Which did you choose after college: passion or pay? Securing a dream job is the primary focus of the post-grad life; you’ve got to put that degree to use somehow, even if it’s just as a resume filler. The criteria for a “dream job” changes from person-to-person, though. Perhaps pay is the most important to you, for with greater income comes greater freedom, such eating out, get your nails done, and paying bills early. Or, perhaps enjoying your role matters more than anything else, since, on average, you’ll dedicate 40+ hours a week to working, which adds up to more than 80,000 hours over a lifetime. Most people don’t want to be bored or miserable for that long.
So how do you decide between a job with a generous income and a job that you love, but doesn’t pay well? Or is there a happy medium? I don’t have all the answers, but I have a few real-life anecdotes that shed some light on the topic.
When I graduated from college in December 2018, my number one goal was independence. I wanted to be able to pay for my gas, food, rent, and then some. I secured a job as a social media marketing assistant at a financial planning firm in January. As an English major, finance didn’t really interest me, but this job was salaried with benefits, so at least I wouldn’t have to move back in with mom and dad or get buried in debt due to a hospital visit. Though I fell asleep at my desk nearly every other day (sorry, boss!), I was able to pay my bills on time and go shopping whenever I felt like it. My job wasn’t very intellectually stimulating, but the pay was enough to keep me there for several months until I moved to a different city, so it was worth it.
Though I don’t have such a stable job now, I often miss the freedom that a generous income gave me. If living a life free of financial restrictions matters more to you than drifting off at work every now and then, perhaps you should choose job stability over job satisfaction. There’s always room to move up the corporate ladder.
One of my close friends, however, made the opposite decision. Annie was presented with two job offers after graduation: a cubicle job working in health insurance, or a hands-on role at an optometrist’s office that paid nearly 50% less, but was more in her field. She chose the latter. She says she doesn’t regret her decision: “Given the chance to choose again, I don’t think I’d do anything differently. It was hard to decline the insurance job because stability is important, but as my first post-grad job, I wanted to be happy with what I was doing.”
As a close friend, I can concur that she loves her current role. Though she has to watch her budget, she’s always wanted to work closely with patients. In her role as an optometrist tech, she gets to ask people about their symptoms and health history, and she checks their vitals. Though she says she’ll eventually need a role with greater pay and benefits, as a recent graduate, choosing passion was best for her in easing her transition from school to work.
A Happy Medium?
However, some people are able to find a happy medium; my brother, John, is one of such examples. I remember, even as a child, public transit engineering was his obsession. He’d play online traffic simulators for hours and always made sure to include sidewalks, subways, and trains. When he graduated from college in May 2015, he interviewed for an awesome-sounding public transit engineering job in London. He’d always wanted to live abroad, and he’d get to work with subways, so the London job seemed perfect for him. They paid for his flight to the interview, and he answered their questions quite well. But he didn’t get it.
Instead, he found a job as a transportation planner at a local, private company. Though this role wasn’t his number one pick, it still aligned with his passion, and it paid well. This is how he describes his choice: “I think I chose more for stability than for passion, although it’s kind of right on the edge of my passion. I’m passionate about transportation engineering planning, but mostly about transit and multi-modal transportation (bikes, pedestrians), and my current job does mostly highway and road projects. I’m happy with my choice, though, because it’s a huge company so I have lots of options. I’m glad it’s at least related to my biggest passions, so it’s good experience.” Though his current role wasn’t exactly what he’d dreamed of, it’s still a happy medium between stability and satisfaction.
It’s a personal choice, deciding between a stable job and one that you love. If you’re new to the workforce, it’s an especially daunting decision to make, since you’re unlikely to know exactly what you need from work. At least, at the end of the day, you can always return to LinkedIn. Nobody’s forcing you to stay in a role that doesn’t support your lifestyle or passions.
About the Author
Susanna is a recent college graduate who currently works in the broadcast journalism industry. She likes to write about social media, pop culture, and issues relevant to recent college graduates. In her free time, she enjoys running, yoga, reading, painting, and finding vintage items for her Etsy shop. You can also find Susanna on Instagram and Twitter.