When What You Love Doesn’t Pay Enough

According to an April 2015 survey done by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 86% of Americans are satisfied and engaged by their current job. This is a change from the consistent downward trend in job satisfaction that occurred from 2009-2013. The recent rise in job satisfaction is a comfort to some; namely researchers, economists, and management professionals, but what about those who are part of that 14% who are not satisfied with their jobs?

We’re all familiar with the saying “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I happen to love doing stand-up. I’d love nothing more but to devote my energy to it, but there’s one tiny problem. Since I started in January of 2015 I have yet to get paid gig that didn’t involve passing a tip jar around. I know patience is a virtue and if you have a job you should count yourself lucky. However it’s pretty tough to stay patient and feel lucky when you have to wake up every weekday morning, fight swear-worthy traffic, and drag yourself to a job your heart isn’t really in. I know a lot of people who feel the same. I have friends who are talented artists, crafters, bakers, musicians, and filmmakers that are working in corporate jobs, retail jobs, or as baristas. It’s not just artistic people who are part of the 14% crowd. There are people in the corporate world who have MBAs in Finance but work in menial middle management positions or people who are qualified to work in HR but work in Finance, etc.

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Being part of the 14% crowd is hard and the input we receive from people doesn’t help. There’s a tendency for people in the 86% crowd, no matter how well-meaning they may be, to give advice that is often unsolicited, sounds judgmental, or is just plain bad.  They may say things like “Why don’t you give up on X and focus on Y?”, “You’re so good at blah and yada yada. Why don’t you try pursuing blah or yada yada?”, or “You should do (insert thing here).”

Asking someone to give up their passion is like saying, “Give up breathing.” That other thing you’re suggesting may be harder to get into than the passion the person’s pursuing in the first place. As for the “you should,” you should consider learning how to provide helpful input that doesn’t sound like a directive. We Americans tend to have a very independent spirit which is great, but it means that most of us tend to hate feeling like we’re being told what to do. If the advice you’re offering someone is solicited, it’s a good idea to phrase it as a question and reiterate that you’re trying to be helpful (e.g. Have you considered doing (insert thing here)? It may help you.). If you’re offering someone unsolicited advice, you might want to keep it to yourself. People find unsolicited advice annoying. If someone tells you they’re not interested in what you’re suggesting, let it go. Don’t nag them or try to push them to think the way you do.

If you have a friend or family member in the 14% and they’re venting to you, don’t be dismissive. If you can’t listen politely, say that you’re not comfortable with the topic of discussion and suggest a change to something you know makes them happy to help them forget about things for a while.

If you’re part of the 14%, be patient with others. When people try to give you advice, be gentle. I know unsolicited advice can be annoying, but the fact that someone’s taking time to give you advice shows that they care. If you asked for advice take it graciously. You’re the one who asked. If you don’t like the answer, it’s your problem.

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Be patient with yourself. If you’re living with your parents’ and doing what you love for free, you’re sticking to your principles and not giving up. If you’re holding down a job and still devoting time to what you love, you’re exercising a lot of responsibility. Don’t get so wrapped up in the boring day to day that you forget your purpose. Pat yourself on the back because you’re handling this adulting business much better than you think.

Most importantly, do not under any circumstances give up. I know how hard it can be not to give in to the pressure placed on you to give up on your passion. I routinely catch myself thinking of quitting and working a “regular” job just to shut people up. The idea of stability appeals to us, but believe me no amount of stability is worth giving up your dreams. Helen Keller said that “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.” Few things that are worth doing aren’t at least a little bit scary. No one has ever grown without stepping outside of their comfort zone. If your comfort comes at the price of pursuing your passion then comfort is overrated.

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Margaret Atwood once said that part of the reason she writes is to “show the bastards.” How are you ever going to show the bastards aka the haters if you give up? If you give up, the bastards win and we cannot let the bastards win! If you keep going, doors will open for you. I’ve become part of an amazing community of comics. I’ve given and received awesome support and I know that if I stop now that big opportunity I’m waiting for is never going to come. In order to see your ship come in, you have to be standing on the dock.

If you give up now, you’ll always have that “what if?” That, my friends is called regret and you don’t want that. Lastly I promise you that when, not if we finally make it, I’ll be clapping for you. Stay strong and never give up. Never give in.

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