Money is a great driving force. Let’s say that you are really good at doing two completely different things: pottery and astrophysics. You simply adore throwing pots, choosing the perfect glaze, and seeing the final product of what you make—but the pay is less than what you would like to live on. You are a whiz at physics and have the opportunity to take a post at some lab studying the stars and the pay is phenomenal! But here’s the catch, astrophysics bores you to tears. Which job do you take? Did you choose money or fun? Be honest.
I learned a valuable lesson fairly early in life. I was faced with this choice in high school when I was choosing colleges. Do I get my degree in art, something I’ve loved doing since I was little? You would think the answer would be, “of course!” Everyone in my family knew that I was going to go to art school and be a college art professor. That was always the plan. Imagine their surprise when I decided to go to school to become a chemist! Yep, you read right. Why would I do that?
When I was growing up, all I wanted to be was an artist. When I got to high school and could choose what classes to take, I took every art class that was available. Painting, drawing, photography, you name it—I took the class. I was researching art schools early. I had it all planned out.
Then I took a chemistry class.
I LOVED it. It was fun! I loved the math, the nerdy science jokes, making cool things in lab. And I was good at it. Then I got to thinking. Wouldn’t I make more money if I went into the sciences instead of being a starving artist? Think of all the pretty things I could buy! The nice house! All of the geekery! Yes, my pupils turned into dollar signs. I’m not proud of it, but I admit it.
So I scrapped the art school applications and went to college for chemistry. The dumbest part of it all was that I didn’t even take art classes for fun. I bottled up that part of myself and packed it away—the thing I was most passionate about.
When I graduated from college with my chemistry degree, the doubts about my plan hit hard. College was fun; I loved every minute of it. I didn’t regret one second of what I did, but I had wished that I did more. Even so, I promptly packed off to Washington D.C. to start in a Ph.D. program in (you guessed it) chemistry! Graduate school was okay to start with, but after the first year, I was completely depressed. I hated the program. It was dry and boring. It was beyond dry and boring. I hated going into the lab every day, descending into the windowless basement and spending my days in front of a dry box. But I didn’t know what to do about it.
Then one day a new dean of graduate studies came in and kicked out anyone who didn’t have a B average. That included me. And I got out. It was wonderful! Sort of. I spent the next month moping over my failure, unsure what to do next. I spent a lot of it playing video games. Finally, I went to a temp agency to get a job. Something—anything—that would pay money.
I landed a job stuffing envelopes at a non-profit. It was a three-week assignment at most. One day they needed some graphic design and I volunteered. This was the major turning point in my career. Over the next few months, they gave me more and more design work. What began as a temporary post turned into a permanent job.
Lady luck was on my side. From stuffing envelopes to redesigning magazines and building websites! The company paid for me to take classes at the local college where I was able to expand my art repertoire even further. I was very fortunate to have things work out after all. I was finally doing what I love to do and I was making money doing it.
I’d like to say it’s been happily ever after since then, and it mostly has, but there have been many mountains to climb. I know I haven’t gotten as many job interviews because my degree is in chemistry, not in design. Never mind that I’ve been running art departments for most of my career – or that I’ve won awards for my design. There are companies that are emphatic that any graphic designer they hire MUST have a design degree. Here’s a tip: recently, I’ve taken my college major off of my resume and only have my degree listed. I feel like I’ve gotten my foot in the door a lot easier lately.
So it’s been difficult at times, but take it from me, it is FAR more important that you are happy and get to do what you are passionate about every day and get paid less for it than to dread getting up in the morning because you dislike what you do.
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Nice article! Now I just need to figure out what I really love doing.
James, I am in the same boat as you! I need to figure out what I really love doing.
My only fear is that once I start doing that which I really like doing for a living, I might come to hate it. There is something about doing things when you want to, versus being forced to do it to pay bills!
Stephanie, your story is a feel good story! Finding a job in what you like to do and actually enjoying it.
I am definitely not where I want to be career wise. Plainly speaking I do not like my job. But it is true I did choose money. I was content with my last job, but did not pay well and I was getting restless because I knew how to do everything. It was getting boring.
So I decided to get a salary boost. I wanted to match it to what I should be making and like you by dropping a few things of my resume, I overshot my goal and got a crazy increase in salary.
I have written my saga about my salary 30% salary increase on my blog, which I think might be of use to those looking for the money.
However, I am ready for doing something that keeps me happier and I actually enjoy doing.
This was an interesting post Stephanie. I believe at times we are forced to chose a high remunerating job vs our passion by the environment we live in. This includes our family, peers and everything that surrounds us. I personally believe that during teenage levels thats still OK because you are not pretty clear about the outside world.
Yes once you grow as an adult if the passion thing strucks hard there is a work around. I wanted to be a speaker / a writer but I ended up in the not so similar job. What I have worked out is trying to use those creative things in the current job. Apart from this I have started a blog where in I test waters to understand whether communicating really is a passion or just wishful thinking. If this small experiment pays for itself I would be on my way to more experimenting. Else I am satisfied working time being.
What do you think about this approach?
Himanshu, I started a blog for a similar reason. I am using my blog to write about things that interest me and to finally discover through it, what I find most interesting.
I skimmed through your blog and realized that you might be doing something similar. How long have you been at blogging?
Wow, what a experience!
Thanks for sharing, it’ll help lots of people!
I just had a conversation along similar lines with some of my colleagues at work today. For some of us, it appears that we aren’t quite sure *what* exactly would make us happy. Guess you need that turning point to find that thing again?
Thanks for sharing. Good to know there’s always time to rethink the choices we make.
That is a story with a happy ending.
I feel that when the time comes to choose what course to enroll on most of us make somewhat misguided judgements. Maybe through chasing money or just lack of information on getting a job in the real world.
I also have always loved art and grew up wanting to be several things including a cartoonist. However I ended up wasting a year of my life in sixth form studying French, Maths and god knows what else that I had no intention on ever pursuing in my adult life.
One day I decided to walk out and enroll at an art college studying Graphic Design. Don’t honestly remember how I managed to decide that was the right course but 2 years there followed by a 3 year degree course and I found myself as a self employed Graphic/Web Designer.
If I am totally honest about my design education, I believe I could of got a whole lot more out of it than I did. Most of my skills have been through my own exploration and doing things outside of the education environment. They do not prepare you very well to find a real design job in the real world at university.
Through partly luck and a lot of determination I am one of only a handful of Graduates on my course that actually work in the Design industry.
Great post by the way.
Great read Stephanie!
It’s so true that you should follow what you love. If you’ve watched any of the ted.com videos some of the pros always talk about doing what you love and the money will come with it.
Hard concept to actually put into practice but if you have a long term vision then it’s worth it!
Thanks for sharing that meaningful part of your life. I think most of us experience wanting to have a job that pays well though we really don’t love the tasks. We particularly have this feeling while in school. But like what your story taught us, it’s really more rewarding to work on something you genuinely love.
I was good at art and math in high school but loved art. Despite my guidance counselor’s discouragement, I studied art at Syracuse University, thank goodness! I’m now a successful freelance illustrator and love my work.
I always say the starving artist is a myth. It’s sad that high school students are discouraged from studying art in college.
I think it is great that you have found your calling, but I think your attitude towards companies wanting college grads with a design degree, is misdirected. For people that did go to school and get their degree you are essentially devaluing our education. And while experience is also very very important, I think it is fair for companies to put value on people having a degree in the field for which they are hiring. You made your choice and you have to deal with that, but I also made my choice and got a degree in Graphic Design. No hard feelings, I respect you for doing it without a degree and I hope you can respect me for getting my degree. Best of luck.
I too have a super useful degree in biochemistry … and have ended up as a web developer and designer. Every time I’ve ever had a job interview … I’ve had to explain the path of biochemistry to web development. LOL
But like you … I’m doing something I absolutely love, something I wake up every day and think “I get to be creative today and MAKE something”! I get to constantly be learning and trying new things … and yeah, I’m not making as much as I would have had I gone on to med school (as was the original plan) … but man … I’m 1000% certain I’m happier than I ever would have been if I had stayed on that path!
Thanks for sharing your story … from one chem geek to another 🙂
Great story! So many people say “do what you love” rhetorically as if people were clueless to the idea. This was a really great example. Thank you for sharing.
There is nothing like the feeling of knowing that you’re waking up everyday to do what you absolutely love. It doesnt end up being just work anymore. It becomes a passtime and the hours fly by.
If you can find a profession that truly fits you and your passion like a glove, then you’ll truly have a happy worklife. If finding a job based around your passion is too difficult, start your own business. Chances are there are others out there who are just as passionate about your interests as you are.
I’ve always preached this to others, but I will add…Only do it if you are paid a FAIR salary. A graphic artist can and should make a decent to excellent living. Don’t ever sell yourself short. Many designer’s earn far more than a Chemist.
Hi Stephanie, I had an experience similar to yours, but I got also a PhD!
Then many things happened and now I feel very lucky that I can do the job I love: freelance web design and development.
Part of the fortune is due to my husband who supported me in every decision I made. As you said, it’s not about money, it’s about thinking every morning that you are enjoying what you do and thinking every evening that you’re pleased with what you’ve done.
Thanks for sharing!
Remember: You only have one life.
The issue with choosing one’s passion is that with time that can also change. I use to really enjoy photography when I was a kid, my dad even bought me an SLR camera in my high school days. Though that passion died when I entered collage, and it turned to technology. I been in the IT industry for almost 8+ years developing software, though it has been challenging and fun for the most part, there is always a part of me which wants to explore other horizons… To me that is seems is that if we don’t get enough monetary gain from the “thing” we are passionate about, it won’t last long. I believe passion and money need to be accompanied side by side to make oneself content and keep going…
I don’t get it. It sounded like you loved chemistry every bit as much as art, but it was just the school you were going to that was boring. Maybe you could’ve pursued chemistry with the same fruitful outcome if you’d stuck with it and just found a better environment in which to learn.
In my counrty, a significant number of people not doing their jobs because of economic conditions. I saw an example of this situation closely. A friend of mine who graduated from law school and lived in the same situation. Graduated from law school and has also completed an internship program. Meanwhile, in university was interested in dance. Herks expect him to establish his own business, but it did not happen. Modern dance began to take the exam again. she loves dance. But I could not earn money from dancing. She could not leave Profession of lawyer . We have to work in an office while trying to keep one hand behind the shool.
Very nice post ^_^ I am also in the same situation.
I am actually doing a PhD (3rd year and would take 3.5~4 to finish) in Signal Processing, but my love is somewhere else, into something more creatives.
I really enjoyed my studies for years and I am very eager to learn new things everyday, but going to the lab is a real pain.
I am starting to look into whatever I could find and I got an internship in a magazine website design team.
I am doing simple image cropping/correction and creating banners once a week. It is not so creative yet… that is the best day of my week!!!
I thought it was crazy but I guess not so! In the country I am (foreign student), we have to look for a job 1 year before graduation. So, I am actually looking for jobs, but my CV gives me hard time finding any in what I would like to do.
I must keep going to school, looking for next year job, and get refused often, I am getting a bit depressed but still I try to keep learning any stuff not that could help me later and that are not related to my studies.
During my 3 years in PhD I crossed my professor around 10 times, so he is not aware of anything, but I guess he noticed that my researches are not going that well recently lol
I am quite afraid to tell him that I quit, and anyway don’t want to do it before finding something else.
Am I doing the right choice… I don’t know yet, but now I really know that I could not work in a lab my whole life.
really nice article …. am also an artist but couldnt study arts….. but i used to draw in school….i like math and drawing …. but now am studying Business Information System and try to organize my time between studying and drawing …. your artical influenced me…. keep going =D
Thank you for the advice. I love web development and spend most of my free time playing around with it .
A month ago the opportunity came up to go and work full time doing web development. This would mean I would be doing something I love vs something I will make a lot of money from.
The big thing is it meant that I would be leaving a Managment Consultant role. The MC role meant working with the top clients, exposure to their strategies and designing them, travel all over the world, big promotions and a lot of top training courses. Though it meant being on the road 45 to 50 weeks a year, long hours (12+ hour days) and working most weekends.
When reading this article I asked myself passion or long term money (both roles pay the same, it is possible to get an MC salary for Web). While MC will have a lot more money in the long term, web will mean I will be doing what I love and will feel awesome coming into work each day, especially as it will feel like I have spent some time awake away from work.
I just want to chime in on this article.. its exactly what I’m going through right now, except I’m *just* at the turn of the transition. I recently graduated with a b.s. in biology because I was on the pre-med/health track throughout college. Now upon graduation, I’m working a dead boring 9-5 office job doing nothing all day, not using my degree at all!
Going for something in the health field was something my family wanted me to do, but not me, hence the lack of motivation to really continue that pursuit. A person can only be pushed so far. Through out elementary up through high school like you, I ALWAYS elected to take the available art courses and thoroughly enjoyed them. I was so into the web and even made my own website in high school, albeit it wasnt fancy at all. and I picked up some photography as well.
Now I’ve enrolled myself in a web design & development program and just started my first HTML class this week -and LOVED the class. It makes me excited to be learning about this stuff, school isn’t such a drag anymore (compared to my science class days) — and I actually look forward to it, even if its night class after a whole day of work. I can’t wait until I finish the program to be able to really put these skills to work! I recently began interning at a start up doing some marketing, and volunteered to create some graphics, which has become a regular thing now so I think I’m on the right track! 🙂
Oops! seems you guys have the same problem as i have.Im currently doing my degree in IT.At one stage in my life i wanted to shift to another field as i thought this field would not suit for me.It mounts so much of presure on me and i thought of shifting in to banking or accountancy field.But my family and other people said lots of things and made me to abundant that idea and i continued.But again when things got complecated i got depressed .Then only i realised that i have made the wrong judjment.In school days i want to do engineering or do physics.I always wanted to go and work in a factory making things and enter in to management.Always some creative ideas came in to my mind.I loved physics a lot and now ithink sitting in front of computer makes me worse.Any way now im lost dont know what to do and any how i have carry my work as im in my final year now….And still looks for bright future..
What if you’re not that great at doing what you love anyway? What if what you absolutely passionately love is very competitive and hard to succeed at? What if you’re okay at being an astrophysicist, but being just okay at being an artist will never satisfy you but is probably all that you can be given the competition out there?
I have a degree in nonprofit management and so I work in nonprofit management it was a passion for me when I was younger and starting college to help others and make a difference. Than it hits you low pay, but it wasn’t so bad I started out at 45K now at 60K. I should of got the MSW- Social Work so I had a lic to open me up to more jobs that require a lic.
Thank you for sharing your story. I have always loved visual arts. I am doing my MSc on Chemical Engineering in a very good university in Canada. It has taken me almost four years so far to the Masters!!! I’m sure you know why! In my case, I am an immigrant here and art school is crazy expensive. I plan to make it, though. I’ll come back and update my post then.
wow i agree with you 100 percent. Who cares how much money you make if you’re miserable all day?
here is my problem.When I graduated high school I never thought I could afford college I had no idea what I wanted to do. So I rushed into it and went to cosmetolkgy school. They only give you 1week to drop but after that if you drop you still have to pay your tuition. I realized pretty eatly on that I hated working in hair. Ive gone from salon to salon over the past 5 years and I really hate it still. But now i have no choice but to do it to make money in this economy. But really my passion has always been art. Actually film making. I knew i wanted to do something in films,behind the scenes. But ive never had enough money to go school for it. So ive had my hand in everything artistic. Drawing painting sculptin writing. But i always feel mediocre. I know most artists go through feeling that way. But at this point in my life,im 26 and i need to really hunker down and decide. Recently i wanted to go and get my degree to become a social worker or therapist because i do enjoy learning psychology and understanding how the brain works. Maybe even go all rhe way and become a psychiatrist. But my gut still kinda tells me i shoukd be trying for my passion,which is arts/film making. What do you guys think? Sometimes i think i am too much of a dreamer and unrealistic about what i can accomplish.
Thank you for pouring your heart out. You’re one courageous woman!
Have you read Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything You Love? It’s an amazing book, and I recommend it highly. See if it helps you provide some more clarity.
There are ways to do it all and still make money. For example, you could start directing mini-movies while you’re working at the salon. There are so many who are doing it and uploading it on YouTube. Start it out part time and may be dive into it full time eventually? What do you feel? Would love to hear your thoughts.
I am so glad I read this article! Thank you for writing this.
My problem is that I’m great at art and I love doing art (ANY art, exempli gratia playing the piano, painting, crafts, drawing, photography, drama… I also love sports), BUT I am a second year in an engineering mechatronics/science degree. You see, I got a high university entry score at the end of year twelve, so I thought, “why waste that on an arts degree?”; I’ve been doing only science related subjects for the last two years of high school so I thought it’s be strange to suddenly change to arts.
I feel like I want to fabricate a passion for science, because I feel like doing art would be pointless. I do enjoy my course at times, but most of the time I find it very dull and I can’t make myself study; I find myself spending more time on my art-related hobbies and video games than on studying. I’m also very shy and socially awkward (much more than most people) so I fear that I may not end up getting any job.
I’m good at maths, and my maths/science teachers have told me that I could be a good engineer/ university lecturer for maths/science. My literature teachers said I could be a great writer/novelist. Ever since kindergarten people have told me I should be an artist; whenever I created or drew anything, it was apparently way beyond my years. I’m somewhat grateful for all of these options, but I just don’t know which path to choose.
Thank you for sharing your story. Is there a way you can combine science and art for a lucrative career? Ever thought in that direction?
Thank you for the quick reply! Thanks for your suggestion too; I wish there was a way to combine science and art somehow, but I simply can’t seem to find any careers like that.
I’m in a weird predicament because one half of me really wants to do art, but my other half wants me to work hard (I’m the kind of person who has to work on and finish something each day instead of enjoying myself, otherwise I feel sad and guilty).
Say I’m doing the perfect art/science career involving 50% art and 50% science; one part of me will be enjoying art and hating science, but the other part will be constantly feeling guilty about doing the thing I enjoy most. The more art-related the career, the more guilty I feel; the more science-related it is, the more depressed I am and my creativity gets crushed.
Sent you an email!
I tried switching into career I love (got a degree in my free time) but my problem is I had a steady job and my family weren’t very supportive.. They value $ it brings more than anything.. no matter how unhappy I am. Since my employer is having difficulties now hopefuly that will come to an end. And from the stress I had I got seriously ill.. so doing what I love would not only make me happier but healthy as well.
Thank you Stephanie for a wonderful post! I am a flight attendant with Singapore Airlines for 14 years and I hate my job! I can totally relate what you went through. When I started flying I was 21 yrs and I didnt know what I like or can be good at. Also I flew partly to escape the drudgery of a very unhappy home environment. During the first five years as a crew, i tried my hands at a variety of things at the side like script writing, volunteering as a PR officer for a theatre company, tv and stage acting, radio broadcasting. I enjoyed them but nothing really captured me in terms of seriously pursuing them as a career. All of them has aspects that I like but I am not sure if there is where my heart truly is. Hence I kept on flying while hating it and the time flies. Along the way I realized that I have always enoyed cooking and experimenting with food. I look forward to be in the kitchen all the time and is a natural at it. I knew that inside of me there is a little chef waiting to emerge. True enough after I got married 2 years ago I began to cook more, alot more. When I cook I instantly felt a connection within me that I seldom felt before. Its like I am reconnecting with who I am. I love the feeling. My wife is very supportive of me and encourages me to pursue my interest. She sees how miserable I am working as a flight attendant and persuaded me to go to culinary school. Today I am in a baking school working towards a Diploma. I enjoy going to classes even though I am very tired after a flight. I look forward to quit my job and leave the terrible jetlag and unfullfilled work as a flight attendant behind when I get my Diploma in 2 years. The only thing I worry is that I will be 38. I hope that its not too late for me to do what I love and sharing it with others. When I think of this fears, I think many others like Julia Child and Colonel Sanders whom found their calling at their later age in life. I know I am not alone. I rather do what I love and getting paid less than being stuck with hate in a job that I despised.
Nice story about ending up where your hert wants to be anyway.
Iam mouni, i have a problem, Iam not understanding what to do.i was failed in degree final year ,gone 2 subjects,Iam preparing for supplementary,Iam not understanding next what course i have to do, which course will suits me, no one is helping me please help me. can i do m.com, how to do? when the entrance exams are conduted,(or) can i do other course please help me…
hey jessica, i am Tanuja and i really need ur advise if you can. it will really help me a lot. actually i am really very-very depressed and i will talk about my problem to anyone first time so can you plz first send a confirmation mail to me just for assuring that you are ready to listen… its okay if you don’t feel like…
oh its for stephanie! sry for the mistake!
Thank you for the article and website. I am a final year marine science PhD student doing a science subject which I love, for the most part, only it turns out my actual PhD is specialising in a different part of science than I planned at the start of my projects… I really have loved doing the subject, but feel realistically, research is too competitive for me. I sometimes really don’t fit in with the other over competitive blood thirsty science academics. Marine science is best done in a team (aboard ships etc) so I would need to be able to get on really well with others. As an independent non traditional student (or so I am called by Americans!), I have struggled a lot more than my collegues to get this far. I have taken far too challenging projects in the past and although this has taught me a lot, I feel I would only live a life of loneliness and compromise in research.
At school I always wanted to do science, since I was in third “grade” (Year 3- 7 or 8 years??), but had an equal love for other topics such as maths, religious studies, english etc. In the last two years of my schooling, I really fell in love with english literature and use to work devotedly in my essays etc. We had a really close bunch of friends at school and althought they put up with science, it turns out none of my friends actually liked science (much to my surprise). As I had always wanted to do science, and marine science was so unknown and facinating, I took a risk and did marine science. I admit a part of me did regret not doing english literature, but I always believed it could stay my additional passion as reading.
I ended up being the only scientist in my friend circle and gradually, unfortunately my old school friends are now only aquaintainces, primarily because I choose science. Most of them went to art college and now really cannot relate to a serious and isolated scientist.. The love of my life, who had her whole life planned out from the beginning, is now a human rights legal scholar, mixing philosophy, moral studies and law (as far as I understand.. I am not with her). It is such a noble goal. I thought she had forgotton me completely and would never even short list me now, especially because I am an intellectually challenged natural scientist! But, it turns out 10 years later, she did, but then quickly realising the direction my life has been going, unshortlisted me.. (sorry about these romantic details..)
So partly to solve the mysteries of her intellect and know exactly what she has devoted her life to and partly honestly to help address human rights issues in my home country, I decided to gate crash an international human rights and cinema summer school happening in another department in my university. The other people on the school thought I was a filmmaker or a human rights PhD student, so it was a bit of a disguise for a week or so. She doesn’t know about this, but it was just the most exqusite experience- like heaven! Any preconceptions I had about lawyers are now gone. I was really really amazed to discover a discipline like this and the humanity of these people was so inspiring. I have decided to persue my dream of being a documentary filmmaker following my PhD, doing marine science documentaries and cultural documentaries, which also highlight human rights issues. I don’t know how sucessful I will be, but I think it is worth persuing a dream which better matched my personality. I don’t want to give up my PhD, and am still enjoy the subject and am determined to finish it, only don’t know if this is too big a risk to take. I don’t know if you would be able to advise whether I am on the right path? I am scared that if I take up a change which is too big, I might not be able to suceed in this world or the next.. Thanks for reading…
Wow, finally something optimistic and positive for us struggling scientists out there. Well my story isn’t complete, but I feel I’m on the right track! After studying chemistry for 15 years (B.Sc., M.Sc. and Ph.D. and 3 years Post-Doc), I realized I was heading one way down a dead end road, and off a cliff where there is no going back career-wise. Therefore I made a tough decision and decided to leave my passion of chemistry and pursue Dentistry! Now I’m applying to dental school and I did amazingly well on the dental apptitude test!!!! All you chemists out there need to take this test I got the top 3 score out of over 10,000 people taking the test in the country without even studying!!! Chemistst rule we are brilliant and if society doesn’t appreciate it use that brilliance in a rewarding career like Dentistry I say!
Go for it!! It is never too late to find your passions!!
I’m applying to university this year for an MChem in Chemistry – and i have recently had the same thoughts! I do like art, but a degree it in (in my opinion) would be no where near as prestigious as a Chem one.
I plan to keep up art as a hobby as well as piano playing, since I’m not that sporty so I won’t be fencing on Wednesday nights at the Uni gym or anything like that….
Yeah, if later on my drawings get me somewhere that’d be great! But in the meantime, I want a secure future since uni is so expensive now (in the UK) and I want to make the most of my degree and uni experience