Doing what you love vs. what makes you financially comfortable

It has been written about repeatedly and I do not expect to add anything useful to the discussion let alone offer real advice. But I need to put my thoughts in writing to perhaps gain more clarity of thought.

I find myself in the age-old cliché and privileged situation of indecision towards my future path in life. I say privileged – because that is what it is. It is a first world problem to be even in the position of decision at all. For most people the decision is not which career path to take or what would you love to do, it is: “how will I find anything to do at all”. How do I feed myself and my family?

But that framing is what feeds the difficulty of choice for me. Because should I even be having this discussion with myself? Should I not just be happy as hell that I have a job that not just puts food on the table but gives me abundance and financial security for years to come.

Just as you cannot “un-see” something you have seen, then you cannot “un-think” something you thought of. So, no matter the sense of privilege, no matter the sense of “guilt” I am left in the same position. I need to have the discussion with myself.

My main gripe is that I do not know exactly what “doing what I love” would entail. Through rose-coloured glasses I can see myself taking up one of my hobbies as full-time work. I can imagine all the joy it would bring to get up everyday and just do that for work. It could be as a photographer, it could be as a classic car or motorcycle mechanic. I can see myself working on an old engine puffing, halting and barely running. Then gradually adjusting and working it to a harmonic, fruitful and eager growl. I can imagine the sense of achievement. I can even see the owner picking it up and eagerly awaiting to try it out.

But I am old enough to know that it is exactly what I described it as – a future envisioned through rose-coloured glasses. There will no doubt be days like that. But will there be many? How will the bad days look like? And how many will there be of those. How will I be financially? Will it matter?

Those are of course all questions that needs to be taken into consideration when juxtaposing current situation with potential future.

But looking at it from a number’s perspective is like applying mathematics to love or religion – it might work if you are an accountant, but for all others it is probably the wrong tool for the job.

Number of good vs. bad days on the surface looks like a good measurement. But that is too binary. Are all good days the same? No, they are not. There are good days and then there are super awesome days. The same goes for bad days.

I think a better measure would be to look at how you would feel about the bad days. There will be bad days in all scenarios. The question is how bad they would be. Would doing something you love make you feel less lethargic on bad days? Would they just be bad and boring, but not raise questions about your life in general? I think – perhaps – but I am not certain.

Then comes the big question of trading your non-renewable time for money. You will only live once – at least most of us will. Is trading time to buy the freedom to do what you want, a good deal? What is the alternative? Whatever the path there will be times where you will have to deal with things you do not want to do. Even the rosy, romantic future will bring struggles. So, the question is then whether these struggles will be better or worse than the current ones?

Perhaps the alternative path brings struggles that would never materialize in the current. I have started companies from scratch myself. One of them with a good portion of money in the bank and what looked like a good safe runway. When that runway ended, as they all eventually do, and we still haven’t made any money, then the real problems started. There is nothing to keep you honest and stressed like money-problems in this western world. One thing is struggling with your dream/company/product but struggling financially and not knowing whether you can pay your bills or not – that is incomparable.

So, doing what I love, while not having to keep me in abundance, still needs to pay the bills. I truly believe that inability to pay your bills is level with the existential angst you can feel from trading your time for money in a job you do not love.

But while the economics of doing what you love might not be as profound – then we would not be having the discussion – then the expense side might be changeable. My current role as IT consultant means that most jobs are in an around the capital city. Meaning that if I do not want to spend half of my day commuting, then I must put up with exorbitant rent. A change of career would change that premise and open the possibility for lower cost of living.

Another option would be to work less. In my line of work a part-time gig of 20-30 hours a week is probably hard to find. But as a freelancer the possibility of only working in average 6-8 months a year would not be impossible. That would leverage the income while giving me amble time to pursue whatever hobby, project or travelling for the remainder of the year.

I am leaning mostly towards the “work less” option. Trying to only fill my calendar for 6-10 months instead of the full year. It would leave me with most options open for the future. If I had a clear plan for what I wanted to do instead I might have chosen differently. But quitting/shifting without a plan I do not believe to be the right option. At least not for me.

My current contract runs until the end of the year and might be extended a bit beyond that, but it is probably time to seriously consider taking a few months off after that.

If my random ramblings brought any thought that you would like to share, then please feel free to do so. Also, if you have gone through the same process, then I would love to hear about it.

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