Should I focus on making money or following my passion?

January 19 2018

I just spent one hour with students in Nepal discussing this very question. The students attended a Career Counseling workshop at Learning House, and they came with questions. And worries. And anxieties. And pressure, pressure from their parents and from society and their friends and, of course, from themselves.

I encouraged these students to focus on four buckets: People, skills, lifestyle, and rewards. This is where they will find the answers to their life’s calling, I said. This is how they might determine the work that will bring them joy.

I’m sharing a few of the highlights here for those who may also be struggling with career/work/job/lifestyle decisions.

People

Imagine your colleagues, your clients, your bosses, your mentors. Who do you want to work with? Who do you want to serve? Who do you want to learn from?

Skills

Consider your talents and experiences. (Be honest!) What are you good at? What are your qualifications? While talent and skills can be developed, there’s no use striving to become a professional cyclist if you have no athletic tendencies. Don’t waste time toiling away or refining a craft that you hate. What do you enjoy?

Lifestyle

Think about the life you want to live, your values and your preferences. What do you need to be comfortable?

I left New York City to encourage education and leadership in Pokhara, Nepal. I spent the better part of two years with sporadic hot showers. Though I can brave short bursts in remote regions, I could never live in a village area for an extended period of time.

Knowing what you can and can’t live without can help you identify the kind of work you’re able to do.

Rewards

What kind of payback are you looking for? Is it money or fame? Rewards come in many forms: Service, fame, money, travel, independence, stability, time, ease, security, flexibility. Some individuals can tolerate high levels of risk, while others are much more comfortable with certainty. What do you need to feel satisfied?

I asked my students to imagine a time they felt successful. What was their accomplishment and what were their feelings at that time? I then asked them to write about that memory to help them remember all of the factors and subtle details that contributed to their success.

Decisions about career paths can’t be made without introspection. After identifying core features of yourself, your values, and your personality, only then you can determine the steps you need to reach your goals. Not every career path requires a Ph.D., and only specific careers call for certifications. Sometimes education is intertwined with a profession; sometimes a degree has no bearing on the work.

I reminded my students that few choices are irreversible. Paths can be changed mid-career, and it’s never “too late” to make a switch. Boredom is a gift, disinterest is also —  they are both warning signs that something needs to change.

Be curious about yourself and the world around you. This can help you navigate your career journey.