I work in a creative field. While I love it and would say it’s my dream job, I have been relying a lot on parental help to make this “work,” as I take lots of temporary gigs. I recently turned 25, and I think I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that my work likely won’t make me rich and famous. I also feel like my parents are tired of footing the bill for my life. Should I continue to do the work I love, scraping by, relying on loans, and hoping for the best, or do I take the chance now to apply to grad school with a more lucrative field in mind?
— Dreams Cost Money
Dear Dreams Cost Money,
A regular, stable job and paycheck is a goal many people have, and of course, it makes sense that part of you wants that — and that other people want that for you, too. But does choosing stability mean you have to turn your back on your dream job? Not necessarily. So far, your work hasn’t brought you a steady paycheck. But has it brought you new skills and new opportunities, as well as exciting experiences and mornings when you were excited to go to work? Because those are valuable too. And it’s critical that you don’t lose sight of all the intangibles you’ve worked for as you’re trying to find a job that fits both your skill set and salary requirements.
Think beyond the paycheck
Research shows that you’ll be happier in the long term if you choose a career that makes you feel like the minutes, hours, and days of your life are filled with meaning. Research also shows that people tend to regret what they didn’t do when they’re looking back at past experiences. So, even if it isn’t reflected on your paycheck, there’s a lot of value in doing what you’re doing right now and chasing after that dream career.
Get some outside intel
But, I also understand that you’re feeling pressure to make a certain amount of money right now. That desire isn’t something you should discount. Before deciding what’s next, I suggest you ask for advice from people in your industry (rather than your parents). These people should ideally be a few years or levels ahead of you. What would they recommend, in your position? These people may also be able to give you a more nuanced assessment of your skills. After all, it’s possible you’re talented and just haven’t had your big break yet.
It could also be possible that they’ve noticed other talents you may not have tapped into that could help you consider another path in the same industry. I say this because people are rarely subjective about their abilities, and when self-doubt comes into play, it can catch you in a spiral of feeling negative about your skills and talents. Hearing someone else’s thoughts can help you remember everything you’re bringing to the table.
Find — and capitalize on — your marketable skills
You also may need someone to highlight some of your marketable talents to use in a day job. That way, you could pursue your passion on the side without financial pressure. For example, let’s say you’re an aspiring director, and you excel at seeing a big-picture strategy in the midst of chaos. You might look for a role as a part-time office admin or store manager. That way, you’re using your skills, paying bills, and have enough wiggle room in your schedule to also pursue the work you love.
Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Tuesday for her next column.