If You Do What You Love, Will the Money Follow?

"I'm making a living doing what I love," she purred. (Note: It was really hard to think of an illustration for this article!)

She called me because she was confused about her next step in her career.

Miriam, a 32-year-old mother of 4, used to work as a personal trainer in a gym. But then she took a few years off to be with her children. Now she is really eager to get back into the work world and she asked me to help her weigh her options.

The discussion went something like this:

MIRIAM: “What I’ve always wanted to do is be a therapist. I’ve always loved to talk to people like that and help them. A friend of mine is doing one of these 1-year training programs where you can get your counseling diploma quick, and I’m thinking about doing the same.”

ME: “That sounds interesting. What is your main goal for your career? Is it to help people, self expression, to make money?”

MIRIAM: “Of course I want to help people, but I need to earn money. I feel so insecure knowing that I’m not helping support my family right now. We need the money, and we are going to need it even more in the future. I know of therapists who are earning $200 an hour. Of course, I don’t expect to earn that much in the early days. Maybe just $60-$70 an hour.”

ME: “That may be possible but I think it can be difficult to attract clients.”

MIRIAM: “I realize that and I don’t expect to walk into a full-time practise. If I had just 10 clients a week, I’d be doing great. Even 5 clients a week would be just fine. I’d be earning $1,400 a month for 20 hours work. That’s more than I earned from personal training!”

ME: “Ummm… Did you enjoy personal training? Did you have good clients?”

MIRIAM: “Yes, I enjoyed it and I liked my clients. But it’s not really what I want to do with my life! I’ve always felt drawn to therapy.”

What would you advise Miriam to do?

Personally I’m quite confused here. There is a part of me that wants to cheer as everyone runs off into the sunset in pursuit of their career destiny. I’d like to be fondly remembered as “one of the few people who believed in me.”

On the other hand, I’ve become Mrs-Realistic-and-Practical over the years. Having kids and a mortgage tends to have a sobering effect on even the most whimsical of dreamers.

But then again, who am I to poo-poo Miriam’s dreams of doing a quickie training program and becoming a sought-after, high-earning therapist? I’m not G-d. I’ve seen more unlikely twists than that in my own career. (One day I’ll tell you the story of how I accidently got hired as a translator by the Supreme Court of Israel while doing my homework for a translation certificate course :) )

And yet…

Naomi’s Rule of Parnasa Pitfalls

I’ve talked to many “Miriams” in my adventures advising people about their parnasa. I am always respectful of the process that each person needs to go through before making a decision. That takes real effort for me. So often people I talk to are choosing between a career option or business opportunity in which they have a high chance of earning a good parnasa, and “what they always wanted to do,” but they lack profesional experience and reliable parnasa potential.

Business ideas involving music, art, creative writing, coaching, alternative healing and “lite” forms of therapy most often play on people’s deeper dreams for making a difference in the world.

Yet, as a rule of thumb, I tend to shy away from any profession that forces you to go-it-alone, with no salaried career oppurtunities to help you through those tough initial stages. These are NOT great for someone who needs to earn real money any time in the next five years. (And forget about MLMs and GRQs – I don’t have any compunction warning people away from them.)

So please don’t tell anyone but I’m secretly biased towards the more solid, “boring” career options. (Unless, of course, you don’t need money. In that case, go for it!)

“But what about my passions?” You may ask me. “What about my dreams?”

Well, I would be the last person on earth to tell you to ignore your dreams, creative talents and passions. They are a gift from G-d, a source of vitality and pleasure for you. However, if you are like most people, your deepest dreams and passions are hard to make money from (or, as we say in the world of the Web, they’re hard to monetize).

Meanwhile, G-d created an imperative to put bread on the table for our families. This seems to be a clear message that working in a job that can earn a decent income is a major priority.

But don’t worry about neglecting your life’s dreams.

They won’t go away.

They will always be with you, tugging at your soul with a yearning to fulfill them.

And though they seem to fade at times, I’ve noticed that they always come back eventually!

But I Hate My Job!

I know from experience that it can be torture to do work that you don’t enjoy. If you hate your work, it’s time to think about a change. Most people I know who are successful with Parnasa are doing lucrative work that they enjoy, or even love. But if you ask them what their true life passion is, they will tell you: “Well, actually it’s making music… or feeding the hungry… or learning Torah… or writing poetry… or energy healing… or counseling people on a crisis hotline.”

They do what they love, the money follows, and they fulfill their life’s purpose on the side.

When living this way, there is always a danger that you will neglect your passion due to the pressures and demands of your paid job, or other responsibilities.

It’s up to you to carve out the time and resouces you need to nurture your dreams. If you are already overstretched, sometimes a pick-axe may be required to do this successfully. But it is possible.

Personally I have found other secret benefits to keeping my dreams on the sidelines. My main income comes from marketing consulting for clients, especially for one main client, a web development company called New Edge Design. I really enjoy this work and I’m maybe even a bit obsessed with it, but it is not my passion in life.

What is my real passion in life? The first thought that comes to mind, as you can probably guess if you have been reading this blog for a while, is helping other people succeed in their parnasa. I could try turn this passion into my main source of income: I could go into HR, or I could get hired by a employment promotion organization, or I could start a head-hunting company, etc. I’ve considered these options seriously from time to time, and they are actually all promising parnasa options. But I’m so glad I did not go in that direction.

Instead I do what I call “Parnasa Strategy” consulting one-on-one on the side. Each month, I help 3-4 professionals and entrepeneurs decide on their next step forward. I’m interested in doing this more in the future, but right now I’m focused on making my main income from web marketing.

And this has two big benefits:

  1. I’m not desperate for clients or earnings. Nothing ruins your passion for your passion like a desperate need to succeed in it, or failure in your attempts to make it “successful.” When it comes to your dreams, your success should be measured by the quality of the experience and not profits (though I do charge money for my consulting services, but not out of a need to survive).
  2. I can do my own thing. In my work as a web marketer, I’m constantly bowing to the requests, opinions and trends of my clients and the market. And that’s fine and normal. But my passion is sacred to me and so much a part of me, and I would hate to have to “fake it” in order to succeed.  This way I can live my passion on my own terms, since I do not need other people to notice me, approve of me, or hire me (though I love it when they do).

But now that I’m thinking, I’m not sure that Parnasa consulting is my true passion, although I love it. Probably my deeper dreams lie in some unidentified territory between writing, public speaking, creative brainstorming, personal development, inspiring people and saving the world. Like most passions, it’s fluid and intangible and not the kind of thing you ever see in a job description.

“Do what you love and the money will follow,” is famous career guidance advice you hear all the time.

I totally agree. Pursue work that you love, that interests you, that you find fascinating and fun… but it doesn’t have to be your lifelong dream and passion.

In my opinion, you’re better off it’s not.

Do you agree?

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  1. says

    I totally agree with your article. I had to work long hours for years to pay US yeshiva tuition for my sons before we made aliyah. (It happens to be that I liked my work, though it was certainly not my passion.)
    “[Your dreams] will always be with you, tugging at your soul with a yearning to fulfill them.” True. We now live in Israel. Our boys are grown. While I have a job here that I like very much, I have the time and the inspiration to do what I love, which is to write a blog in support of Israel and the Jewish people. Apart from the occasional carefully-selected editing job, I do not believe I would ever write for a living. The pressure would take all of the joy out of it for me.

  2. says

    I have mixed (and yet strong) feelings on the topic. I started and ran my own business (which I loved so much I never ever considered it work) and often felt as if I was never making enough money. But if you were to look at my income from that business from a different perspective (ie. If I had been someone with different kinds of bills to pay; different expectations for my lifestyle), you could make a case that I was actually making quite a lot of money. I started a business from nothing — from an idea, from a passion, from a few recommendations from friends. With no start up funding or support. And turned this “nothing” into a thriving business. And yet, I often felt “without” financially. When I compare that phase in my professional life to phases where I held positions in a corporate setting (where I had the safety and comfort of a salaried position, but often sacrificed doing what I love full time), I certainly see the benefits of the “food on the table” ease and security that was missing when I had my own business. In general, I do believe in the “do what you love and the money will follow” philosophy, but I think one needs to take a very holistic and mindful approach to the concept of “what you love.”

    • says

      I hear you Jen. I’m not using this point to advocate a salaried job over your own business. I also run a business and don’t recieve a salary. However the profession I’m in has many opportunities for salaried positions (and sometimes I’m really tempted to just get a job), which means that it’s a safe business to start out in because you can get a salaried job that will build your skills and experience until you get to the point where you can go it alone. So many “dream businesses” don’t include these kind of opportunities.
      Do you still pursue that dream, even though you don’t have a business surrounding it anymore?

  3. says

    I have learned to see the leading of my soul in the form of desires in the area of parnasa and the pressures of earning a living as two sides of the same coin. Both are necessary to make me whole and have value. I believe that we’re not in a “heads or tails?” adventure here, but we are finding our true value through both sides. When I’m engaged in the money-earning activities that may seem mundane, I try to remember that my desire to make a difference in the world will come largely from my integrity and grace as I manage both sides, first within myself and then without.

  4. says

    Setting up your own business – and therapy or anything like it is a business – is a risky endeavour at anytime. Experts say before you hang out a shingle, be prepared with at least (min) 6-months’ worth of living expenses in your savings account. For some businesses, make that a year’s worth.

    You also have to know yourself. Are you the kind of person who can handle the lean times with equanimity, or will you freak out as soon as you don’t make enough one month to cover that month’s expenses? For many people the insecurity of not knowing how much they’re going to make by the end of the month is so stressful it can seriously impact their shalom bayis and patience with their kids. If that’s you – then there’s a lot to be said for the peace of mind a salary check can bring, even it isn’t earned at your “perfect dream” job.

    Btw – I’d advise anyone against quickie degrees if they actually have big expectations of high income in a field like therapy. Sure, therapists can make a lot of money – but those that do are usually the ones with credible degrees, MAs and PhDs. And those don’t come cheap.

    • says

      Thanks Myriam. I was hoping someone else would say that (about the quickie degrees) so that I wouldn’t have to be the one to do it! Many people are getting involved in them and it worries me.

  5. Shoshana says

    Great point. At this point I think no one’s life purpose should be tied so intimately to their
    profession. What if you had no choice and had to chop wood or scrub toilets for a living? Are you now a “failure”? I think as Jews we should know that no matter what you’re DOING, its what you’re BEING that counts in the end.

  6. Debra Walk says

    This post has a lot of meaning for me. Right now I AM doing something I love for my parnasa, and my dream is on its way to becoming more of a hobby or side income. I just never looked at it that way before. Thanks for the new perspective!

  7. Judy Montel says

    I suspect that for many (including me), there probably isn’t just one “real passion”. I love a number of things. Not all can be monetized, certainly not right away. I think that the rules of how and how fast to get into a field vary widely. Especially as we live in times of SUCH rapid change, I think that the kind of conversation you were having with this “Miriam” was entirely theoretical. I would recommend someone like that “shadow” someone already successful in the business of her choice, learn about the pluses and minuses, find a way to try out the field as a volunteer or in a minor way.

    Speaking of which, wouldn’t it be great if we had a mentoring/shadowing program set up for women in business to allow newbies the benefit of a veteran’s experience? A kind of business chevruta? Naomi – does this sound like something doable?

  8. says

    Advance warning – this is long.
    Not easy, this dilemma but let me give you two perspectives from my family.

    My real love is writing. I’ve been a freelance writer since I was about 22years ( a long l time ago) I’ve never stopped writing and being published but it was always a secondary income, or a small income when I was at home with very young babies
    . I ‘learned’ through many correspondence and online courses and am constantly working with either a writing-buddy , mentor or teacher .
    The problem is that it is too unpredictable, or it was for me. I t doesn’t just depend on my ability as a writer, it depends on me being able to sell my work – and as a main income it was too unreliable. And when I started writing, there was only snail-mail which meant that everything took forever.
    My main income was from teaching which I enjoyed but I can’t say I consider myself a ‘born’ teacher .
    But at the time it was the right thing for me I’m sure.
    Now my children are all married Baruch Hashem, and the world of writing has changed so much. It’s much more of my main income. There are online publications and websites needing writers and the choice is far greater than it used to be.

    My daughter is Beis Yaacov educated i.e. she does not even have Bagrut. After she married she trained through the charedi branch of Wingate, to be a personal trainer, which she enjoyed doing but she was also was very limited in the type of places she worked at.
    She is a ’born’ social worker/therapist. Since she was a teenager herself people sent their problem teenagers to talk to her and teachers and principals referred girls to her for guidance and help. She loves helping people and it gives her tremendous satisfaction.

    She knows that to be a social worker means getting Bagrut and one, probably even a second degree and that would take a lot of time and she has a family to help support. Although still young she decided to train as a marriage counselor and has been doing various professional training courses now for about 5 years.
    For the last year or two she has also been working as a counselor, has many private clients and gives workshops. Almost all of these are based on personal recommendations from satisfied clients. But this didn’t happen overnight. To begin with she charged very little in order to get experience and referrals – now her rates are higher.
    Yes it is possible- but it took a lot of work, a lot of ongoing training and even now some places are closed to her as she has no formal educational qualifications.

    Does Miriam know anyone who has done this quick course and is now a successful therapist? I think she would need to ask herself why should someone come to her for therapy if there are other far more qualified, experienced therapists and she just has a ‘quick’ qualification .
    Yes you can go for your dream but I think you have to be prepared to work hard for it. And I don’t think you can expect to suddenly earn a high rate just because you want to. You need to be able to convince clients / customers that you are the best person for them – and that , I think, takes time and experience.

    • says

      I totally agree with you about the dedication required to succeed in a therapy career, Ann. It is amazing that your daughter is gradually building a successful career in this area. Baruch Hashem she sounds truly gifted. G-d willing, she may have the option of getting formal qualifiations later down the track.
      Most successful therapists invest countless hours and dollars in qualifications, advanced training, supervision, and travelling to learn from top teachers – over a period of many years. This is true of most therepeutic fields, not just “talk therapy.”
      Thanks for your comment Ann!

  9. says

    In starting any business there are many rules, regulations and expenses to cover, before any money comes in, including all service providers. We still have to work out my consultation Naomi.

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