Career Commentary: Chasing the Dollar versus Pursuing the Dream Job

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There really is not a “wrong” way to live your professional life. Even people who set off to pursue a career as a clown can’t really be seen as “wrong” because all career paths come down to a single bottleneck of two directions:

  • Do you pursue the dollar?
  • Or do you pursue your dream career?

So if that wanna-be clown is truly happy…clowning (is that how you describe it?), and also making a decent living doing it, who are we to judge? The same can be said about the individual who aspires to be a surgeon just for the money but doesn’t really like all the sciency stuff associated to it (blood AND guts? Yuck!).

When it comes to careers, there are generally only two paths. They may overlap for a select few, but at the very beginning of your journey, or even those who have made substantial progress but are looking for a new direction … which direction should you go in?

Below we take a look at the pros and cons of chasing after dreams and dollars, and examine where each path tends to lead to.

Chasing your dream job.

Let’s first talk about what it’s like pursuing your dream job.

When you first announce that this is the task that you are setting out to accomplish, you more than likely are met by some head shaking…okay, a lot of head shaking. If your dream job is that of “lawyer”, or “doctor”, or even “mechanic”, then you are one of the lucky ones and there will more than likely be very little head shaking in your future.

But for those of us who made our announcement and proclaimed “I’m going to be a writer!” or “I’m going to be a sidewalk chalk artist!” or even the not very glamourous but still necessary vocation of “birthday clown!”, then yeah –head shaking.

But guess what, let those people whose heads are on swivels be proven wrong. Be the best damn writer you can be, or the best damn sidewalk chalk artist, or clown, or singer-songwriter-dancer-producer you can be. Whatever end goal floats your boat, be the best at it.

But I’m willing to bet that you’ve heard that before, haven’t you?

In reality, being the best you can be when you are trying to get started can be exhausting, because even though you may have genuine talent in the field that you are trying to establish yourself in (be it writing, or acting, or sidewalk chalk drawing), you are new in the world you are just starting out within –and that equals you making next-to-nothing wages for a very long time. At least until you catch a break.

So how do you survive while dream chasing?

When I first started working in management, I started out working in Hollywood at a restaurant managing and scheduling deliveries. While down in Hollywood, an overwhelming majority of the people I talked to who were employed by the restaurant all described themselves as actors or screenwriters of some sort. It sounds like a cliché, but it makes sense doesn’t it?

These were all people who were chasing their dream of being actors and other Hollywood professionals, but they just hadn’t hit their big breaks yet, so they needed a way to supplement their income in the meantime –and that’s just what you need to do if your dream job doesn’t start right up front with a massive paycheck.

If you are going to chase your dream job, but in the beginning you have to work for free or at the most be paid in nickels and dimes instead of an actually sustainable paycheck, then you are going to have to swallow your pride and get another job in the meantime, at least a day job to keep you alive long enough to see your dream job happen.

Many people who chase their dream jobs drop out of the race because they ran out of the funds to keep them going. Don’t be one of those people –get a day job to pay the bills that can also allow you to keep going after your goal. Work in the day and chase the dream at night, or vice versa.

Do what you need to do to keep yourself on track and on pace.

Chasing the dollar.

What I mean by “chasing the dollar” is that when asked what career path you have decided to pursue, you answer with “whatever job pays the most”.  Dollar chasing means that there is really no desire to hold a dream job that makes you happy from the day to day responsibilities, but instead, the happiness comes from the massive paycheck that is coming your way. How you feel about the work itself really doesn’t matter to you.

As bleak and somewhat narcissistic as that all may sound –there is actually nothing wrong with it.

Chasing the dollar, that is, gunning for positions that simultaneous offer high amounts of salary and a feeling of job security, is a safe way to set up your life, even if the work itself isn’t what is appealing. Many people enter into job fields not really having personal love for the job, but they love the aspects of the job instead –namely the paycheck. When it comes to the happiness quota that the people who went after their dream jobs are pursuing, the dollar chasers pick up the slack through other means like their enjoyable coworkers, hobbies they have on the weekends, or the families that they can safely support through their protected and padded paychecks.

Yeah these people may hate their jobs, but that doesn’t mean that they still are not happy with their lives – they just decided to be happy in other areas than their sole occupation, and that doesn’t make them any less good of a person for opting for that choice. Just be sure that whatever job you do take, regardless of the paycheck, doesn’t leave you feeling dead inside.

Seeking the dream elsewhere.

Like I said earlier, chasing the dollar just means that their dreams are not tied into their jobs, but rather the things that a job that pays well leads to. Things like a bigger house, multiple vacations, being able to support a sizable family with minimal financial worry…things like that. The job itself to these kinds of individuals is a minor detail in their lives as compared to the rest of the picture.

In a way, we all can learn from these kinds of people who don’t let their jobs consume their lives. I personally can vouch for people whose jobs are pretty much always present. I come home and think about work, I am driving around town thinking about work, I am eating dinner and watching the latest Netflix Original and thinking about work…It’s a huge part of my life and personality –but I love it. I love my work, but I do let it consume me. It’s not that hard in reality, but I do let myself get soaked up in the stress too much, and it’s honestly because I care about the job. Maybe more than I should, but that’s my decision to be soaked up in all of it.

This isn’t to say dollar chasers don’t care about their jobs, they just care about their personal lives more. If they lose this job, they can just go get another one and feel fine about it, and losing a job won’t be nearly as devastating as it would be to a dream job chaser like myself.

So which one is “right”?

Do I pick a career path that will make me happy in the job itself, or happy with the opportunities it will bring into the off-duty hours of my life?

It all depends on what you value. Do you want your job itself with its day to day responsibilities to be a major source of your happiness, or do you plan on picking up the slack of your happiness that you are not getting from your high paying but not-very-interesting job elsewhere (why do you think people play golf so much)?

There is no blanket answer, but it is a look that you need to take into yourself.

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