Making Money versus Doing What You Love (or hopefully both)

Yesterday my boss asked me if I care about making money. The answer to that question is complicated—more than I can explain in five minutes on my way out of the office. Financial stability should be a huge consideration in choosing what career path to take. However, different people define financial stability in different ways.

Because I am a nerd, I will start by considering Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The base of Maslow’s pyramid, physiological needs, includes breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, and excretion. Once these basic needs have been met, the next category is safety, which deals with the security of physiological needs: health, employment, shelter, etc. Third is love/belonging. Fourth is “esteem,” which is defined by self-esteem, confidence, achievement, and respect by and for others. The tip-top of the pyramid is self-actualization: morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, and acceptance of facts.

One’s definition of financial stability depends on how much money one feels is necessary for meeting each level of needs. Most people can agree that money is necessary for meeting the needs described by the first two levels of the pyramid. People need money to buy food, rent or buy shelter, and go to the doctor and purchase medicine. Then, if one is planning on supporting a family and/or paying for social activities, money becomes important to meeting the third level of needs. Some people also believe that money is necessary to command respect. That covers the fourth level. Finally, money might become imperative to meeting self-actualization needs if giving money to charity seems beneficial, or one’s creative outlets include expensive hobbies such as travel, working on cars, participating in triathlons, etc.

From my point of view, money is extremely relevant to meeting the first two levels of needs; helpful, but not necessary, for fostering relationships through social activities (I’m not planning on starting a family in the near future); and not at all necessary for the fourth level of the pyramid. When we get to self-actualization, things get a little bit tricky.

In order to feel self-actualized, I feel that I need a job that will support my morals and fuel my creativity. If you read my blog from last week, you know that I don’t believe that seeking the kind of job I want bars me from making money. However, it will be a greater struggle to make a disposable income than it would be if I pursued something like medicine or finance.

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, making six figures is not important to me. At this point, the prospect of a $30,000 salary seems exorbitant for supporting one twenty-something-year-old. As long as I can pay my rent and utilities, buy groceries, and go to a bar with friends every once in a while, then a job in the nonprofit sector seems more viable to me than a job in finance—even if I would be denying myself the ability to travel or buy expensive art supplies. In exchange, I would be supporting my mental and emotional health. Of course, if I could do what I love and make a lot of money, that wouldn’t be too bad either.

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