Scott H Young

Would You Still Work If They Didn’t Pay You?


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If money wasn’t an issue, would you still do the work you are currently doing?  If the answer is “no”, you should start looking for a new job.

I think it’s interesting that people would consider it unacceptable to marry and spend your entire life with someone you didn’t love.  Yet, in our culture, these same people think it’s normal to spend your entire life doing a job you hate.  Why is our work life so dysfunctional?

A Confession

I’m in a fairly privileged position to comment on other people’s careers.  First, I’m twenty: without debt, a mortgage or kids.  Second, I’ve been lucky enough to find work I do love, and I’ve been even luckier in being able to earn a small income from it.

However, despite my fortunate position, I still see many people my age picking careers just for the money.  This is before the pressures of children, debt and an expensive lifestyle force them to continue working jobs they hate.  The criteria for choosing a career seems to be, “Well I don’t hate it, and it pays well.”

Can you imagine if this was the vows people said on their wedding?  “Well, we don’t hate each other, and it’s better than nothing…”  Not exactly the same statement as “to love and to cherish, ’till death do us part.”

Work, Death and Taxes?

Benjamin Franklin once said, “There is nothing certain in this world except death and taxes.”  Should we have added “and disliking your job” to this short-list?  Is work just one of life’s inevitabilities that 99% of the population needs to accept?

Perhaps a century ago, it might have been.  But I think with the explosion of the internet, globalization and more information jobs, we might be one of the first generations of people who don’t need to accept life-draining work since the days when humans switched from the more relaxed hunter-gatherer lifestyle to the extra burden of agriculture.

Even if finding work that is both emotionally and financially satisfying can be difficult, I think there are many indications it might be getting easier:

  • New Jobs.  Many jobs of the jobs that exist today didn’t exist twenty years ago.  Most probably didn’t exist two hundred years ago.  This means more opportunities to find work you enjoy.
  • Lowered Start-Up Costs.  Even teenagers today can start a business.  The web offers many opportunities for entrepreneurship by stripping the needs for huge capital investments to get started.  Entrepreneurship may not be for everyone, but at least now, it can be available to a lot more people.
  • Varied Work Environments.  Technology is enabling people to work from home, work freelance and do jobs in ways that weren’t possible before.
  • Access to Information.  With access to the internet, you can research jobs and types of work you had never heard of before.  I had never heard of anyone running a one-person, online company until a few years ago, now I know dozens of people who do exactly that.

    Let’s Be Practical…

People need money to live.  Even if you hate your job, I’d suspect that few people would have the power to quit immediately.  It’s one thing for someone like me to give advice that you should work at what you love.  It’s a completely different reality when you’re looking at bills and debt.

But, just because you can’t abandon your career, doesn’t mean you can’t make plans to change it.  You can educate yourself in your spare time.  Many business efforts can start as hobbies you do for free.  Even within your chosen career you can look to make changes that will improve your work life.

The situation is even easier for young people and students who haven’t locked themselves into a lifestyle.  This is the perfect time to experiment with different options to see what type of work satisfies you.  I think with all the variety of work that has come into being in the last few decades, it seems stupid to lock yourself into one option early.  How will you know that’s the best choice for you if you have only experienced one or two choices out of thousands?

Treat Work Like a Marriage

Here in North America, most people wouldn’t marry someone they didn’t love.  I think the same attitude needs to form with regards to work.  Don’t marry work you don’t love.

I think it’s fine to take jobs to pay the bills.  But unless you can say, “I would do this, even if I didn’t get paid,” I don’t think you should be making a lifelong commitment.  Your goals should always be aimed at either (A) exploring to find satisfying work, or (B) making that work a reality – even if it is difficult to reach.

Will some people be unable to find work they love?  Definitely.  But just because some people won’t find another person they want to share their life with, that doesn’t stop most people from trying.

I recently had a conversation where I mentioned I wouldn’t be working in the summer.  I had meant I wouldn’t be getting a job, but this person thought I had meant I wasn’t going to continue the website.  All of my associations with the word “work” had to do with jobs I have had in the past.  As a result, I didn’t even think about what I do here as work.

There is a completely different quality to doing work you love.  I suppose it is like the difference between being in a so-so relationship and one where you are completely committed.  Although you can rationalize that it isn’t too bad, that the pay is decent, or even that the benefits are worthwhile, in the end, satisfaction is something you feel, not something you think about.

There was a time when people would marry out of convenience, tradition or social pressure.  Here in Canada, I can say that time has definitely passed.  I think maybe it’s time to reconsider our approach to work, and to avoid committing to careers that we only do for the money.


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24 Responses to “Would You Still Work If They Didn’t Pay You?”

  1. Karthik says:

    Hi Scott,

    How to find which job I love really?

    Cheers,
    Karthik

  2. Karthik says:

    Hi Scott,

    Can you elaborate a bit on “How one can find his/her love for a particular job”. Suppose I take you as an example, you love writing and blogging so much. How did you find that you love writing and blogging so much.

    Cheers,
    Karthik

  3. JRTV says:

    Yeah, sure… but, sometimes what you do outside of work is more important than what you do at work, and the best/only way to afford that is to take a job that pays well but that maybe you don’t like. maybe it offers flexible hours that allow you to spend time with your family that an entrepreneur wouldn’t be able to. so it’s all about compromise – just like a strong marriage. nothing’s perfect and it’s irresponsible for anyone to continue to look for perfection in an imperfect world.

    just one man’s opinion.

  4. Dave Fowler says:

    This is a great way of thinking about it.

    In fact I’m going to explain this concept to my kids when they’re old enough to understand.

    I like the idea of going out looking for love again. Only this time it’s work not women. My wife would kill me.

    Dave

  5. Scott Young says:

    Thanks Dave,

    JRTV,

    That’s one way of looking at it. Then again, if you spend 40 hours at your job, work eats a significant amount of your time. Even more importantly, it eats up a lot of your energy.

    Frankly, it’s a bad compromise if there is another alternative. If it is reasonable to expect a job you truly enjoy, I think that’s something worth working towards. Just another man’s opinion.

    Karthik,

    I wrote a bit about that before, with my article “What Do You Want to Do With Your Life?” I wrote last year. I don’t think there is an easy answer. I think aptitude tests are too simplified and I think it’s a complex question.

    Really, how would you find a person to fall in love with? If there was a straightforward answer there, there wouldn’t be online dating sites and romantic comedies.

    Writing and blogging are an interest of mine, but entrepreneurship (creating something valuable and being in the process of earning an income from it) are my deeper passions.

    -Scott

  6. Maxine says:

    Great analogy and I agree that you shouldn’t work at a job you hate.

    The corollary and extension to the analogy is that a good work life like a good marriage takes effort on your part too – you have to know what you want (or more easily, what you don’t want) and you have to be committed to making it work through the ups and downs.

    I only say this because I’ve seen people take the “find work you love” axiom too far – like those people who seem to be waiting for the perfect man to come riding in on a white horse, they seem to expect their perfect career to appear to them in a sudden epiphany with thunder & music etc etc and life to be a fairy-tale bliss thereafter. And reality never quite seems good enough and they flit from job to job in an endless search never settling long enough to know if the profession might actually suit them.

    I think there needs to be a balance between the two; I definitely wouldn’t advocate settling but quite often, a good job, like a good marriage, is what you make of it – you want good bones, obviously, but the rest is what you bring to it, what you make of it.

  7. Ben Clapton says:

    Hi Scott,
    Great post. I’ve always believed in the saying “If you can find a job that does what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” For me, that’s music, and hopefully I’ll one day be able to spend all my time doing it. However, while that will take a few years to become a reality for me, I need to find something else to keep my expenses paid for (violin strings are surprisingly expensive, as are many other recurring costs). So the choice is to find something that will pay the bills, or to find something else that I enjoy, and find a way to make money through that for the time being.
    I’ve got a few options up my sleeve that I can do to keep the money trickling in, so I think I should be ok.

    I think for those that are stuck in a job that they don’t think they can get out of, one option is to start looking at whether you can start scaling back the number of hours you do. For example, if you are in a situation where for your job you need to complete a number of goals, then if you can complete those goals in less time, you will have more time for yourself. During that time, you can go and learn new skills, or work towards starting your own business. If your work is hourly based, then something you might like to try and do is find a way to start up your own business, and as the business grows, you can cut back on your hours at work – replacing one income with another. There are ways to do it, and it all depends on your situation and what you love. Best of luck for anyone attempting it.

  8. Scott Young says:

    Maxine,

    I couldn’t agree more.

    There are days I wake up and I don’t feel like writing. Or times when the website will break down and I stress for hours looking for the glitch. No relationship (with people or otherwise) is perfect, and it definitely takes a person who can commit and doesn’t just dance between ideas.

    But it’s a spectrum. There’s a huge canyon between loving work that is difficult and challenging (and occasionally incredibly frustrating) and work that you barely tolerate. I side with the “love what you do” crowd because I think it is far easier to fall into a crappy job to pay the bills than to fight for something truly satisfying. Some people take it to an extreme, but generally the gravity of social pressure and mounting financial expenses bring them back to the norm.

    -Scott

  9. Michael says:

    Hi Scott,

    This is my first time commenting your article but I’ve been reading Your blog for few months already.

    Thanks to You I started thinking about my future and my development. I started going to the gym, living more actively, investing in myself with studying japanese – for the first time I took a serious approach to this. Earlier I got bored fast because there weren’t any immediate effects. Now I know that everything takes it’s time and after 2 months I finally see some efects of my work.

    That’s all for “Thank You” part. On to the topic.
    I’m still studying, so I don’t work, but I can see what my friends who work do. One in particular hates his job so much, is always tired before/after it and can barely find energy for anything else. I said to myself I’ll do everything to avoid something like this. I hope to get job in japanese translating, or be automatic engineer (which is my major), or to combine both in some way or another. But the thing is I would learn japanese even if I would gain nothing (in material term) from it. I just love this language and culture. And I hope that work like this will be possible for me someday.

    Thanks again for everything you write and do, Scott. This has impact on many people – on me surely. Keep up the good work :)

    Michael, Poland

  10. PeaceCat says:

    Hi Scott

    Nice post :)

    I think it can help to look at the core elements of what you do and then see if this fits with your natural interests, aptitudes and personality (I think Leo at Zen Habits wrote more on that recently).

    I’m a secretary/PA, the core of which is planning, organising, helping with practical matters and helping others achieve goals, which I feel is a good match for me. If I didn’t need to earn a living, I’d still do the same kind of work (just in a different context perhaps, these core elements can be found in other occupations such as running a home business, teaching, coaching, or being a housewife/raising kids).

    I think it is possible to find meaning in your work even if you’re not doing something very glamorous or exciting by conventional standards – I recommend reading “The Miracle of Mindfullness” by Tich Nhat Hanh, he gives helpful insight into how you can find meaning in the simplest of things, such as how washing dishes and folding laundry can be meditative experiences. I wish I had read that years ago when I was working as a simple data entry clerk and craved more excitement in life (there are days now when I miss the simplicity of that kind of work!).

    Now I often think to myself “Adventure? Excitement? A Jedi craves not these things” :D

    I’ll leave you with another quote:

    “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” Martin Luther King Jr.

    On that thought, I think it is important that whatever you do, you recognise the value in it and don’t belittle your role, so often people say things like “I’m just a housewife” or “I just work in a factory” when they could just as easily say “I run a busy household” or “I help assemble XYZ product”.

  11. Glen Allsopp says:

    One of my passions earns me no money at all, yet I work hard at it a lot of the time so my answer is yes, I can’t say that to all my past jobs though.

    This is a great question to ask and really gets the most out of people

  12. […] share of our days with our co-workers as well. For this and some other reasons, Scott Young asks if you would still work if they didn’t pay you. Many people choose their careers based on salary alone. Are you one of those […]

  13. Trey Meier says:

    Great post Scott.

    If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “it pays well” I would be a very rich man. Maybe that should be my next job…

    All of the jobs I’ve had are great in the beginning, but when you start not enjoying what you do it is definitely time to move on. You could call this time in the beginning “employment puppy-love”. The position I’m in now is the first one I haven’t grown to loathe. A good marriage for sure.

  14. Steve says:

    Hi Scott,

    Another excellent article, and nice to hear you’re a fellow Canadian as well!

    Three of the most powerful words I’ve ever heard are “Follow your bliss”, a quote from Joseph Campbell, who believed that everyone has a natural path to follow in life, one that feels right with the universe, and the reason most people run into so many problems in their life is because they choose to ignore that path and place money ahead of all else.

    Like you, I run an online business, although unlike you, I had to wait until I was in my 30’s before I snapped out of the popular belief that life sucks and then you die. I now spend my days “working” from home writing training tutorials for computer software programs, and thanks in no small part to the fact that I’m enjoying what I’m doing and enjoying my life, I’m earning more money now than I ever did back when my life was being sacrificed to the Economy God.

    One unfortunate side effect I’ve experienced, though, as a result of creating my own path rather than following the path that a “responsible member of society” should be expected to follow, is that people tend to not be very supportive of you. At least, that’s been my experience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked by both family and friends “So, how is your website going? Still making money?” with a tone of voice that sounds almost evil, as if they’re hoping to hear that I’ve failed miserably. Another popular question, asked with that same unsupportive tone, is “What exactly is it you do again?”, and I find myself explaining (defending) myself again and again. My own parents have routinely asked “Is this really what you want to do with your life?”, hoping I come to my senses soon and go back to having a “real job”. At least my wife has been supportive, although it’s easy for her now that she sees how much money I’m earning, but she, too, had her doubts in the beginning.

    I guess my point is, coming to the realization that we as human beings are more than just social insurance numbers and employee numbers is great. Life is not about acquiring money and material things, slaving away for someone else until you’re old enough to retire and then hoping you have a few good years left. It’s about finding that inner peace that comes only through being who You are, not who everyone else expects you to be. However, if you choose to venture down your own path and take chances that few others are willing to take, a word of warning. Your own fears of failure may prove nothing compared to everyone else’s fears that you’ll succeed.

  15. Scott Young says:

    Steve,

    I agree, and it’s a topic I’ve wanted to cover in an article. Often the choices you make to follow your own convictions separates you from the status quo. This happens with professions, and also other choices in life. I’ve decided the benefits of doing what I feel is right outweighs any social discomfort, but it’s still an interesting problem.

    Generally if you’re successful enough people stop considering you as an outsider but someone to be followed. Nobody said the universe didn’t have some irony.

    -Scott

  16. Lance says:

    You are very wise for your age Scott.

    I wrestle with this to a degree. I really like what I do, but I’m not sure I love it. Does that make the decision harder? I think so. But, the key is to spend spare time devleoping the skills that relate to what you really love to do – as you alluded to above.

  17. Scott Young says:

    Lance,

    I think the answer is whether you can honestly say “I’d do this even if I wasn’t getting paid.” That is my definition of love for your work. I don’t think it’s a strict yes or no (there are degrees). But I think that’s a good place to start.

    -Scott

  18. BeyazTavsan says:

    Hello,

    I’m a new reader of yours and couldn’t stop the urge to comment on this article. I also asked a similar question to my readers, it was: If you had been guaranteed to have your current monthly income no matter what you do, what would have you done ? If the answer is anything short of ‘Continue what I’m doing right now’ then you should change your career :)

  19. Bret says:

    I wonder, Scott…do you have children/a mortgage/an IRS account in arrears/grandfathered debt/student loans or any other financial obligation that, unfortunately, DOESN’T allow you the luxury of choosing the work that satisfies you the most?

    What do you think $10,000 would do for a 70-something, diabetic retiree on medicare? Now, what would that same $10,000 do for a wet-behind-the-ears recent college grad with absolutely no clue about managing money?

    I offer a hefty dose of pragmatism against the idealistic rhetoric stuffed into this post. Money provides solutions to problems and security that cannot be realized in any other way. Sorry, but it’s the truth.

    We also live (at least in the U.S.) in a capitalist, free-market economy where a rising tide lifts all ships. If everyone ‘followed their dreams’ at the expense of a thinner bank account, we’d ALL be worse for it.

    Don’t forget…the allure of individual wealth is a large contributor to what FOUNDED this nation (immigrants wanting prosperity and land for themselves, etc.).

  20. Scott Young says:

    Bret,

    Point taken. Two comments:

    1) The question isn’t whether you should trade working for a living and doing something you enjoy but has absolutely no financial value. The question is whether you should settle for a job that doesn’t satisfy you, just because you have a paycheck. I think many people have bought into the idea that work is something barely tolerable, so there isn’t much point continuing to explore other options, or working to build towards a career that is satisfying.

    My argument isn’t in favor of abandoning work to go live in a commune. Instead, I think people should strive for both (satisfaction and finances). Obviously, material considerations need to come first, but they shouldn’t lock you out of pursuing satisfaction in your job.

    2) Actually, the free-market system is based exactly on that. Individuals each following their dreams (in which financial wealth is a big part) and as a result, contributing to the whole. Adam Smith was a revolutionary thinker because he proposed that selfish actions of individuals could contribute to the greater good. So, no, I’m not worried that a shift to find satisfying work will destroy the world economy.

  21. Hello Scott (from one province over!),

    Very good article. I’m thankful that I have a job that I love. It makes life so much better. Certainly there are times when I don’t love every part of my job, but in general I’m happy I have it and wouldn’t leave if I had all the money in the world. Having said that, I may consider working a little less! :)

    People that don’t have a job they love should start to work towards being able to leave it. It doesn’t have to happen immediately. I find that working from home provides people great opportunities to develop alternative sources of income – usually on a part-time basis. Eventually this can help people be free.

    On another note, I don’t think you have Adam Smith right in your comment above – Smith didn’t really argue that “selfish actions” would contribute to the greater good, rather he argued that “rational self-interest” would do that under the right conditions. There is an important difference between those two concepts. Smith also wrote on “moral sentiments” where he spoke about individual responsibilities (in a moral sense).

  22. Scott Young says:

    Success Professor,

    True, but I’d say that one of Smith’s biggest contributing idea was that the motivations of the individual weren’t necessarily in conflict with the goals of society. I think this applies here as well.

    -Scott

  23. I would also suggest that following one’s bliss is often ultimately a better path to money. “Bliss” doesn’t mean being in ecstasy all day long. In slight contrast to what you say, Scott, “bliss” work is sometimes – temporarily – harder than simple drudgery precisely because you truly care about the outcome. For example, my specialty veterinarian still approaches every animal like that Christmas puppy. I imagine it pains him to deal with the sick and dying animals day after day. That’s part of the whole “bliss” package, though. And, he certainly makes more money that the guy who wanted to be a vet but is a mediocre software engineer instead, watching his job outsourced overseas.

    A real match in career can mean better performance, better relationships with people (customers, bosses, colleagues) that lead to a better network of opportunities. It can also mean that less time and energy and money is spent compensating – the doctor and blood pressure drugs and psychologist to deal with your “stress,” that extra glass of wine every night, and so on.

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Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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