“Hi Celes, I find myself in a passionless career but unable to pursue my true goals for fear of financial instability. What makes it even harder is that mine is a great job that many strive for. A classic case of the ‘golden handcuffs’ if you will. So can you give me any advice here? How can one both earn enough to be happy while pursuing less than lucrative ambitions?” — Serge
Hi Serge, your situation is the epitome of the classic dilemma that many face today in our society. Many of us face at this question at a certain point in our lives — including the people around me and myself. I was personally confronted with it three years ago when I graduated from Business School, where I was caught between a promising brand management career or my life passion to help people grow and achieve their highest potential.
In this article, I will share with you how I came to find my best solution to this conundrum.
Before we even discuss further, let us first assess the situation.
Assessing the situation
Scenario A: Passion, with little money
Let’s look at Scenario A, where you pursue your passion which is not so lucrative. While you love every minute of pursuing your passion and you get so much fulfillment out of it, you find it hard to concentrate on this path when you have to face real, monetary limitations. Money to pay the bills, money to do other things you love, money to live in a sufficient manner. This is the scenario of the starving artist, if you may.
Scenario B: Money, with no passion
Then there’s Scenario B, where you remain in your lucrative job with great prospects, but you do not hold a passion for the work. You get by working from day to day by blocking out your real inner desires. The numbness you feel is drowned out by the extrinsic benefits that your job offers, such as an attractive benefits package which allows you to acquire material goods and live in luxury, prestige and awe that comes from being associated with the company, etc. However, these are temporal gratifications and you feel empty inside in the long run.
What should we do here? Both options have its own sets of pros and cons. Both options leave us unsatisfied in some manner. Scenario A lets us be fulfilled emotionally, but not in terms of material needs. Scenario B lets us be fulfilled on the material level, but not emotionally.
The answer is: It’s not an either or situation; it’s ‘and’. There is a Scenario C where we can meet our all our needs. :)
So if the scenario exists, how do we get there? How do we achieve it?
Don’t limit yourself
The reason why people commonly narrow it down to between passion or money is because of what they see around them. If we are to look toward the world for outlets which meets our passion and needs, we will find sub-optimal solutions. Such as a teaching job that pays little. Non-profit organizations laden with bureaucracy and poor practices that lead to our mental atrophy. Nearly non-existent paths for passions like art and music. The bleakness of the situation is further emphasized by real life examples, such as artists who experience dwindling sales for their galleries, musicians who work hard on their music career with limited success, etc.
Don’t limit yourself by what you see in this world. And don’t limit yourself by what people around you say or think either, be it your mentors, teachers, family, friends, peers, or whoever. I’m not saying not to listen to them; but rather, not to restrict yourself based on what others tell you. You are an individual with your own unique set of needs. If you are to leave it to the real world to provide you with the outlet to meet all your needs, you are not going to find fully satisfactory answers. The real world is only going to have opportunities that reflect others’ needs and can meet your needs in a certain manner. Your own needs can only be fully met by creating your own opportunities.
Your options are only as limited as you let them be. If you feel your passion is less than lucrative than your day job, it is because you define it to be that way. If your passion is not a viable full time career, it is because you choose it to be so. If your passion cannot meet your material needs, it is because you think it to be so.
Let the visionary extraordinaire hidden inside of you emerge and go wild. Deep down, there is a side of you hidden that you have not unleashed yet — the side who is fully capable of creating your that vision and ideal of what you want to achieve, then setting out to create it in the physical reality. You know that yourself, don’t you? ;)
Be aware of your needs
Start off by becoming aware of all your needs that you have. While it is common to consider just passion and money, we have needs beyond those two segments we should factor in.
There are 4 key aspects that comprise us as humans: Mind, Heart, Body, Soul. For each of these aspects, it has its own set of needs that need to be met for us to live the fullest life we desire.
Do this exercise now and ask yourself these questions:
- What are your mental needs? This includes to learn and grow, to exercise your creativity, to stimulate your thinking, etc. What kind of skills and abilities do you want to nuture?
- What are your physical needs? Such as basic physiological needs, such as food, water, shelter, sleep, etc. It also includes what’s needed for you to live in a manner that is satisfactory and comfortable to you, such your disposable income, material needs, etc.
- What are your health needs? What do you need to do to keep your body in top condition? What do you need to do to stay healthy? This includes exercise and your diet.
- What is your passion? What drives you onward in life every day, without fail?
- What are your love and belongingness needs? This includes relationships with family, friends, a partner/spouse.
- What are your esteem needs? Examples include desire for achievement, respect by others, self-esteem, and so on.
- What are your spiritual needs? What is the spiritual awareness do you wish to attain? What is the level of spirituality you wish to attain?
- What are your obligations and responsibilities? Such as responsibilities to your parents, family, society, country, etc. It may be to support your family, to contribute and give back to the society, etc.
For your answers,
- Write what is true to you. Don’t write down what others feel you should do but isn’t true for yourself. For example, others might feel it is their obligation as a citizen to give back 10% of their earnings to the society. However, if you honestly disagree with this, it is not a need for you.
- Write only the absolute needs. These are the make or break factors which let you lead the most fulfilling manner. If one doesn’t exist, you will not be completely happy. If earning $100,000 a month is really what you need to make you 100% happy, then write it down. Likewise, if just earning $1,000 is sufficient to beam you up everyday, then put that down.
- Don’t restrict yourself with your situation in life. Don’t worry about whether something is possible, realistic or logical. Just imagine this as your anything-goes menu where you can order anything you want from the universe.
Be your life’s architect: Design your vision
Now, based on all the needs you have, design your vision; your dream life. Assume the role of your life’s architect and design the scenario where all your needs will be met. Ask yourself this question: If the universe can give you absolutely anything you want, what is the perfect life you want to be leading right now? This is your end goal that you want to reach. This is the path which meets all your needs, from mind, body, heart and soul. This is the vision which will spur you on and empower you endlessly. :D
Be as liberal as needed. Write down whatever your vision entails. It may involve starting your own business, migrating to another country, buying a cottage in the countryside, whatever. You can even have your own TV show like Oprah if you want. Or run your own empire. The key is, don’t limit yourself. If you find your ever-logical left brain intervening and commenting “Oh, but this isn’t going to be realistic..” or “I don’t think this is possible…”, tell him/her “Thank you for your opinion, but this is an exercise for our creative right brain”. Keep doing that and eventually he/she will eventually get the idea and quietly watch you work.
When you are done, look at this scenario and ask yourself the determining question: Will you be 100% happy here? Does it meet every single one of your needs? If not, there is either something you missed out when listing your needs for each aspect, or you designed a vision which missed out a particular need. Identify what that missing piece is and improvise on your vision until it is a scenario where you are 100% happy.
Building your path to your dream
When you have finished designing your vision, look at your current situation. Where do you stand now? What is needed for you to reach the end point? What are the barriers that are preventing you from getting to your destination? Maybe you don’t let the skill sets and know-how to achieve the end goal. Maybe you are not quite sure how to reach there. Maybe you don’t have enough money to start-up the kind of business you want. Write all of these down.
Start identifying how you can address the barriers. If you don’t have the skill sets, then figure how you can learn them. It can be through self reading, attending training courses, getting a personal coach, etc. If you are not sure how to reach there, look toward people who have reached similar goals. Study what they did and learn from them. Talk to them to understand more about their initial predicaments and their actions in those scenarios. If you don’t have enough money yet, then make earning money your temporary focus until you are able to move on to the next step.
All in all, build up your full plan to transit to your end goal. Identify you need to do in order to get from where you are right now, point A, to your end vision, point B. I’ve written about this in my article Living in Alignment with Your Purpose on how to bridge your current life with your end vision.
How I came to architect my life
At my point of graduation from Business School three years ago, I discovered my fervent passion toward helping people grow. However during that time, I had already accepted the offer of a brand management career at a Fortune 100 company. It was a dilemma since I was a marketing major and that job was the dream job of every marketer. The pay was gratuitous at approximately 50% higher than the average graduate pay. There were also extremely great development prospects that came with the job. The company was extremely prestigious and reputable; it was well-known as the choice employer anywhere around the world. It was undoubtedly an outstanding offer.
After much contemplation, I decided it was best to stay on in the career for a few years first. After all, it was a highly dynamic and intensive job and would serve as an excellent platform for me to develop and grow myself before I finally pursue my passion later on.
During the course of my career, I was working toward my passion in parallel. I started exploring career opportunities in personal development. But, alas — personal development was (and still) is at an infancy stage in Singapore, where I live. The concept of developing yourself in the context of your life is still quite alien to most people here — everyone is more focused on developing themselves in the context of others’ visions, such as their employers’, family’s, society’s, etc. If I had told anyone I wanted to be a life coach, they would have gone, “Huh?” If anything, people see self help as something kooky for people who have no life, neurotic or gone off the wrong end of the track.
Hence, I wasn’t able to find any opportunities in this area. (And I’m talking about proper jobs where you get remunerated, not be a “volunteer” coach to work long hours without any compensation.)
Then, I thought about seeking out a societal cause, since it’s within the scope of helping people too. I brainstormed on local non-profit organizations with socially responsible causes which I could join. I checked out the United Nations website to look for job opportunities. I expanded my search to international non-profit career portals and scouted for opportunities in NGOs, social enterprises and the like. It even got to the stage where I was willing to relocate myself overseas, using my own money, and work for any worthy enterprise that matched my purpose.
Bear in mind that in deciding to switch to a different field, particularly non-profit, I was prepared to get a pay cut of 50% (or even more), since such fields simply don’t offer the same competitive benefits as a career in brand management or consulting would.
For each opportunity I came across, I always found myself having to battle against considerations such as 1) the pay and benefits not being anywhere close to what I was getting in my current job, 2) the causes of the organizations not being something I was 101% passionate about, 3) severe red tape issues in non-profit organizations, 4) lack of best-in-class practices in the non-profit world compared to profit-driven industries. My friends whose friends had trod the non-profit path would give me the same watchouts. I felt myself reaching a dead end.
That’s when I finally realized that I was just boxing myself in. Why am I trying to compromise on my own desires? Why should I limit myself to what’s out there? Why do I need to pick any of these options before me? If nobody can give me an option that offers everything I want, then I’m going to architect my vision and create my path toward it.
I started getting down to work. I let my imagination run wild and branched my thinking into the widest, deepest ends possible. I wrote down my grandest long-term vision where I assumed I could have anything I wanted in this world. I decided that in 10 years’ time, I was going to have a life development school (think Xavier Institute in X-Men movie series), where students would be developed in personal development and spiritual development. Instead of limiting myself to just one medium, I was going to be a full-time life coach, blogger, speaker, educator, among others. I developed an overarching strategy on how to achieve these goals and started on developing my plans, week-in, week-out. Some days I would be caught up with my day job, but all in all I always made it a point to check back on my plans and build on it.
Eventually, there came a point where I felt I was ready to make the move. I handed in my resignation letter in Jul ’08 and left my career in Oct ’08 last year. Ever since then, I started working on building the pillars of my life passion. Today, I’m already living this in part, blogging here at my blog, coaching many people and speaking at events. These is just the first output of my plan; there’s many more things to come. While the path will not be all smooth sailing, there is absolutely no doubt in me that all of this will come to fruition in due time. :)
Take control of your life
What is the vision of your life? As your life’s architect, what will you design as your life to be? What is the ideal where all the needs of your mind, body, heart and soul will be met?
Start off by creating this end vision. When you have clarity on the actual end point, you will be able to identify what needs to be done between where you are now and your final goal to lead you there. Put aside at least 30 minutes every day working on your strategy and plans. You will find that everything else will gradually fall into place, bit by bit.
In time to come, everything will come to fruition. The end vision will come true, every bit the way you imagined it, and better.
Check out my How To Pursue Your Passion series for more articles on pursuing your passion.