A Straight Talk On Working For Passion vs. Money

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“Life is like Google. You just need to know what you are searching for.”

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Singapore_CBD_skyline_from_Esplanade_at_duskAt one of the companies I used to work for, there was once a dialogue in the office between the associates and a representative of the management team. Various matters were discussed, including the direction of the company for the year ahead, to employee-related matters including opportunities within the firm, as well as (you guessed it), remuneration. 

One of my peers, a straight talker, posed a question about the perceived inadequacy of salaries at the junior levels in relation to the amount of hours that we had to put in. It can reach beyond 60 to 70 hours per week during peak periods. (In retrospect, we believe that inadequacy of salaries is pretty much pervasive across this entire organization. Thanks, Glassdoor & Payscale.)

To which the management replied that we have to work for just passion. Money shouldn’t even be a concern. If we wanted to continue working in this organization, we have to do so just for passion. Okay, sure… To be fair, I have heard of various other organizations from friends of mine that also espouse this view.

I’ve been thinking for a long time about this topic, and I’ve also seen lots of articles on the net about this highly controversial and divisive topic. Should we work for passion or money? There are tonnes of arguments on both sides of the aisle, fully decked with anecdotal evidence of individuals who have elected either the ‘money’ or the ‘passion’ route and have found success.

Based on these accounts, friends of mine and especially my own experiences, here’s my take on this topic:

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1. They Said We Can Choose Either Passion or Money. No, It’s A False Dichotomy. 

I recently met up with an old friend who worked in equity research – he loves his job, can’t stop talking passionately about investments even outside of working hours and he’s paid a handsome pile of cash for his contributions to his organization.

It’s a false dichotomy to believe that one should either work for just passion OR money. It pushes a false narrative that people can’t find employment that simultaneously:

  • Fits the core business interests of an employee, as well as
  • Offer remuneration packages that are commensurate to the individual’s performance/the industry/closely related job functions

Many of us in the room that day heard the argument clearly. Some believed the notion wholeheartedly. Some didn’t, thought it was an asinine point and in due time, left the organization. Some went on to ply our trades at various Fortune 500 employers or other decent organizations. 

Some of us met up and have discussed extensively about our new employers. We contended that there are plenty of opportunities out there which can fit our core business interests, develop us professionally and of course, reward us with attractive compensation packages.

Of course, there are trade-offs as well.

None of us will assert that there’s an ideal job out there. (nothing in life is perfect) There are pros and cons in every organization and industry. However, it’s disingenuous for these bosses to craft a narrative that one can only pursue either passion or money.

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2. They Threw A Red Herring To Distract Us.

Red herring: a clue or piece of information which is or is intended to be misleading or distracting.

I thought it was strange that a question about salaries was answered by a discussion of passion towards the work itself. And a buddy of mine and myself arrived at the conclusion that it’s little more than just a red herring.

When one of our peers questioned the perceived inadequacy of salaries, we would have expected the management to have provided some form of clarity on how they derived the pay-scale:

  • Were we competitive against the industry/other industries which also offered similar job roles? 
  • Which organizations did we compare ourselves against? Was that benchmark exhaustive and equitable?

Rather than addressing our query head-on and perhaps debunking any misconceptions, they chose instead to throw the question back to us to evaluate our own work values. Whut?

But in retrospect, many of us realized we couldn’t hold it against them. The harsh reality is that the management teams in some companies can’t or won’t address this issue. With the situation that I was in and to the best of my knowledge, the management team that we interacted with didn’t call the shots on this. This goes back to the very top. 

Conscious that there was no solution to be offered, they threw a red herring to distract us from the real issue. 

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3. They Tried To Assert Their Values & Beliefs On Others.

A head hunter once asked me if my salary expectations for a potential role were negotiable. I said no. She asked me why remuneration was so important, and even mentioned that she didn’t want to ‘help people to change jobs just because of money.’ Money isn’t everything, she argued. 

I replied that I agreed with her. A role that fits my professional interests is important to me. But compensation is a key aspect that shouldn’t be trivialized. 

I went on to ask her: “If I were to hypothetically reduce your base pay and sales commissions by 30%, will you still stay in this company, or find an alternative employer who can offer you a similar role that you like, and is also willing to value your efforts more?”

She kept quiet. 

Different individuals possess different work values. Some work for money. Some work for passion. Some are passionate about money. 🙂

The point is, we should all be free to pursue our own choices in accordance with our own values and priorities.

Whether we wish to work for passion or money, or strive to seek a balance between the two, the choice is ultimately ours to make. No employer or recruiter can make that choice for us. What makes one happy may not make another happy. 

The issue arises when some people assume some sort of moral superiority and start to assert their own beliefs and values over others. 

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In summary, here are some insights I’ve gleaned from my experiences and others since entering the workforce:

– Folks in management are also employees themselves. Sometimes, they won’t or can’t change our situation (or even their own) and it’s important for us to acknowledge that.

– Some battles cannot be won. We have to pick and choose which ones to fight. Bad fit between employee and employer is common. There isn’t a point fighting it. Just work hard to seek an employer which embraces a culture and values which fit ours.

– Be mindful that not everything professed by more experienced colleagues is necessarily the gospel truth. Even if the colleagues have no ill-intentions, they may not have the most balanced perspectives. A frog which has stayed in the well for the longest time won’t know anything about the world out there to advise us on it, and he can find all sorts of reasons to justify not venturing out to explore the world. Perhaps his warnings are well-founded. Perhaps he’s comfortable being in the well. Perhaps he ain’t good enough to jump out of the well in the first place. Who knows?

– If we do not make a Choice to take a Chance, our lives will never Change.

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Cheers,

Nicholas.

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