A job that pays, or a job that you love?

by Erika Torres

Would you rather have a job that you love but doesn’t pay very well, or a job that pays much better but isn’t quite as fulfilling?

(And for the purposes of this post, yes, they are mutually exclusive.)

This was the question posed recently by Girl with the Red Balloon. It’s a question that I’ve never really pondered over, but have always pretty much known the answer.

I would rather have better pay and a less fulfilling job.

It seems a little harsh to see it in writing—as if I’m somehow going against my generation’s motto that I must love my job. Eat, breathe and live for my job. You spend 40 hours a week at your job, or 24% of your time every week, at your job—you must love it.

But why can’t a job just be a job? Why does it have to be a life calling?

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve had four jobs in the past 4 years. My first job, as a newspaper journalist, was by far the job that I loved the most—and it also came with the crappiest pay, almost half of what I’m making now.

But as much as I loved that job, I knew that a career in newspaper writing seemed futile. And there was no way I could afford to do any of the things I loved—such as traveling, live on my own, not live paycheck to paycheck.

So I ventured off into corporate America. And yes, I’ve had a few duds for jobs. Some I’ve even wanted to rip my hair out of sheer boredom. I hated my last job with a passion. But would I have taken a 50% paycut to go back to being a newspaper reporter?

No, I wouldn’t have. As much as I hated my last job, it still paid the bills and afforded the lifestyle I had.

I’m sure you must be wondering “what lifestyle?” considering all my posts have been about how broke we are. But imagine if my job didn’t pay what it pays and I still had the salary I had four years ago…how much more suffocated I would have felt with all that mounting debt.

While I hated my last job sooo much, it still allowed us to go to Kauai in the summer. It still allowed us to feel like becoming credit card debt free was attainable, not an unreachable unicorn.

Now, I am well aware of how workplace stress affects employees and how much it can hinder my quality of life. For many people, stress in the workplace can cause serious physical and emotional issues, which could hurt my performance on the job and make it more difficult for me to move on to better things.

I don’t want to end up hating my life because of my job, but I feel as though I have been able to separate my work and home life effectively, and therefore, treat my job as a means to an end.

And while I like my current job now, it definitely isn’t going to cure world hunger or solve California’s financial crisis. But this job is allowing us to save more than 20% of our monthly income—and it gives me peace of mind.

And that’s something that my newspaper job could never give me.

SO which is it? Better pay, crappy job or crappy pay, better job?


Sarahnsh February 13, 2011 - 9:21 am

A job that I love, I’m way too passionate of a person to not be passionate about what I do. I need to enjoy it, and enjoy the people I work with too. I’ve always made not that much, but I have saved more than anyone in my family making $50 an hour for their job since it’s been a religion of mine since I was a kid to save. I’d love to have a job which pays me a lot and that I enjoy a lot too, and I may go back to college to pursue that, but for now I watch my personal budget, write every $1 that I spend, and keep on trucking on.

City Girl February 3, 2011 - 8:46 pm

I think the answer often changes depending on age, stage and responsibilities. Most of my friends in their mid-30s to 40s want job satisfaction more than a job that pays. But, there’s also a need to pay mortgages and take care of children or ailing parents.

Money stress can be as rough as the stress of being overworked or bored. As long as a person is happy (whether that’s from money or job satisfaction), then that’s what matters, right?

Carly January 27, 2011 - 8:22 pm

I am so glad I stumbled upon this post today! This has been one of my obsessions for the past few months. I’ve been trying to decide on a course for my future, and to read someone say that they’d choose pay over dream job is really a helpful thing to read. Many of the people in my life are urging me to figure out what it is that I would love to do. And honestly, I’ve not the slightest clue, but I do know that I need to earn more money. So I think I’ll be searching for a job that will be a decent fit that will afford enough financial freedom to search out my passions on the side. Thank you for sharing this post!

IntrigueMe (Quarter For Her Thoughts) January 25, 2011 - 3:42 pm

I’m with you, Erika… 100%

I remember what it was like to have a job I liked with pay that sucked… and I was miserable. I was miserable 24/7 because I was stressed. I could barely afford to pay my bills and buy groceries let alone do fun stuff or buy new clothes.

I’m lucky because I have the best of both worlds, a great salary and a job that I like enough… but even if I hated my job, I’m far too in love with the money to quit.

Deidre January 19, 2011 - 12:13 pm

I’d choose the more fulfilling job.

At the moment I am unemployed because I hated my last job so much I had to quit as soon as possible even though I didn’t have another job lined up.

Jackie January 19, 2011 - 9:32 am

That is tough. In my mind, I said I would rather be paid well, but what I am actually doing is the opposite. I work in education, and while I don’t get paid much, I have a lot of job security and great benefits. I think I could make more in corporate America, but I like not having all the pressure and with all the lay-offs, I am a little too afraid to venture out of my secure setting. Also, even though I get a measly paycheck, I get free tuition which will hopefully give me a better paying, more flexible job in the future.

Grace January 18, 2011 - 9:58 pm

I’d like to think that I would take the better pay but I’ve done both and prefer the more fulfilling job. I get cranky when I work all day at a place I don’t like. There are exceptions based on the difference in pay and how much I hated the better paying job but overall I’ll take the one I enjoy more.

Teacher Girl January 18, 2011 - 6:33 pm

I’m a teacher. In a public high school, so I think it is obvious what choice I made. I have to admit though, never having any money to do anything is really bothersome. I’m 25 with a master’s degree. Why can’t I pay all my bills on time in the same month? At the same time, I cannot imagine leaving my job. I love it that much. It is my calling and it make me complete. I have nothing else in my life, no husband, no family. My job is it. If I didn’t like going to work everyday as much as I do, I would probably be very, very depressed.

Ali January 18, 2011 - 6:22 pm

how about both?! In a perfect world right? 🙂

I have a great job that I really like most of the time and pay that is pretty darn good. Could the work be better? sure. Could the pay be better? sure. But overall it is worth getting up each morning, going to work and then repeating each week.

My opinion is that there is no job that pays you enough to be completely miserable all the time and ruin your life. If that is the case then it is better to be dirt poor. My opinion is definitely an extreme but I have lived it so that is my standard.

Good question.

the MRS. January 18, 2011 - 5:49 pm

I go both ways I guess.

I like my job now and it pays the bills. What I love about it- I can leave it ALL at work.

When I had more fulfilling jobs, whether they paid more or not, the work comes home with you. THAT ruins any job way too fast.

– Celina

Randa January 18, 2011 - 10:46 am

While I would ideally like to have a job that I love with a salary that I also love, I’m with you – I’d rather have a good paying job that I didn’t like rather than a job that I loved that didn’t pay.

Of course, if the job was in anyone abusive or harmful to my health to the extent that I could potentially die, then I don’t think it would work. But I’m not looking to build my life around my career and making money – I play to live my life around living. You can easily do a job that pays the bill and volunteer or do something that you love in your spare time to justify not having a job you love.

I think it’s because I grew up poor that makes me believe that I would rather work a job I didn’t like just to make a financially safe life rather than a great job that left me financially unstable. Good intentions and happiness at a job doesn’t put food on the table.

Besides, you still have 76% of your week to save the world. :0]]

Jenn L @ Peas and Crayons January 18, 2011 - 8:27 am

I’m trying really hard to figure out where I stand on this. Originally I would have said the money was way more important… but now i’m thinking my sanity may be much much more essential! I’ll let you know if I ever figure it out =)

loved reading this post — thanks! <3

Erini January 18, 2011 - 7:49 am

My family is all about “get a job with money and benefits!!!” … and I’ve been all “just let me follow my passons!!!” It’s a frustrating thing. I know I need insurance BADLY. And I know I need to get out of debt BADLY. But I’m at a point in my life where the last thing I want is a job just to have a job. I want to work on a career.

So I’m applying to a portfolio school. I’m self-taught in all my design stuff, and thus I lack some polishing and experience that would make me a competitive candiate for a job. My application is in, interview with the school tomorrow. I should find out by Friday, I think. My family doesn’t want me to increase my debt, but given that without this polishing I can’t earn what most do in my field I’m okay with this.

Anyway. All this being said. While I’m in school, I’m going to take the job that pays (and is mindless), so I can make ends meet.

brandt @ New House on the Blog January 18, 2011 - 7:21 am

I think because I came out of college as a finance/advertising major and completely unemployed, and thus had to take a really crappy job with really crappy pay, I look at it a bit differenlty.

I was in a position of hating my job and environment and getting paid next to nothing that I was willing to take ANYTHING. When I got my current job, it was a pay increase of over $11,000 (that should tell you how much I was underemployed) and an actual future…while I might not 100% be in love with financial analysis and procurement (advertising/marketing/communications is my dream), it’s at least something.

That being said… obviously the happy medium is a great job that you love that pays well. I think for me, that’s the driving force behind me right now. I want to get to that point where the 2 variables meet in the middle. And frankly, with the newspaper job, if the pay + job satisfaction coincide at a lower pay level, then that’s the benefits/drawbacks for that job, right?

Jolene January 18, 2011 - 6:54 am

I agree with you, though I used to think I needed to find a job I loved to love my job (if that makes sense). My job now pays a hell of a lot more than my last job and so far, I do love it, but I wouldn’t say I am passionate about it. Would I take a job with less pay? I might, but it depends on the situation. I guess I am realistic in knowing that I may not be passionate about my job all the time and that just means I do stuff on the side that I am passionate about, like blogging and like training for being a Kick instructor (last year) and this year, hopefully, training for a tri or another half marathon. You just find ways to weave your passion into every day life. Great post idea!

nysoonergirl January 18, 2011 - 6:41 am

I have a job that pays pretty decently, but I hate it with a passion. I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I day dream about getting into an accident on the way to work so that I’ll get a few days off. I am absolutely miserable, yet I make decent money. I would much rather have a job I only moderately dislike. I’m not asking to love my job, I’m just asking to dread it a little less each day. I’m looking for new jobs now and I’m finding jobs for half my pay. I’m willing to make up to $10,000 less a year, but I’m not willing to cut my pay in half. I can’t pay my student loans that way. And I already live at home due to health care costs. While I don’t think it’s accurate or necessary to love your job, I do think there comes a point where the extra pay is not worth the dread and misery you’ll experience in your daily life.

Red January 18, 2011 - 5:44 am

I didn’t state my own opinion on the blog, as I just wanted to hear from everyone else. A lot of the time I wonder if our generation has romanticized the idea of a “job you’re passionate about.” You hear people say, “If you have a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Well, I call poo. My job as a newspaper reporter was my *dream,* and it still became work after a few months. Also, when your pay is that low, it causes stress in SO many other areas of your life that, to me at least, it sucks some of the fun out of the “job you love.”

So I’d take a job that pays better but doesn’t make me want to rip my hair out. I don’t want to be super stressed or bored at work, but I don’t need to feel passionate about the job if it pays enough for us to maintain our lifestyle. When I added up my student loan debt while still working at the newspaper, it almost gave me a panic attack. I would have been eating beans and rice if I tried to pay off my debt aggressively while working at that job! (Actually, I don’t think I could have paid off my debt like I am now, no matter how little food I ate.) 🙂 Thanks for sharing this!

eemusings January 17, 2011 - 11:21 pm

I’m with you. As long as it’s not an inherently stressful job, give me the money. I’m tired of everyone espousing the “you should have a job you wake up excited about in the morning” mantra. And I have a post in the works about it. Just trying to get all my thoughts in order.

I also wonder if perhaps it has something to do with being in the media industry. I do feel somewhat jaded even after working in news for a relatively short time.


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