Balancing Career Satisfaction With Financial Security

Earlier this week, I attended a career development seminar that talked about how to find a satisfying career. In general, this was a pretty low-level presentation, and it was largely based on a diagram similar to the following:

This got me thinking: is this simple graph really the key to “having it all?” What’s the actual balance between being happy in your job and also feeling secure in your finances?

Breaking it down

Simply stated, we each have a unique set of passions/interests as well as a certain skill set. At the same time, life presents us with a more-or-less limited range of opportunities.

Resource: Top 5 Financial Moves to Make This Year

While our passions sometimes overlap with our skills, that’s not always the case. Likewise, we’re sometimes presented with an opportunity to work in a field that we’re passionate about, or for which our skill set is particularly well-suited, but…

It’s relatively uncommon for all three to overlap. When they do, the thinking goes: you’ve hit the jackpot. You’ve been presented with an opportunity to work in a field that you’re not only passionate about, but also particularly well-suited for when it comes to the necessary skills. How perfect!

That’s all well and good, but it leaves out a major variable: Compensation.

What about financial security?

One of the big problems with feel-good career advice such as this is that it often ignores financial realities. Sure, it would be wonderful if we could all work jobs that we love, and in which we excel, but the truth is that we also have to support ourselves financially.

Sometimes, the careers that pay the bills and buy the lifestyle we need/want aren’t the same ones that make us jump out of bed, ready to clock in for the day.

Numerous personal development gurus have argued that if you follow your passion, the money will follow. This sounds great in principle, but how true is it in practice?

I’d argue that this worldview is wildly overblown. There are tons of fulfilling jobs out there that won’t pay the bills, no matter how strong your passion may be.

Resource: 10 Steps on the Career Ladder

This isn’t to say that you should chase money over happiness, but you do need to make sure that you can make ends meet. In my opinion, blindly following a passion in hopes that things will magically work out is a recipe for disaster.

Questions to ask

Unless you’re one of those wildly blessed folks who manages to find the seven-figure job that they’re [perfectly suited for and love, you’ll need to find a balance. And balance almost always involves some sacrifice.

Figure out what is the most important to you, and make adjustments accordingly. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to support an expensive lifestyle, or retire early? Maybe you would rather be happy and have a fulfilling family life, even if it means that you don’t drive a brand new car.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself honestly, when trying to find your own perfect balance:

  • What is the bare minimum you need to make in order to meet your true needs (not wants)?
  • How much would you like to make, in order to support a wants-based lifestyle?
  • Are you more concerned with building a family and your life outside of work, or building your career?
  • What is the likelihood of turning your skills or passions into an actual career?
  • If you can’t turn your passion(s) into a career, can you create a side hustle from them?
  • How will your happiness be affected if your dream job doesn’t turn out to be your career?
  • How would your happiness be affected if you made $X a year? More? Less?

Related: How to Prepare to Shift Into a New Career

Asking yourself these questions may help you determine where your own, unique level of happiness lies, especially as it relates to your career.

No, we won’t all be the lucky ones that turn a fun passion into our dream job and rake in six or seven figures in the process. However, that doesn’t mean that we are all forced to settle for miserable careers or even low-paying jobs.

Finding a balance of career satisfaction and financial security may be tricky. By asking yourself a few key questions, though — and doing a little soul-searching — you might just discover your own “dream job.”

10 Responses to “Balancing Career Satisfaction With Financial Security”

  1. livelovelaugh

    Life put me into a situation that it’s like I had to jump the cliff. What I had is the faith that I will have wings after I jump. Back in my college year, I took a Basic computer language class. It was a disaster. I absolutely had no idea after the semester. What the whole experience left me is the fear and defeated feeling. Glad it was not my major anyway and I don’t have to touch this field anymore in my life…I thought. I came to this country because of the burning desire of life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Back in mid 1990’s, software engineering job will almost guarantee a good paid job and the opportunity to stay in this great country. It’s a very hard decision. I enrolled in software programming graduate program. At the time, the fear is like jumping the cliff. To my surprise, I started to like it one year into the study. To this day, it’s the best investment I made. $24,000 tuition for two years, I made close to 2M in 19 years career. It is still going strong. I am a believer of a second chance.

  2. Anonymous


    A) My job (based on a government contract) will end sometime between March – June of 2011. Continued employment with the company after the end of the contract is not guaranteed, i.e. there is not a new contract waiting to replace the ending contract.

    B) My wife’s job is higher paying than mine.

    C) The city my wife lives in is significantly closer to both our families (where we are able to drive in one day to see them, as opposed to flying from my city).

  3. Anonymous

    I have a job that I love now. The money is not great, however, I have found that it is more consistant. I do not call in sick as often. Vacations are not as nesessary, I want to be here. I simply needed to modify my budget to match.
    I would agree with Brian that compensation is included in the opportunities circle. I think I would also argue that opportunity without passion is a recipe for disaster. How long can one survive and do well in a job they hate?

  4. Anonymous

    I’d argue that compensation is included in the opportunities circle. Is it really a good opportunity if you can’t support yourself financially?

  5. Anonymous

    I heard a saying once that the perfect job is one that you enjoy so much, you would do it for free. But you are so good at it that people don’t mind paying you. I actually had that job for a while.

  6. Anonymous

    The way I see it, Opportunities in the above diagram should also include compensation, otherwise it isn’t a great opportunity. Just depends on how you want to look at it.

    It’s like the old phrase, “I get to work on my hobby AND get paid for it!”

  7. Anonymous

    This is exactly the situation I face. I already hold a position I enjoy and went to school for (so I am “skilled”). By the diagram, I am in the red.

    However, the diagram does not account for the fact that my job is 1000 miles away from where my wife lives and works, and has a higher compensation than a job in my wife’s city.

    Every day, I’m facing the dilemma – do I continue working at this great, compensated job, at the price of not living/seeing my wife? How would one diagram that?

  8. Anonymous

    I have seen this graph before and it does paint an ideal picture of where you need to be. However, I get the feeling that many people are not there for one reason or the other. At present many people maybe afraid to search for new jobs based on the economic conditions. Also, some people stay at jobs because of benefits, even though the job may not be perfect.

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