heart a few years back and my mate was surprised to hear how much his Dad regretted working so hard to get to the top -and in the process missing his kids growing up. He said he would have done it very differently if he had it over again. Makes one think if someone who has reached the pinnacle of what most of us would term “success” can look back on his life with regret.


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