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Dream Job or a Career that Pays the Bills: Which Should You Choose?

Your favourite motivational speaker says you should pursue your dream job, even if it makes you lose two-thirds your current weight. But your relatives think that’s a silly way to live your life. They tell you to hunt that seven-figure salaried position at an oil company instead. It’s commonsense, they say; you need to pay the bills, and your passion won’t even cover your monthly budget for sliced bread.

But what’s the right thing to do?

Pursuing a career that guarantees regular paychecks certainly has its allures. But so does going all out to make your ideal life happen. We all wish we could have these two benefits at the same time (without the difficulties that either decision comes with). But the truth is, we’re seldom able to make this happen.

That’s why the question posed by this article’s topic is so pertinent. Here, we’ll try to provide answers that are alright for different scenarios- because there’s no single answer for everyone who asks it. As you read, you’ll find out why.

Option One: Go for the Job that Pays the Bills

This is probably the more common generic answer to the question in our part of the world. There’s at least one reason why. The motivational speaker we referred to at the start of this article probably lives in a country in which the unemployed can at least qualify for food stamps and other social safety net provisions. But these cushions are next to non-existent on your patch of the planet (assuming you’re in Nigeria).

What should you do when there’s very little in your pocket, perhaps too little to fund that dream pursuit of yours (if it does require a fair deal of money)?

The answer would probably depend on what ‘too little’ means. But if it’s what most people think it means, you might probably consider taking up some form of employment other than what you would ultimately want. Again, this depends on the assumption that your dream isn’t to work at a big oil company or be CEO at an already firmly established firm. Those could be dream jobs too, at least for certain persons.

It’s easy to list the benefits of being in a job that keeps your bank account balances in the green. There’s the security that it brings. You might not have to worry too much about how you’ll make your next meal happen. Planning would be less bedevilled by the stress of uncertainty. What’s more, you may even build up enough savings to eventually go after the dream you’ve always wanted to fulfil.

But there are downsides to this, which many of our ‘commonsense friends’ tend to downplay. One is the lack of satisfaction felt by many who choose this path over the more exhilarating experience of doing what their hearts long for. And despite claims to the contrary, even wealthy CEOs feel this as well. That’s why some of them eventually break off from the ‘comforts’ of the established corporate environment and undertake the risky venture of building a new business or startup from scratch.

Another not-too-often talked about disadvantage of the ‘pay-bills-over-passion’ approach is that it might eventually lead to utter disillusionment, perhaps even severe burnouts. I’ll qualify this: maybe it’s only a smaller fraction of workers in this situation who actually burn out, or collapse into depression. But for the majority of persons who are doing ‘just any job’, the negative consequence of their choice is manifest in their perennially low levels of productivity

Option Two: Go for Your Passion            

Unless your dream job is actually one that will pay your bills from the very start, the decision to go for your passion can be a very tough one to make. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell if you’ve chosen right until you’ve gone a considerable distance with it. The outcome will cast you as either a brave person who dared the odds and succeeded or a foolish fella who refused wise advice and learned commonsense the hard way.

The fact is, it’s rare to find anyone who’s plunged straight into their ideal pursuits without having an anchor of some sort. This anchor may be a job which is either a ‘next best thing’ in comparison to what they hope to eventually get’ or a totally unrelated job which nevertheless helps them feed and builds the savings for when they’ll finally give their dream a go.

Thankfully, it’s possible to devote some of your spare time to work on your hopes for the future while you’re at your temporary employment.  This will ensure that you will already have something ‘on the ground’ to work with when you do begin to engage with your desired job full time.

All the great things about this option can be summed up with a single word: fulfilment. You may not know the true worth of this unless you’ve initially swum in the contrary waters of a job you detest, just for the money it brings you. On the flip side, you run the risk of starving if you don’t have a properly planned strategy for earning more than a living wage from it.

Option Three: Do What’s Best at Each Phase of Your Working Life

This nuanced answer typically gets a reluctant nod from people who are devoted to a hard version of the first two options. But it’s probably more realistic than either of those.

In fact, it’s probably impossible to function close to your full potential if you just pick one of those options and run with it for the rest of your working life. You might experience the fulfilment of going with your dreams, but it’ll be stifled by constant financial worries. Or you may get the comforts of the big paycheck, but be consumed by a decades-long dread for work.

We hinted at this answer in our discussion of option two. If you want as much of both financial security and fulfilment as you can possibly get, you’ll have to take a stepwise approach to your ideal destination. Go for the dream, but approach it with your realistic lenses on.

Here are a few steps to take to strike this balance

1. Decide what your dream job really is. You may also have to refine it somewhat to make it realistic and achievable.

2.  Find out what you’ll need to get to that destination: time, resources, training, connections, etc.

3. Draw up a plan for action based on your findings from (2) above. Points in here may include getting a ‘next-best-job’ or something in that region, so you build up savings while you devote some effort on the side to bringing your long run project or job to life.

4. Work towards getting to your dream job by implementing your plan in a stepwise manner.

5. Don’t be disappointed if you’re forced to adjust the plan along the way. Just do as much as you can to stick with it, and make the adjustments if they become necessary.

Featured image source: Shutterstock

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Ikenna Nwachukwu

Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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