Working for Passion or the Paycheck? You Decide.

by Alexander Heyne · 1 comment

It’s funny that the whole passion or profit debate has been a long-standing one.

And still there is so much debate on both sides of the fence, with mostly polarized views — people who work for passion are starving, like artists.  People who work for profit are shallow, greedy capitalists.

But the fact is that this polarized view is dated and needs some updating.

And there are a couple interesting paradoxes that exist regarding which you view as your master (money or passion).

Do what you love everyday and you won’t work.. wait, what?

There are big problems with adopting a polarized view of the pursuit of success and money; passion means being a starving artist, working for the paycheck means being a greedy conning capitalist.

The problem with this artificial split is that it doesn’t address the underlying principles regarding the “starving artist” or the “greedy conning capitalist.”

Let me elaborate.

People on the passion side of the spectrum automatically assume that passion is superior to just working for money, because you enjoy the process.

Principle to consider #1: Process / Journey vs. Result

People on the capitalist side of the spectrum assume that working for money is better because at least you are making a living, and won’t be a starving artist.

Principle to consider #2: Earning potential and how quickly your first dollar is made

Another important consideration is how related your work is to what you want to be doing.  If your work is your passion, then you’re killing two birds with one stone – making money, and doing what you enjoy.

If you’re getting paid and it’s just money to support you, then one can assume you also have activities outside of the work that you are interested in doing. Extra time is required.

Principles to consider #3: “Doing what I want” to “time I have” ratio

All about the Benjamins baby


There exists a conundrum when you work for money and money only.  Money will make you happy – but only for so long.  I would be willing to bet that a startlingly large people who have a lot of money do it for the game. Aka they find the process enjoyable in itself.

You would think they are money hoarding bastard capitalists. But they aren’t.

One of the other issues with just working for as much money as you can is that you may lose sight of what you’re working for.

You’ve bought all there’s to buy – now what?  If your work isn’t working towards anything you like, you need to ask what it is working towards.

It’s hard to feel like you’ve achieved something when there is always something more expensive out there to buy or upgrade to.

Principle to consider #4: If you are working just for money, what are you saving for or working towards?

Right alongside working for profit is consideration of the following idea: working for money may allow you to make the money to do the things you want.

This is sort of the Tim Ferriss perspective – working for passion is not the best way to have money and get work out of the way – so just earn all the money you’ll need and do what you want with your free time.

Principle to consider #5: Which allows you to do more of what you like? Either working on what you enjoy, or earning enough money to do what you enjoy when you aren’t working. Which one permits you more hours per day in an actual state of enjoyment?

Going back to the perceived stereotypes revolving around passion & money is the following: that people who have money are money-hungry, selfish, greedy capitalists.

They just work for the money and are a slave to the Benjamins.  Or are they?

One feeling I couldn’t help shake off while reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money–That the Poor and the Middle Class Do Not!  was the following:  Kiyosaki seems to have a ton of fun doing what he does.

He repeatedly says money is an illusion, and to him building assets and growing companies is a fun, challenging process. And he’s loaded beyond belief.

That brings us to the next point.

Principle to consider #6: From a long-term fulfillment perspective, there is nothing wrong with working for money as long as you enjoy the process and find it rewarding.  Meaning: long-term you won’t get bored, listless, or feel your work is pointless.

Working just for the money doesn’t have to be from a shallow capitalistic perspective – if you find the process inherently challenging, exciting, and it gives you purpose – it’s just as worthwhile as anyone else who is doing a job they enjoy.

It’s not an either/or decision.

You can make the process of making a lot of money enjoyable.

And there’s one other big question left to think about:

Principle to consider #7: It comes down to purpose – how can I work for money but also enjoyment and purpose beyond just making the money.  Or does the money itself motivate me?

And the closer:  A brief look into Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

 So do I work for passion or the paycheck?

Let’s take a systematic look at the points I raised above, and you can let yourself decide what is worth it – and how to maximize enjoyment [purpose] while working at a job you may just be doing for the money.

#1 Is the process or the product enjoyable?

The default way of thinking about passion and money making goes like this – working for passion is enjoyable because you enjoy the process.  And, well, the process is most of the time you are working. Makes sense.

The default argument against working for money is that you are working just for the product, the result.   You’ll be miserable the whole time because you hate the process but will enjoy the product – the Audi R8 you can buy at the end of the year.

In reality it’s not an either/or decision.  Working for passion may entail 6 months of 9 hour days you enjoy, but with zero profitability (we’re working under the dated assumption that it’s harder to capitalize on your passion).

Working for money may entail 6 months of 9 hour days that you hate, but at least you  can buy your Audi at the end.

Take home: It’s not an either/or decision. The real question is do you enjoy the process of working – whether that’s just making money, or just working on projects you enjoy.  If you enjoy the process, you’re sure to enjoy the result and have a high level of day-to-day satisfaction – regardless of whether you’re working for passion or cash.

Gary Vaynerchuk talks a lot about passion and why now it’s easier than ever to capitalize on your passion. Check out his talk below:

#2 What is the earning potential and how quickly is your first dollar made?

There is a big difference between a job – employment where you get paid immediately for your work and a startup or small business – where thousands of hours will pass before you make your first dime, or years will pass before you plan on selling the company for $10 million.

An important consideration for many of us is how quickly you can make your first dime.  Being self employed is great, but if you can’t make money for 6 months and need money to pay rent, food, and gas bills – then you are going to need another way to survive until then.

An awesome post I read recently at Passive Panda talked about this exactly: improving your per hour income so you can reduce hours worked, thus freeing time, and building your other business with the newly -found free time. You should read it.

Take home: One potentially key difference between working on what you love versus working for money is… that you need money!  You need to determine which suits your current financial needs more, and go with it.  If you have a reserve of money, a small part-time income, or other money set aside – then by all means work on the delayed payment that starting a new project may provide.

#3 The “Doing what I want” to “free time I have” ratio.

One of the only issues some people have with working for money is this: if you’re working all the time for money, when is there time to spend it?

And that raises a really good point: if your work is just for money, then presumably outside of work you are doing things you enjoy, or are using money on things you enjoy.

If you work for enjoyment (because your work is what you enjoy) then you are killing two birds with one stone: doing what you want with your time, and earning money.

If you’re just earning money, outside of work you need free time to do the things you enjoy.

Take home: You need to figure out how much of your time will be spent doing what you enjoy – and if you’re working for money (which will permit you to do things you enjoy), do you have enough time outside of work to enjoy the money?

#4 If your time is spent working for money, what are you saving for and working towards?

When running your own show, even if you’re starving, there are always a ton of new challenges.  Things are never quiet, there is always something to do, and you always have a wall to wall packed schedule. Aka, you have challenges ahead.

But if you’re working for money you’re only challenge is to make more money or get a promotion.  So you need to find another way to make the process and product more enjoyable beyond just improving your income potential.

You can turn certain aspects of work into a game — like gaining more clients, trying to outsource tasks and free up time, or trying to do previous tasks in less time.

These really goes back to #1, making the process enjoyable or challenging, but here we’re also talking about the product or fruit of your work.

Take home: Unless the process of working is enjoyable (I wrote a post previously about this, if your work sucks, learn about flow), then you better damn well make the product enjoyable.

What can you buy that will provide value more than just its price tag? Experiences, memories, skills, and worthwhile travels that help you break free from routine.

#5 Which one allows you to do more of what you like with your time? Either working on what you enjoy, or earning enough money to do what you enjoy when you aren’t working.

This is pretty self explanatory.  Does working a job that you inherently enjoy  or working a job that gives you money (you can then spend on what you enjoy )  provide more enjoyment?

Which one actually provides a better ratio for enjoyment?  How many hours do you spend doing what you enjoy vs. what you dislike?

For some that may be working all the time, where work time cannot be differentiated from play time.  For others that may be knocking out work in the morning, and spending the money on other things you enjoy during non-working time.

#6 There’s nothing wrong with working for money as long as you find the process enjoyable (you’ll need it for your long-term sanity)

Looking for another reason just to work for the money? Because you enjoy the challenge.  Some people like building things – a company, products, systems.  The challenge and the excitement is fresh for them, and that alone is worth doing the project.

But overall, I’d bet money that the people who end up sticking with high paying financial jobs are those who get off on the process of making money, and not just the financial rewards.

#7 The bottom line when deciding: what gives you the feeling of purpose the most? That feeling of time having been used wisely.

Working on your “passion” is inherently purposeful, and has meaning. So this question is going to focus on working for the money.

The trick here is to answer this question: how can I work for money, but also for enjoyment? How can I enjoy the process and the outcome (product)?  Or is the money a good enough motivator?

The answer to this question is more than just a couple sentences, so stay tuned for my next post which will be about Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

Here’s a TED lecture about his book Drive, until you get a chance to read it:

It is an extremely important read for anyone who is curious as to what actually gets people motivated (hint: it’s not more money).

And his theme is directly related to Milk the Pigeon, so it’ll be quite exciting to share his own findings.

Until then, stay tuned — and meditate on the above points regarding working for profit or passion.  Which one is more conducive to your goals?

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