I quit my passion and took a boring job

This guest post from long-time GRS reader Knot Theory is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity and with all sorts of incomes.

I'm a consumer of the personal finance blogosphere as much as anyone. I support the efforts of J.D. and others who write about money because I know it's really moved me to make some big changes. But the truth is: I can”t always relate to their situations.

So many of these blogs seem to be written by people who work in their pajamas or by people with no opportunity cost to blog (they're either financially independent already or stay-at-home parents). These are both great things, but I don't hear much from a Joe Sixpack schlub with a 9-to-5 like me. Instead, there's a lot of Tim Ferris-type noise about how us poor saps who go out and punch a clock are the suckers.

Plus, there are so many blogs advocating early retirement in the form of extremely low cost lifestyles, or quitting your big power job to become something touchy-feely, etc. You know what? That's not everyone's reality.

As an experiment, I thought maybe GRS readers would like to know that one of your fellow readers has, in fact, done the opposite of what many of these bloggers recommend: I've gone from a touchy-feely feel-good job to one that's boring and practical — and I couldn't be happier for it.

Doing What I Loved Led to Ruin

When I was eighteen, everyone told me that I should choose to do what I loved. Well, I knew exactly what that was: I was going to be a high school math teacher.

I worked hard for several years to become a teacher. I achieved my dream. But what happened wasn't what I had expected.

I'll admit that the highs were absolutely amazing. I'll be describing the negatives a lot more here, but the truth was I loved my job. Working with the students was a rush I haven't experienced since. I wanted to do everything I could to help them. The truth is I loved the students and they were what motivated me every day.

But there were plenty of downsides. I knew going in that there were problems in the system. I knew I'd deal with drug addiction, homelessness, teen pregnancy, cultural barriers, and other issues. Still, my first year was amazing. I was given the most at-risk students the district could throw at me. I won the accolades and approval of my peers, and I slept well after long days of feeling great.

But somewhere along the line, something happened.

As my career progressed, I got into the position where I had to report certain problems, like suspected drug use, gang activity, child abuse, and so on. The truth is, you're never prepared for this. You do an awful but completely rational thing: You begin to build little barriers to avoid getting involved past a certain point to protect yourself. It wasn't this kind of thing alone that wore me down, although sometimes even now at 3 a.m. I still stare at the ceiling thinking about some of it.

My growing cynicism began to take its toll, and I began hating myself for working to support an education system that I saw as corrupt. The incompetence and protectionism I encountered was amazing. I don't mean to make it sound like my administration was incompetent and evil (ditto for the teachers). There are good people in public education everywhere, but there were things that just began to wear on me.

I realized that the job I loved so much was actually destroying me. I was living an emotional roller-coaster ride every day. The stress was incredible because of the constant mood whiplash. Most importantly, I realized I had become entirely cynical of the whole public school enterprise. That's when I knew that I had to get out.

Choosing to be Happy

In 2005, my father died unexpectedly. This event rocked my world and made me question everything.

I knew that I just couldn't teach anymore. I resigned. I left the thing I loved more than any other, and wept bitterly the day I did so. The agony of that decision was unlike anything I've ever experienced before in my life or since.

Emotionally and financially destroyed as a person, I moved back to my hometown to rebuild. It took a few years of working at Big Box retail, eating peanut butter and ramen, and two horrible jobs and sharing a place with my brother, but I went back to college for four years. I was a much better student this time, I have to admit, but it was because I went back with a purpose. I wanted to get out of Big Box retail and go do something that would pay better.

I walked away with my master's degree in accounting. That's right: I walked away from the career I was so emotionally invested in, the thing I loved to do, and into a career that's honestly just a job for me. It's just something I do for money, nothing more or less.

I miss teaching a lot. Every day, in fact. But the truth is I'm so much happier than I've ever been. Getting out of teaching and not being emotionally invested in my work has forced me to do things besides work more. I've learned how to cook, I'm making new friends, I'm reading more, I'm rediscovering my love of things I used to do before I was ever a teacher all over again. I do productive things on the side too, like study for my CPA license.

The money is a wash, honestly. I make as much as a I did as a teacher, although the potential is probably greater now. And the thing is now that I'm thinking about other things, I've learned so much about saving, investing, and I'm doing much better with my salary and working toward eventually being independent of a salary if at all possible. Ironically, I actually have fewer material things than I did before.

The Point

It took some painful life lessons and some hard financial times to learn that doing what you love is, in fact, absolutely not the paradigm we need to follow as individuals or a society. Instead, get out there and grab what affords you the most opportunities to be the best overall person you can be.

Would I ever go back to teaching? I think so, but not like before. At this point, I'd like to think I'll go back in the future, but as a volunteer. I won't do it until I'm financially set to do so without caring about being paid to do it. I noticed that the only teachers who managed to hang in there for years and years without being closet alcoholics were people who really didn't need the money, including a couple who I knew donated their salary back to the district.

Maybe for you it's not teaching. But consider that if there's some kind of work you're so emotionally vested in, even if it satisfies you, getting into it may come at a cost that you cannot anticipate. I for one will never encourage anyone to “do what they love” ever again.

The wise sage Dr. Seuss once wrote:

So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you'll move mountains.

I'd like to think through this I've gained some maturity and perspective. I've learned that just as it's not emotionally mature to be an idealist, it's not mature to be cynical either. Our culture prides itself so much on cynicism like that's the hallmark of human intellect and self realization, but truthfully it's not. Life, the universe, and everything is so much more vast and rich than just assuming absolutely everything sucks and is terrible. It's important to be moderate and well-tempered, and you just can't do that if you're not a balanced person.

Your career is just one part of your life. You might not become a much happier person just because you do the work that satisfies you the most. You have to consider the effects it could have on you as a person besides just having to do the work. You should do the work that gives you balance, and not the work you love the most.

More about...Career

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Bill
Bill
8 years ago

I just LOVE this article! It is such a refreshing perspective. I have worked for years in a field that interests me, but certainly is not my passion. I continue to do it because it feeds and housed my family, but just as important, it funds my passions and allows me to generously support the causes that are important to me.

Thanks for another view……

Marsha
Marsha
8 years ago

“Your career is just one part of your life.”

My husband and I decided when our older son was born that we would concentrate on our family even at the expense of our careers. This has meant not working crazy hours in the pursuit of a promotion, not interviewing for jobs that meant relocating, and a complete career change for me so I could be a stay-at-home mom for the early years.

We made the right decision. It was based on “who we love” versus “what we love.”

Sleeping Mom
Sleeping Mom
8 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

I loved this quote too. Often we associate our happiness with our jobs. Granted, we spend a ton of time working and probably should be somewhat happy during those hours, but work shouldn’t be the only means of finding pleasure and fulfillment. I’m with you–I would easily (and have done so) hold back on my career for the sake of family. For me that was just a bigger priority, for others it may be flipped. But we shouldn’t always try to seek fulfillment in work alone.

Peter Brülls
Peter Brülls
8 years ago

Sounds to me like he didn’t get his dream job. Just one that it is closest to it. That teachers have to do the job of social workers isn’t a necessary evil side issue, it’s indeed a failure of the system. I bet he’d been a great and happy teacher at another kind of school, whe he could have focused on teaching math. Nonetheless, it was an interesting take on the “it’s just job to me”. Not everybody needs to love his job to be happy, sometimes people who are ore detached from their professionals jobs are even better than… Read more »

Marcus Byrd @ TeacherAde
Marcus Byrd @ TeacherAde
8 years ago

Peter, you may be right. It seems like most teachers who have the advanced students do not seem to have as many problems.

On the other hand, teachers who view teaching “as just another job” do not tend to make it as teachers either. Knot wouldn’t fit in that category, but it doesn’t guarantee he would have made it in another school.

The following article describes Teacher Burnout a little more in depth:
http://www.teacherade.com/2011/09/teacher-burnout-you-want-to-teach.html

JD Austin
JD Austin
8 months ago

As a teacher of advanced students I can assure you: the same issues are there, but I hear what you are saying. Many people believe since the kids are “smart” that they must be easier to teach. However, I still deal with the same behavior issues, helicopter parenting, issues with depression and anxiety, substance abuse, etc. with my students. Sure, they do pick up concepts at a faster rate, but highly intelligent does not always go hand in hand with highly motivated, well behaved, and ready to learn. That being said, teaching is a highly involved, emotional job and we… Read more »

sarah
sarah
8 years ago

Thank you for this article! I too have felt like not enough is being said for the dedication of having a job that isn’t a dream nor real drudgery. I feel like the hard work of a regular job is being devalued while there’s a cultural force pushing people to only do what they love, which often as you point out, all that we can make it. Maybe what we love to do is best left to our own time while we accomplish what we need to do? Thanks for sharing your ideas about balance.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

I agree 🙂 I remember my mom once telling me that some people have careers they are passionate about and some people have jobs that pay the bills and their passion/focus is elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong with either path. Honest work and a good work ethic were what’s important. You have to remember that personal finance blogs are a pretty select part of the population. You don’t blog because it’s a practical career — you do it because you enjoy it. Some people need a job they love to feel fulfilled and others don’t, and you can guess which side… Read more »

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

To add to that – I’ve found that once I *have* to do something, it becomes a lot less fun.

I love writing, but I think if I turned it into my livelihood, I would quickly grow sick of it. There’s something to be said for preserving your hobby as a hobby!

Get Rich Point
Get Rich Point
8 years ago

If I were asked to rate your analysis I would rate it an excellent one.This is one of the best posts I have read till date. Do you know that you could make a bestseller of the concept you just explained : “You may not find happiness in love”.

Now this is what I call an ultimate post.

Betsy
Betsy
8 years ago
Reply to  Get Rich Point

Woo. ‘Bot flag.

Nick
Nick
8 years ago

Maybe you didn’t enjoy teaching as much as you actually enjoy learning — and you loved your enthusiasm about learning with others. Teaching and learning are two really different things. You state, “I’ve learned how to cook, I’m making new friends, I’m reading more, I’m rediscovering my love of things I used to do before I was ever a teacher all over again. I do productive things on the side too, like study for my CPA license.” Those are all learning based activities. None of those activities are transferring knowledge to another person. There’s no actual teaching there. If teaching… Read more »

John
John
8 years ago
Reply to  Nick

Maybe you should just let the author reach their own conclusions and not relate your experience to their choices. A different perspective than I usually read and one that I think lots of people will find insightful.

Nick
Nick
8 years ago
Reply to  John

When the author clearly states that he loves teaching but then goes on to say that he essentially settled for accounting, I can’t believe this is going to be a long term happiness. He’s already speculating about going back into teaching.

Look, do what makes you happy, but don’t settle because it’s easier to pretend you’re just as happy.

John
John
8 years ago
Reply to  Nick

While the author does state that they love teaching, sounds like they now love their life even more. Might they one day put more emphasis on their career to generate a happy life than they do now? Perhaps, life is always changing and and then at that point they may return to teaching.

MaryAnne
MaryAnne
8 years ago
Reply to  Nick

Agreed. I don’t see this as a good example of work choice at all. It is a common, totally understandible, story of burnout, breakdown and settling for something that doesn’t touch emotionallyl. I would also wonder how long Knot will be satisfied this way.

Chris
Chris
8 years ago
Reply to  Nick

It helps to remember that we are far from being animals, humans are extremely complex creatures and in 5 years the author may find that he LOVES being an accountant for whatever reason. In a nutshell I had a great passion in high school that many pursued but I did not. I later found a career that I knew was a right for me, which it wasn’t, and I also told myslef there was another job I would never do NO MATTER WHAT, and I’ve done that for 10 years and now cant see myself doing anything else! The moral… Read more »

CantWeAllGetAlong
CantWeAllGetAlong
8 years ago
Reply to  John

I found the article interesting and refreshing. And I found Nick’s comments thoughtful and possibly very insightful (only the author can say for sure). I believe they were offered with the best of intentions.

Sara
Sara
8 years ago
Reply to  Nick

I’d like to point out that the longer you stay at your job and move up, the more opportunities you will have to mentor junior colleagues. Thus, the writer may still have the chance to engage in teaching activities as an accountant. There can also be a teaching element if he is advising clients.

Heather
Heather
8 years ago
Reply to  Nick

As a teacher, I interpreted his comments as “I have time to pursue these interests now.” Teaching takes a lot of time outside of the school day. A 9-5 job that ends at 5 would give a person who changed careers a lot more free time on a daily basis.

Karen
Karen
8 years ago

Even though I was in the heart of the Tim Ferris lifestyle social strata (young, urban techies) I always felt that it was the ultimate dissociation from reality to assume that everyone could and SHOULD live like that. There’s a reason that startups are filled with young people: they have the lack of outside ties and the passion to be completely caught up in what they do. I did that scene, but as I got older, I wanted to have a life outside of work so I switched to jobs in the same field that were nice, but not a… Read more »

Brenton
Brenton
8 years ago
Reply to  Karen

I’ve worked at a start-up before. Long hours, low pay, and eventually it collapsed in on itself. When I left they looked at me like I was abandoning my unit in a warzone or something. In reality I was on the Titanic and just grabbed a lifeboat before I ended up going down with the ship.

Every situation is different. Its just as easy to find happiness working for someone as there is in working for yourself. After all, its not really a job that makes you happy.

beforewisdom
beforewisdom
8 years ago

I enjoyed this essay and I am thankful that it was published here. Like the author wrote, it was time for some balance in messages. Too bad the author forgot that toward the essay telling everyone what they “should” do. What works for one person isn’t the answer for everybody. What works for one person at one time in their life isn’t even what will work for them later on. I feel for the author. When I was in college I knew a lot of education majors. I was impressed with their dedication. Being a few years older, I am… Read more »

indio
indio
8 years ago

Congrats on finding a way to a happy career. You may find that at some point, going back to teaching, not as a full time job but maybe as a math tutor or in a volunteer capacity might be a way to indulge your passion, while keeping your sanity. Big Brother/big sister, boys n girls clubs are always looking for adults that can spend time and be a role model for kids.

Kingston
Kingston
8 years ago
Reply to  indio

My son’s math tutor charges $50 per hour, and that’s in in a semi-rural upstate New York area. We’ve always paid without complaint, even though it’s a lot of dough up here, because he is a great tutor, it’s the only SAT prep we are paying for, and we could manage it. But I know there are some poorer kids for whom our tutor waives his fee. Maybe somewhere down the line you’ll consider doing this kind of tutoring, perhaps as a sideline. It might be a way to have the joy of teaching with a nice supplemental income and… Read more »

leonard
leonard
8 years ago
Reply to  Kingston

This is a very thoughtful concise comment. The public school system is a very poor place to teach. It is not set up for that purpose. There are many better ways of serving the young, starting with home-schooling your own children, starting a small tutoring business and doing some pro-bono work, as Kingston suggests, or even making you tube videos like Sal Khan.

olga
olga
8 years ago

Thank you, thank you, one of the best things I read here! I, too, am pretty put down that all the posts talk about “go after the dream” without reservations. I have so many friends doing so also, and I do understand that living in US often afford you to do so. BUT, still, it is a choice of each of us. I moved to US with an MD degree. To work my “dream” would mean taking a couple of years to learn English and taking National Boards, after what going through residency of 4 years and working 24/7. I… Read more »

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago
Reply to  olga

There is a great need for experts who can work with elderly clients who live far from family and manage their medical and logistical needs. I can’t remember the name of the field, but if you call your local Senior Center you can probably find out. Your need to care for others, the fact that your kids are nearly grown, your medical knowledge and the serious money you can make that way sound like a great fit for you. This is a field that has a professional society and certification, so this might be a good time to prepare for… Read more »

Cindy
Cindy
8 years ago
Reply to  olga

“Get close to kicking the bucket,” Olga. Wow, you really have done well in learning English if you’re using idioms like that! Good for you…and fascinating comments here. I would argue here that it’s not good or bad if you go through several careers in your life. At some points, you’re better off working a less stressful job (in our hero’s viewpoint, accounting, though I would rather be poked to death with a dull fork — I have trouble balancing my checkbook). At some points, you can afford to take more chances. Where is it written that you HAVE to… Read more »

Justin
Justin
8 years ago

Great article, and one I think a lot of people can relate to. A job doesn’t have to something you absolutely love. Your job doesn’t have to define you as a person. I too work in accounting. I “like” but do not “love” my job, and that’s fine. My job enables me to meet my family’s needs, which really is my primary role anyway. My role as “father” is more important to me than my role as “accountant.”

Robert
Robert
6 years ago
Reply to  Justin

I came here as a result of doing research regarding the topic of job satisfaction. Upon stumbling across this article and some of the earlier comments like Justin’s, I was reminded of a book I read many years ago that’s served me well. It was entitled “Conduct Expected.” (There’s also a revised edition for the 21st Century.) One of the Top 10 rules in William Lareau’s book was “Don’t expect much satisfaction from a job.” When many other factors are outside your control (e.g., coworkers, market conditions), this makes a lot of sense. It enables you to then know what… Read more »

Mick
Mick
8 years ago

I’ve been teaching for 15 years in an inner-city high school and can relate to much of what Knot Theory writes. I love the sense that what I do really matters, that I’m helping kids change their lives for the better. At the same time, I hate the head-butting with recalcitrant students who hate school as a matter of principle, the bureaucratic hoop-jumping required by the school administration, and the long hours (I write this on a Sunday morning, with hours of work waiting for me to tackle it before Monday morning). I’m looking forward to the day (five years… Read more »

Jon
Jon
8 years ago

I, too, have been disturbed by the “find your passion” and “do what you love” mantras. I loved being a chef, and running restaurants, but the long hours and stress nearly destroyed me, and a crooked business partner ruined me financially. When I interviewed with a manufacturing firm, the recruiters told me, “We don’t think you’ll be happy here, you’re too used to being in charge.” When another firm hired me later to do assembly line type of work, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. No early morning or late night phone calls from my employees, and I… Read more »

Marianne
Marianne
8 years ago
Reply to  Jon

It’s true. Sometimes you just can’t beat a completely mindless job that leaves you with the energy to acutally pursue your life outside of work. One of the best jobs I ever had was a waitressing job where I had absolutely no responsibility. Most of the other jobs I’ve had I’ve quickly moved into a management position and have had a lot of responsibility. At this particular job, the head waitress was a complete control freak and wouldn’t delegate any responsibility to those under her. I was in heaven. I made a decent living thanks to tips and I enjoyed… Read more »

SB @ One cent at a time
SB @ One cent at a time
8 years ago

Happy for you for finding happiness in non passion. Basically what you need in a satisfactory job are Good salary, constant recognition, non-pushy boss and good colleagues to work with. If you get that you can be happy at any work even if you are not passionate about it. I know what you are talking about. There are bloggers who start thinking of retirement the moment they start earning some money from their blog. I am a blogger who love day job more than my blog. My theory is we as human, chase for creativity and gratification in our work.… Read more »

BrokeElizabeth
BrokeElizabeth
8 years ago

I really enjoyed reading this. I haven’t gotten into a career yet, but I think it will probably be a ‘boring’ 9-5.

Lana
Lana
8 years ago

Thank you for this essay. I have spent the better part of my adult life believing there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t doing a job that excited and defined me. As a culture, we are made to feel that if you are not living the Paulo Coelho-type life where you go for what excites you at the expense of all else is the only way worth living, and all other people are losers in a big way. Your essay has validated my experience and that of so many others! Bless you!

BuckTrak
BuckTrak
8 years ago

I like your theme of “finding balance”, which is at the heart of nature as well as human interaction. Too many of the “work your passion” types seem to think that focusing on your passion means excluding everything else. Humans are complex beings. Anyone who focuses on just one thing is far too one-dimensional to be an engaged person where community, family, and yes – job, are concerned. On another note, I know this post wasn’t meant to condemn our education system – but did a good job of that anyway. Clearly some major reforms are needed in our schools,… Read more »

barnetto
barnetto
8 years ago

It was nice reading this. I’d always thought of myself as avoiding the keeping-up-with-the-joneses mentality. I couldn’t care less about what material possessions I do or don’t have. I just care about experiences, learning, my relationships with other people. But constantly reading advice from people to “do what you love!” made me anxious. Do I love what I do? Should I be doing something else? Look how happy all these other people sound. Look at how they love what they do so much they can do it round the clock, whereas I can’t stand going over my 40 hours. But… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

I read, I was excited with the opening lines, but then I don’t know– this isn’t really an anti-Ferris tale at its core, because it’s still about “quitting to be happy”, which is, you know, okay and all, but while the author is now happier, what happens to students in need when the adults in charge leave? I’m not trying to finger-point here, I’ve done my very large share of quitting and changing and experimenting, so I’ll be the first to plead guilty to quitting things. Once upon a time I studied science thinking that it was cool. But while… Read more »

Kingston
Kingston
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Blog posts about happiness and bliss-following never fail to bring to my mind people stuck in third-world situations with virtually no way out (not to mention people in terrible situations here in the U.S.). I can’t help asking, why do people of my educational and economic level — never known significant deprivation, certainly not hunger or cold; college was a given — get to think about raising their happiness quotient to its absolute maximum, when others who didn’t win the birth lottery will just have to be content cleaning toilets or some such? I’m all for being happy and having… Read more »

Ms Life
Ms Life
8 years ago
Reply to  Kingston

Kingston, you have brought up an important point – happiness. I grew up in a very poor neighborhood but the happiness people had was almost tangible. Most of us had nothing but we did not complain and people helped each other out a lot. When I started working I was surprised when colleagues from the “developed world” would express surprise at how poor Zambians (compared to them) were very happy. We were equally surprised at their viewpoint and we would tell them that it was not always about having money, but other things eg. friendship and good health. So I… Read more »

SA
SA
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

“Anyway, it seems to me we’re lacking stories about… what is it… “I had a hard boring job but I showed up every day, didn’t become a drunk, and provided for my family for 25 years.” “I put away my dreams of becoming a surfing instructor and financially supported my aging parents.” “I stopped dreaming of being a novelist and took a job so I could feed my kids and I don’t regret a thing.” I’d like to hear from old-school disciplinarians who have contempt for the notion of chasing personal happiness at the expense of others.” This comment just… Read more »

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I agree your idea that “we live for ourselves, but we also live for others. We’re a mixture of altruism and selfishness” but I have a different perspective as to those who “have contempt for the notion of chasing personal happiness at the expense of others.” First, I think our jobs/careers themselves are often already a form of altruism-so long as the right attitude is there. My first real job was a waitress/server. My job was to give others happiness by providing an amazing experience, and doing that job made me happy. I am now a gov’t employee doing a… Read more »

Laura
Laura
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Still wading through comments but I love El Nerdo’s take on the topic.

Just wanted to say: when you say, “I’d like to hear from old-school disciplinarians who have contempt for the notion of chasing personal happiness at the expense of others”, my beloved recently summed this up more simply as, “Not being a pimple on the ass of society.”

🙂 A little less long-winded. 🙂

John
John
8 years ago

I think this is far more like real life for the vast majority of people. I work at a job I like okay but is it my “dream job”? Not by any stretch. I am paid extremely well but work nights, weekends and holidays. The work is not particularly difficult but also not very rewarding. I have fantastic benefits and I work very close to home. Life is about taking the good with the bad.

PB
PB
8 years ago
Reply to  John

I used to love my job. Now I just like it. I don’t think I will ever invest myself emotionally in a job again — it is not part of my identity any more. I get much more satisfaction out of not being at work. Thanks for the reality check!

GRSReader
GRSReader
8 years ago

This is very interesting. I was a teacher too and loved it. I understand what you mean by the rush. If only it was just teaching…after we started a family I became a school counselor. Now it feels much more like “just a job.” I don’t mind it and I give my best effort, but I am glad for the end of the day. I don’t work over the weekend, at night, etc. so when I leave at 4 I am truly done. I will keep this job until retirement probably, and I am ok with that. It pays pretty… Read more »

John
John
5 years ago
Reply to  GRSReader

Hello,
I am interested in transitioning into a career counselor. Can you give me any advice in terms of schooling needed, can I enter without schooling. I have a training and dev. background now.

Thx.
John

Jonathan
Jonathan
8 years ago

That is very brave to stop doing what you enjoy and returning to the rat race and a boring job, but I’ve also had to do this in the past. However life follows a cycle and who knows what opportunities will come up in the future.

Nick
Nick
8 years ago

I went the other direction. I have always had a passion for teaching so I taught in schools and in corporate America. I couldn’t stand being limited by cubicle walls and by the pittance of a salary my employers would throw my way. I hated the soul-sucking meetings, the office politics and the allegiance to a corporation. So, at the age of 47, I thumbed my nose at it all, kissed my friends goodbye and told them I would see them on weekends, and I became a contract trainer. In the past year I have doubled my salary, paid off… Read more »

Kingston
Kingston
8 years ago
Reply to  Nick

Because not everyone has access — via skills, talent, and/or personal and professional connections — to a job that enthralls them and can also pay the bills. In fact, most people don’t.

Nick
Nick
8 years ago
Reply to  Kingston

I have only a high-school degree. My parents where lower-middle class. My only professional connection was to a man who had a local ice-cream shop. The little bit of college I did attend was done on my dime: no student loans. I worked 2 jobs and attended school to attend, but ultimately had to drop out because it became too expensive and I didn’t have a focus on where I wanted to go. Please don’t lecture me about my privileged background. It didn’t exist. The only thing that I had that most people don’t is passion, drive, and the desire… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Nick

I don’t think Kingston’s comment was a personal attack on you. Everyone has different abilities and interests, but I don’t think everyone is intrinsically motivated. Some people are motivated by external factors like income, prestige, family expectations, etc. That’s okay too.

If everyone had a job that enthralled them, many essential jobs would have a serious shortage of workers. I don’t know how many people are “enthralled” by delivering mail or collecting garbage, but these are essential services.

It’s fine for people to do what they love because there are people willing to do what they don’t love.

Kevin
Kevin
6 years ago
Reply to  Nick

I know this is an old article and thread of comments, but I’m really enjoying reading it all and wanted to throw in a couple cents worth of my own for posterity. I have a job that I love, but it doesn’t happen to be the one I’m paid for. The job I love is being a husband and a father to a pile of children ranging in age from 14 down to “due in June.” My other job, which pays quite well and that I spend 40 hrs a week at, I don’t love. It’s fine and like the… Read more »

s
s
4 years ago
Reply to  Nick

Hi Nick- How did you get started in contract training? My “dream” job was always teaching- until the reality hit. I have often thought about the medical field as well but have been met with the same reservations.

I know two truths about myself

1. I love people
2. I love to teach people things

Ben Holt
Ben Holt
8 years ago

I agree very much with this article and respect the author’s viewpoint. You don’t need to quit your job and “do what you love” to be happy. Many, many people are quite happy with a 9-5, and there are a few people who are itching to break free from that path. They’re a minority, and it’s one that I find myself in. The frustration of this minority, comes not solely from being in a 9-5 job or in following the path that the lifestyle designers seem to rail against, but from being in a position where we – and I… Read more »

brooklynchick
brooklynchick
8 years ago

Super interesting perspective. Thanks!

Steven
Steven
8 years ago

In America, so much of our identity is linked to our work. As though THAT’S what defines us as a person. No one cares what your hobbies are, or what you’re passionate about, or whether or not you’re trying to save the whales. All they care about is “So, what do you do?” What do I do? I do a lot of things. Oh, you mean what’s my job? Why does it matter? It’s how I earn a living, not what defines my being. This is one American attitude that I just wish would go away.

Nick
Nick
8 years ago
Reply to  Steven

If answering that question causes you to pause, then you’re not in the right career. Or, you think so little about what you do, that you don’t actually see value in what you do. If I met the author at a cocktail party and he answered the question, “I am an accountant. I help people reach their financial goals by making intelligent decisions. What I do is to help people create a future where money is the least of their worries,” I would be convinced that he was in the right field. But he doesn’t. He says he’s happy. He’s… Read more »

Ali
Ali
8 years ago
Reply to  Nick

Hi Nick. What do I do? I’m an enabler. I help people achieve success by helping them identify and resolve the obstacles and circumstances that are holding them back. I love my job – and I’m very, very good at it. Nothing quite compares to the rush of seeing one of my team shine. Does loving my job make me happy? Nope. When you genuinely love your job, it’s easy for an employer to take advantage of that and pay you peanuts. Or get you to work weekends – which is easy, because you genuinely love what you do, so… Read more »

Nick
Nick
8 years ago
Reply to  Ali

Following my passion made my relationships stronger, made me happier, put more money in my pocket, reduced my stress and allowed me to work fewer hours.

I’m finding it fascinating how people think you have to sacrifice so much to do what you love.

If your goal is to be like everyone else, why are people reading this blog? I just don’t understand it.

Steven
Steven
8 years ago
Reply to  Nick

“What you do” doesn’t define who you are as a person. But we use that question to pigeon-hole people in order to fit them neatly into our preconceived notions. I could be a Walmart cashier who spends my free-time working to eliminate child poverty. But if someone asks me “What do you do,” and I answer that I’m a Walmart cashier, I’ve just put myself into your box. How we earn a paycheck shouldn’t matter. But it does…in this society. Sadly.

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago
Reply to  Steven

Why do you say you are a cashier at Walmart? Why not say that you are working to end child poverty and a few sentences about how you are doing that?

Unless your job is what defines you, you shouldn’t answer with it.

Steven
Steven
8 years ago
Reply to  Steven

Because “What do you do” means “How do you earn a living.” That’s what matters to people because that’s what we as a society place value upon. It gives us an easy system to fit people into nice boxes in our mind. “I’m a doctor” comes with an understanding of what you do, how much you earn, and numerous other “stereotypes” (for lack of a better word.) But a person can be a doctor, and saves lives, and be quite good at that, but also have other interests outside of that that are more meaningful to that person. Maybe I’m… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Steven

Steven, I’ve been telling people what I do outside of my 9-5 (many cases 7-6+) jobs for years. They usually get the point and move on because things like fitness and sewing isn’t that interesting unless there’s money attached to it.

Steven
Steven
8 years ago
Reply to  Steven

How do they respond usually? With a quirky look like “The hell just happened?” Haha!

Janice
Janice
8 years ago
Reply to  Steven

There’s a great little saying from StoryPeople that says:

“I just tell people I’m an agent of the devil, she said. It leads to much more interesting conversations than if I tell them I’m in retail.”

I think you could fill in the blanks with what YOU want to talk about, not how you actually make the money you use to live on. That’s what I do! So much more fun anyway.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Steven

I used to think poorly of this custom, but when I think about it, I grew up in a country where the opening question was “what’s your last name/ who is your family” or “who do you know.” Basically, it was a class-based society, individual merit be damned, and you’re pigeonholed by the birth lottery. Here, in ‘Merica, yeah, the business emphasis is annoying, there could be a little more of playful conversation before trying to place the other person in the social scale, but at least it’s a meritocracy– it doesn’t matter where you were born or if you… Read more »

Ely
Ely
8 years ago
Reply to  Steven

This is why I’ve started saying “I do many things.” It’s true. Only one of them makes money, and it’s the one that makes people’s eyes glaze over. They’d rather hear about Dragonboat racing.

Kate in NY
Kate in NY
8 years ago
Reply to  Steven

I agree that this is a very American preoccupation. My husband is Irish, and whenever he mentions that he was met so-and-so at a party or whatever, I’ll ask – “Oh, what does s/he do?” And my husband almost always answers – “I have no idea.” He might ask what soccer team the person supports, or where he or she grew up – but he considers it in bad taste to ask about someone’s occupation. He also finds it amusing/crazy that at 43, I am still trying to figure out “my life’s calling.”

Robert
Robert
6 years ago
Reply to  Steven

Steven stated that “In America, so much of our identity is linked to our work. As though THAT’S what defines us as a person. No one cares what your hobbies are . . . .” Surprisingly of all places, you may get asked about your hobbies at a job interview. It’s a very common question. Yet it needs to be handled strategically. I once heard about a lady who said she liked to go skiing. She had the right background for the job, the experience and was very thrilled about the opening. Going away skiing was very invigorating and actually… Read more »

mj
mj
8 years ago

Thank you for writing this. It will stay with me for a long time.

Valerie
Valerie
8 years ago

I appreciate this article. However, I’d like to know more about why the author decided to leave teaching altogethe rather than to try teaching in a different environment. It seems like the teaching job discussed covers two things: (1) actually teaching math, and (2) impacting the lives of at-risk kids. If teaching math is the true passion, then I’m curious why Knot Theory didn’t give teaching a try in a school with less high-risk youth (i.e. not an inner-city school, or a private school, a Catholic parochial school, a boarding school etc). It seems like that could help (though of… Read more »

LauraElle
LauraElle
8 years ago
Reply to  Valerie

At-risk kids are in every school. They’re harder to find in an upscale setting, though.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  LauraElle

Yes! My teacher friends work in a variety of settings from inner city schools to middle class neighbourhood schools to private schools. You’ll find some pretty messed up kids in all of them. Having a good income does alleviate a lot of problems, but it doesn’t eliminate abuse, drug and alcohol problems, teenage pregnancies, eating disorders, suicide and violence. These problems may not happen as often, and may be better hidden, but they still happen.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Valerie

Yeah. One of the things I like about my job (college professor) is that there seem to be just as many girls who think they suck at math as there were when I was doing volunteer tutoring in inner city public schools. Or rather, I wish that weren’t the case, I wish that K-12 math teaching were better and didn’t destroy confidence, especially of girls. But I do much of the same fixing in a college setting that I was doing in K-12. (Just with less trigonometry, more statistics. More middle-class, less lower SES.) It’s probably not quite as much… Read more »

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago
Reply to  Valerie

You can also teach at community colleges or universities. Or large companies like Bell labs or Microsoft. you can bet that they pay really well.

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago
Reply to  Valerie

I agree with other commentors that if the author loves teaching they’d be teaching in some capacity. Perhaps at a university? Teaching accounting? LOL

Amy
Amy
8 years ago

Speaking from my own experience (which is, of course, the only one I can speak from…), the fact that I truly love and am passionate about my job does not mean that I advocate that anyone go on a quest for the perfect job. It is not an either/or equation. I believe that passion is something we bring to the things that we do, not something we “find”. I did not plan to be in the “career” I am in now – bluntly put, I shovel coal for a living – about 3 tons a day from May to November.… Read more »

Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
8 years ago

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this article. On the one hand, I love that the author did what was best for him and made the decision to not teach. I work with youth in a camp setting (yes, it can be a year-round, full-time job) and LOVE it, but I know that even if I wasn’t starting something new in August I’d be ready to move on in a few years. I know what being SO emotionally invested in your job feels like, and I know what it means to leave something like that to better your… Read more »

j
j
8 years ago

Hi,Lauren.

If you reread the post you will see that the comment on “touchy-feely” types was actually made in JD’s introductory lead-in to Knot Theory’s commentary and not by Knot Theory.

KWu
KWu
8 years ago

Awesome, practical, relatable post. I went to a liberal arts college and had four years of professors with tenure drumming on about doing what you love. They all mean well, of course, but what it actually led to was me feeling insecure about the fact that I couldn’t find something I loved to that degree in order to then try to make it reality. I’d still like to achieve that some day, just in terms of working on something that’s really personally meaningful, but in the meantime there’s nothing wrong with having a job that provides me with the funds… Read more »

Golfing Girl
Golfing Girl
8 years ago

Great article and well written. The “pursue your passion” is not a one-size-fits-all solution. I enjoyed being a golf pro for a few years, but never would have made enough to accomplish my financial goals (security being #1). I also pushed myself to learn a completely different field (finance) and found another passion in the process–financial advising.

sony_b
sony_b
8 years ago

I miss teaching, but I’m right there with the author that leaving was the best thing for me. It was also the best thing for the kids. I’m a good teacher, but all the other crap that comes with it, and the expectation that teachers will sacrifice all of their free time for the sake of the kids is an asinine guilt trip laid on teachers by a culture that doesn’t want to fund real education. Like the author, I could see going back part time when money is no longer an issue. I went back and got a masters… Read more »

lemonshark
lemonshark
1 year ago
Reply to  sony_b

Hi, how did you get a masters in computer science? Did you have a bachelors in computer science? If I could go back, I would have majored in computer science, but I chose biology. As a teacher I get reimbursed for masters level classes only so that makes slowly transitioning difficult.

Carl Creasman
Carl Creasman
8 years ago

Just another thought—what I have learned is that my real passion (investing in the lives of others through communication) can occur in more and different places than I knew way back when I was in college and my early 20s. Back then, I was convinced that my dream would only occur when I was a paid speaker and consultant, on stage before 100s of people. Now, in my late 40s, while I have done that often, it never quite became the career I thought, yet for the past 25 years, I have done just that—invested in the lives of others… Read more »

LauraElle
LauraElle
8 years ago

What a relief to read about the other side. Thank you for posting this.

Harmony
Harmony
8 years ago

I loved this story. So few people take into account that doing what you love as a job can take the fun out of it. I love quilting, but turning it into a business would take the fun out of it and I would be unlikely to make enough to live on.

Misty
Misty
8 years ago

I really enjoyed this post! Thanks for sharing.

MikeTheRed
MikeTheRed
8 years ago

While I completely understand the perspective of the poster, I find his conclusion that he’d never recommend anyone go after the job of their dreams to be a little sad and cynical. Yes, going for the dream job isn’t the right path for everyone, and recommending it blindly to everyone you see isn’t reasonable. But neither is the alternative of wholly discouraging it. It’s an individual choice that has to satisfy the needs of the person. For some, having a career they’re passionate about is very important to them. For others, a job is a means to earn money to… Read more »

jorme
jorme
8 years ago
Reply to  MikeTheRed

I loved this article, but also agree with you.

In addition, I wonder if he would be so content with accounting if he had not initially pursued his dream.

Liz
Liz
8 years ago
Reply to  jorme

Agreed. I taught ESL in Russia first thing out of college, because I had minored in it and was super excited about getting to live there for a while. The company provided training to those who didn’t get their certificates before starting and English had always been my best subject, so I figured I’d be fine and would stay a few years, maybe – my Russian would improve and I could network my way into a better paying job. I ended up hating teaching and left as soon as my contract was up. I did fine and liked some parts… Read more »

Roz Johnson
Roz Johnson
8 years ago

This is an excellent article. As someone who has worked for years in a non-exciting, but steady, well paying job (insurance adjuster), I can attest that having the money and paid vacation time to pursue my passions has been a plus. Knowing that I could find work in my chosen profession pretty much anywhere in a big metropolitan area (my choice of where to live) led to less sleepless nights. Due to some major changes in my life, I’ve had to take an early retirement and the good salary allowed me to make plans for just this kind of development.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

I like this!

And it reminds me of one of the insights in Your Money or Your Life. Your job is what brings you money. Your work is what you do. Sometimes they intersect, sometimes they don’t. We don’t have to get paid to follow our values and goals, and being financially independent allows us to not worry about the money part when we do follow our goals (or even dreams).

http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/the-whether-or-not-to-follow-your-dreams-post/

http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/another-comment-on-doing-what-you-love/

Peach
Peach
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

I find myself following much of what was written in that book. Thanks for reminding me, I’m going to pull it off the bookcase, dust it off, and read it again.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Peach

There’s a great YMoYL book club going on over at min hus right now: http://minhus.blogspot.com/2012/03/ymoyl-book-club-whos-in.html

Peach
Peach
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Thanks Nicole!

m
m
8 years ago

Oh my gosh, THANK you for this post. It was exactly what I needed to read at this moment. For several years I subscribe to many blogs that all have a similar message of “Screw the day job, do what you love, life’s too short, look at me I did it and I’m super happy and successful” etc etc. I was inspired. I did it too. I quit my stable but boring job, moved to NYC, ran my own freelance business, and invited a world of stress and anguish into my life on a daily basis. Before I just had… Read more »

Poor Student
Poor Student
8 years ago

This is a perspective I have never heard or considered before. But I see how having a job that consumes your passion would be very taxing on your life. I think this might be something I need to think about. I know a lot of students who are working towards their dream jobs, but these jobs will require not only long work hours but long hours outside of work in order to remain competent at them. The job I am focused on now will need me to be able to dedicate lots of times studying new science discoveries and new… Read more »

JM
JM
8 years ago

Ha, how did I know that when you went back to school, it would be for accounting and eventually to be a CPA? Maybe it was the CPA intuition within me. 😉

mike
mike
8 years ago

Really surprised no commments on “I noticed that the only teachers who managed to hang in there for years and years without being closet alcoholics were people who really didn’t need the money”

That is a huge generalization. I’m not a teacher but I know teachers who have been in the industry their entire careers. Maybe you should have just changed your school district or moved not everyone is the same. Go to work for a charter school, the students are more invested in the process, especially if they had to fight to get in.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  mike

I was thinking of commenting on that, but the experience of teachers where I live is very different. Because of the good pay and amazing pension, many teachers here hang long after they’ve burnt out because of the money. Teaching has long since ceased to be their passion, but it was their chosen career path for life and many who are unhappy can’t take the pay cut or loss of the pension plan. On the other hand, new teachers have a very high defection rate. It’s very difficult to find full time work these days, so sometimes passion has to… Read more »

KSK
KSK
8 years ago
Reply to  mike

I am surprised not many people commented on that, as well. My father was a music teacher for 35+ years in a public school system. He was not a closet alcoholic, nor was he financially independent. He supported 3 kids, and a wife on his salary. He retired at age 58, collects a pension, and has continued teaching at a college as an adjunct professor and a private music teacher for the past 14 years. He continues being very happy teaching.

Brenton
Brenton
8 years ago
Reply to  mike

Good point. My wife is a teacher in a low income school district. She had a rough time at first, but has settled in nicely. She enjoys her work, and I think it fits her very well. Considering the pay is so low as a beginning teacher(at least in this state), that I cant imagine people really choosing teaching because they need the money.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 years ago

It’s important to note that the work the world needs done and the work that the world wants to do aren’t the same thing. The work that the world needs done includes a lot of things like picking up trash and installing sewer pipes and stocking shelves and picking fruit. The work that the world wants to do includes a lot of playing professional sports and being a photographer for national geographic (or the BBC, or Playboy) and writing best selling novels. The people who advocate “following your passion” often seem to ignore this completely, and think that if you… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

Yes! It’s a competition and I’m fine with it as well. The dark side of this competitive arrangement however is that as a society we worship idols and celebrities and don’t value enough the work that needs getting done. And that’s a damn shame. If we all compete for the “passion” jobs, then those who have to labor and toil are seen as “losers” who “couldn’t make it” and are deserving of contempt. It’s socially acceptable to look down on pizza delivery boys, workers with paper hats, people who scrub toilets, etc. (Oh yeah, don’t deny, some of you chuckled… Read more »

Robert
Robert
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Worshiping idols who’ve “made it” can consist of revering the person on the front cover of a magazine. (Ironically, magazines have been folding lately or deciding to no longer offer print editions.) Such stories which can be uplifting at times can also make one feel inadequate. If that person seems to have it all, why can’t I? Moreover, they make it sound like the person achieved it all on their own. The support team is rarely mentioned. Or if they are, the story is still presented as if it couldn’t have taken place without that person’s aura, charisma and magic.… Read more »

Jacq
Jacq
8 years ago

I suppose though that there’s still quite a lot of fun in it for a mechanic that loves formula one racing. Or the guy/gal that has to pick up the refuse from the crash sites at a track.

Sometimes we have to open up our minds to the possibilities of where our passions and what the world needs from us intersect.

Or just go to the track on weekends – that works too. 😉

Jacq
Jacq
8 years ago

Generally I agree with and like the story. However – as someone who’s in the accounting field and has had to train and manage a whole lot of people who went into my field as a safe, secure, reasonably well paying profession but with no great aptitude for or love for the beauty of accounting – I wish they wouldn’t have done it. It’s made hiring the right people very difficult. Even after 4 years of business school, many don’t get the concepts – like that balance sheets should balance and other minor things like that. Also – 20+ thumbs… Read more »

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago
Reply to  Jacq

LOL regarding balance sheets!

Sara
Sara
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

I can still hear my financial accounting teacher: “The balance sheet must balance!” 🙂

Emmy
Emmy
8 years ago
Reply to  Jacq

Haha, I just keep thinking about the wave of do-what-you-love-ers a couple years ago when cooking shows got really huge. There were a lot of intern applications from people who loved Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain but were afraid of handling knives.

Peach
Peach
8 years ago

This was interesting to read. I had a great English high school teacher who had a lot of passion and knowledge, not just about English, but about life in general. He encouraged my writing and applauded my work–not just mine, but everyone he taught. He didn’t play favorites. He inspired a lot of students, and it was because he LOVED what he did, and cared about us. We, ironically, were a group of at-risk kids. He retired years later after mega-years of teaching. I’ll never forget him. But that’s not for everyone. I see your story as a success story.… Read more »

Em
Em
8 years ago

I think this is a great, very self-aware post. Even as someone still on the path of “my passion,” I’ve realized that what I really want is life balance – I just don’t have the drive to put the hours and energy in to be great and accomplish a lot at it, because it’s pretty important to me to still have time to do things I think “normal people” do (sleep, exercise, spend time with people, have a couple of relaxing hobbies). The calculus of “doing what you love” sometimes involves trading in elements of that balance, so it’s just… Read more »

Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
8 years ago

It’s pretty clear that your passion is in teaching/mentoring/helping develop others. Could you do your passion in a way that doesn’t involve the public school system? That’s something you didn’t address here. I’m betting there is middle ground that combines both doing your passion and finding balance. That’s what I’m working toward. I know it’s a fine line.

Susan S
Susan S
8 years ago

Thank you for a very thoughtful and balanced post. People often forget that there is a reason that people are paid to show up and work. There also are many jobs that are essential to society that few, if any, people will love doing. Advising everyone to work only at a job that they love is simply not realistic or practical, nor is it fair to the many people who work hard, but don’t necessarily love their jobs.

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