4 Tips for When Your Dream Job Doesn’t Pay Enough

UPDATED: August 21, 2017
PUBLISHED: August 21, 2017

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to be gainfully employed in the field of your dreams, you’ve had a taste of the fulfillment that comes with doing what you love for a living.

Related: How to Make Your Passion Your Profession

I had that experience when I landed my dream job performing in a multimillion-dollar musical at Madison Square Garden in New York City. I was so enthralled with the production and everyone I was working with that I didn’t think twice about contracts or pay. And then it came: $542 a week (before taxes, union dues and agent fees). It couldn’t be right. This was my dream job.

We are willing to compromise everything, including the ability to meet our basic needs, to continue working in a field we’re passionate about. But if we continue to negotiate the things we need, proper and fair payment being chief among them, we can lose the freedom to pursue the lives and careers we love altogether.

The real danger in doing what you love for a living is liking your job so much that you’re willing to compromise what your time is worth to continue doing it.

If we can begin to accept that doing what we love for a living is part of our passion and not the singular definition of it, we can begin to think more creatively and holistically about how to build lifestyles that reflect all of our values and priorities.

Here are some steps to get started.

1. Design your dream life in every domain.

We’ve all spent time contemplating our dream jobs, imagining what it would look and feel like to do what makes us excited full time.

Be sure to apply that same level of careful consideration to all of your lifestyle domains: relationships, family, health and finances.

As you uncover what matters most to you, you’ll be able to give consideration to all of your values rather than blindly pushing toward your career goals without consideration for your other priorities.

Related: The Best Career Advice, From Successful People Who Made It to the Top

2. Consider your motives.

As you review your goals, think about the reasons behind them.

For example, if my goal is to be in a Broadway show, my reason might be the validation of being on Broadway or the thrill of performing in New York City.

When I look at those motives though, they’re not particularly compelling. They’re ego-driven and shaped by the expectations of others.

Generally speaking, goals that work long term are based on your values, grounded in your desired feelings and largely within your control.

3. Refine your dream.

If you find that some of your goals are weak, either cross them off your list or think about ways you can transform them into stronger goals.

This will give you an opportunity to consider new goals that better align with your motives.

In my case, starting my own business enabled me to have the financial stability I craved while providing the flexibility I needed to pursue performing on my own terms, without compromising personal pursuits like travel or spending time with friends and family.

By considering all my lifestyle priorities, I was able to uncover more sustainable and fulfilling approaches to my career.

4. Ditch the either/or approach.

Entertaining and exploring new approaches to career goals doesn’t mean giving up on them. Saying yes to non-career priorities like family and flexibility doesn’t mean saying no to professional fulfillment and doing what we love.

Research shows people who make progress every day toward something they care about report being satisfied and fulfilled. Even if what you love isn’t what you do full time, working on your passion a little bit each day (even if it’s just 15 minutes) can still generate feelings of fulfillment.

Related: 4 Ways to Find Passion and Purpose in Your Life


This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

Stefanie O’Connell is a financial expert, Gen Y advocate, speaker and author of the book, The Broke and Beautiful Life.