In my career I’ve had periods where I earnt good money, but the work didn’t engage me. I got bored, stopped giving it my best, and felt guilty about it.
I’ve also worked on things I was really passionate about, but the pay was non-existent, inconsistent, or just way below what I knew I could earn doing something else. I ended up feeling like I wasn’t doing the right thing by myself and my family.
Perhaps Ray Dalio said it best with this quote:
My conclusion is similar, that: at work, good money without feeling engaged, or vice versa, is unsustainable in the long-term. But there’s a few caveats on that conclusion.
Firstly, there’s a concept of pay as a ‘hygiene factor’, (popularised by Daniel Pink in his book ‘Drive’). It’s a somewhat contentious theory, but it does align with my own experience.
Pay needs to be ‘good enough’, which is a fuzzy measure. The first thing you need to get over this hurdle is for your pay to meet your personal/family financial needs. I’ll note that many people are doing it tough at the moment, particularly with cost-of-living outpacing wage growth. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, then money is clearly going to be a more urgent priority than mission.
Once your pay is enough to balance the books, ‘good enough’ also means that your pay feels ‘fair’ (e.g. close enough to the market rate for your role/qualifications). Once you’ve ticked off both of these, chasing a bigger pay packet tends to become less important than how engaging you find your work.
Secondly, we all want to work on things we are passionate about and find enjoyable. And work in a culture and environment that aligns perfectly with our own values and style. But in reality, no job is perfect. If you can find work that ticks more than 80% of your boxes, without any personal dealbreakers, you’re doing well. You’re likely to feel engaged, and enjoy your time at work.
In the end, it’s not just about choosing between money and mission but about getting the mix right. Neither extreme is sustainable, so aim to find enough of each.
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