Finding Career Satisfaction: Passion vs. Paycheck

by Susan Mullin

By Autumn Conrad Schiff
employee in board room smiling because of career satisfaction

When it comes to professional choices, people at all stages will inevitably ponder whether their first priority should be salary or career satisfaction. Fortunately, in our society we are able to consider this choice at all, but the perceived idea that we can only have one or the other can lead to anxiety in our jobs and dissatisfaction with our chosen paths. The popular narrative says that if you only care about money, you can’t pursue your passions, and vice versa. But the truth is, you can strive for a balance of both, if you desire.

The factors increase career satisfaction vary by worker. For some, a heftier paycheck might be needed to pay for tuition, medical expenses, or savings for a long desired goal–life can be expensive! If this is where you find yourself, it’s OK as long as you understand and accept your reasons for being there. It is when people pursue money simply for the sake of more that they may find themselves innately unhappy with their work, their coworkers, their work environment, their commute, and a host of other factors.

At TorchLight, we encourage candidates to pursue career choices that pay fairly and pay well, but to also consider all of the other factors that go into a job. We find that people who strive for a balance between their paycheck and their passions have the most long-term career satisfaction and success.

So what does the balance between pay and passion look like? How do you find career satisfaction? It’s obviously not the same for everyone, but there are a few key areas to help formulate what works for you.

Neutralize the money

Step one in finding career satisfaction is to neutralize that salary question by knowing what the median salary is for your role and years of experience in your field. Keep in mind this is an average and could vary greatly depending on the industry (technology vs. a nonprofit), size, and budgets of a particular organization. If your current salary is on par or lower than that number, you can certainly go for more, or you may decide that there are certain factors that would allow you to consider a lateral move, or even a slight decrease. More about that in point 3 below.

Reframe your passions

Even if pay is your priority, you might find that there are ways to think about “passions” in terms of specific job responsibilities or benefits with your employer. For instance, you love to dance and always thought you would be swirling on stage to an audience of adoring fans. Yes, dance might be your passion, but are there areas of your job that could allow you tap into that part of your dream?

To find career satisfaction using your other interests? You might not be able to dance on the tables at your next team meeting, but some of those same skills can be applied in the office in surprising ways: can you choreograph teams and deliver smashing presentations? Great! Can you volunteer with Human Resources to offer a wellness class based on dance stretches and moves? Even better! Believe it or not, with a little creativity there are possibilities to incorporate whatever your passions might be which leads us to our third tip.

Workplace Culture

More than anything, this is THE most significant factor you should consider as a candidate when prioritizing career satisfaction. If that next job offers a pay increase but limited professional opportunities, lackluster benefits, or poor work/life balance, how much is that extra money worth?

In summary, we know that deciding whether to follow your passions or the paycheck is a difficult decision for many candidates, but it is not one that needs to be made in sacrifice of the other. When thinking about your next opportunity, we encourage you to think holistically in terms of benefits, culture, AND pay. Our experience shows that when you weigh all of these options, the opportunity for long-term career satisfaction is highest.

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Posted in , Professional Development