Quora: Should I Choose a Career for Money or Happiness?

Whether to choose a career that pays well or a career that brings you fulfillment is the million-dollar question in every professional’s life. We turn to the Quora community to see what they have to say about going after dollars or sense.

fork in the road

(Photo Credit: sacks08/Flickr)

“At age 25, would you pursue a good paying corporate job that makes you unhappy or a hobby that makes you happy but has no guarantee to pay the bills?”

Question originally posted on Quora in Career Advice.

We’ve all heard it a million times, “Follow your dreams and the money will follow.” But is that always the case? What about when your dreams become boring after you’ve followed, or when the money isn’t good enough? Quora members Oliver Emberton and Jane Chin dish out some sound advice below about what path to choose when you’re at the beginning of your career.

Oliver Emberton, founder of Skilltide, suggests that a successful life is about eliminating the need to make “this a big salary decision and start taking lots of continuous small steps” towards something you love doing. Most people miss their opportunity to follow their dreams (or any dreams, for that matter) because they’re too fearful of taking the first couple steps.

“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears. – Les Brown

What’s the solution? From Emberton’s perspective, it’s to always be closing the gap between where you are now and where you want to be. He provides four solid and realistic options for how to bridge the gap in your search for a career path:

1. Start up a small business in your evenings

2. Ask your boss what you could do for them to get promoted

3. Teach yourself a new skill that interests you

4. Write a blog or a book

Some words of encouragement from Emberton are, “Some steps will lead to greater things. Others will be dead ends. But as long as you sit feeling paralyzed, I can assure you nothing will change at all.”

Get out there and start somewhere – take a step, a hop, a leap, or a plunge – but, whatever it is, just do something!

Jane Chin, Managing Partner at MSL International, takes a more subjective approach to the question by looking to her younger self (she’s currently 41) when providing her answers to the million dollar question. Chin gives four examples below from different years (1999 – 2013) in her life and explains what she’s learned from each phase:

[1999] – “When you start out, you will think about money, and how much you make.” Chin emphasizes the importance of paying off school loans first and building a savings simultaneously. After college, you will enter the working world with ample school loans to pay off, which will help you understand the value of having a well-paying job.

[2004] – “At some point, you will gain the privilege to choose between money or a cause.” Chin explains that there will come a point in your career where you are earning a nice income but a true passion seeps in and forces you to make the decision to leave your 6-figure job for “bliss” or stay. For her, the decision was to quit the 9-to-5 and follow her dreams, which ended up teaching her that all good things, even in your career, must come to an end.

[2009] – “Eventually you will learn that what made you ‘happy’ can, and will change.” Your dreams will become exhausting, no matter how financially rewarding they may be. You will get stuck doing the monotonous work that turns your passions into work, sucking out most of the pleasure you once got from them. Chin stresses that what you consider fulfilling now can and will change over time, and that following your dreams can lead to boredom.

[2013] – “Now you will feel lost. How can this be?! You are in your 40s, you are middle-aged! You know less now what you want to do with your life than when you started!” By now, you should have experienced the good and bad of earning great money, living out your dreams, and coming to a fork in the road where you’re forced to make the decision of which path to follow. As Chin points out, the decision will still be just as ambiguous, scary, and dumbfounding as the day you started out.

What’s the happy ending or glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for Chin? It’s about fighting the good fight and finding joy in the good and the bad, especially the bad because, as Chin attests:

"Some silver bullets hide in piles of dung, undiscovered. Because few people stick around long enough to dig through sh*t.”

Tell Us What You Think

Have you been faced with the decision to go after your dreams or bring home the bacon? Share your story on Twitter or in the comments section below.


  1. 5 Heath 11 May
    Erik, from someone in law enforcement for over 16 years, take a different route. If you are big on weekends, holidays, family time, do something else. You be happy you did in the long run, I was the same as you, and now I wish I took a better route after missing christmas and baseball games and parties that I will never get back. Do something you feel passionate about, closer to nature. There are better ways to help your community than public safety jobs, keep searching and you'll find it. And even once you think you found it, its not too late to change careers again.
  2. 4 Erik 20 Jul
    I am 16 and am currently in a firefighter explorer program. I thought about being a firefighter a couple years before joining the program. I guess what got me was that a friend of my parents was a firefighter and he has a huge house and nice car. I began talking to him about his job and what ways that I could pursue a career as a firefighter. Many of my family members thought a career as a firefighter was a great idea because of the great pay and benefits they receive as well as an early retirement. So once I found out about the explorer program I quickly joined. Although now I feel as if I made a bad choice in pursuing this career. I have been in the program for three weeks and feel less and less interested in this career. However I don't want to drop out of the program and later regret all the money I could have made if I had stayed and became a firefighter. I am don't know what to do any I am really stressed out. If anyone can give me advice I would really appreciate it. Thanks.
  3. 3 Bob 12 Jan
    What reasons did you have for following your dreams? Nipun?
  4. 2 Nipun 17 Nov
    Well said. I will share my story. I am a software engineer and always had a passion for coding. Right from my initial days, I got a high earning job but when it came to work satisfaction it was never there. I following the money path changed my job for a highly rewarding job in terms of money, After probably working for 2 yrs I started realising that one thing which I enjoyed most in life, I have completely lost. I could not see myself anywhere 5 yrs down the line apart from having a sound bank balance, big car and my own house. I realised after working 5 yrs in the industry under big banners that its not money, its your interest which can drive you in your career. I got an opportunity in my interest job but the pay was not even half of what I was getting in the renowned company. Now I had to choose between the two - money or interest?. I will tel u its a very difficult decision to take when you have a family to feed. I took opinions from a lot of people including my family, relatives, friends and ofcourse quora. 90% of them said you should continue with the current job and only 10% of them told me to switch job. When you are in front of 2 pathways which are opposite to each other, I will suggest you follow the heart. I followed my heart and took the new job with less salary. Its been 1 yr now in the new company and looking back, I will always admire my decision. I would have always regretted if I would have stayed in the company. After 1 yr I see myself much more motivated, confident and intellectual as well as passionate to do things than 1 yr back with no bank balance but satisfaction I will always suggest people to follow their passion, no matter, how difficult it may be. I can assure you that it will be rewarding and when you look back you will not regret, Doing something and losing is always better than not doing.
  5. 1 Ryan Bonaparte 24 Sep

    I especially like Oliver's idea of making small steps towards your ideal of following your dreams. As was stated, it's these small steps that add up to something worthwhile.

    Something I found in the interviews I did for my book was that people who are doing things that they are passionate about, usually found it through experience. And experience only comes through trying new things. So the more things you try, the more likely you are to find a career that fits both your passions and financial desires.

    Approaching this search creatively, not just the usual career paths, also helps to make working your passion a real possibility and not just a pipe dream. 


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