Should You Chase The Dream Or The Money?

What happens when your passion doesn't pay the bills?

I’m faced with one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make: stay in a job I absolutely adore but accept that as long as I’m in Dublin I’ll never be able to own a home, or relocate somewhere cheaper but accept that I may have to work a job I don’t love just as much.” I’m talking to Ciara*, 30, a graphic designer, who’s working what she describes as her dream job, but struggling to make ends meet.

“At this point in my life I really thought I’d be at a point where I could afford to buy a home or get married,” she explains. “I really thought if I worked hard enough and followed my passion the money would follow but that hasn’t been the case. I’m living paycheck to paycheck and I see no solid plan for the future. It’s either stick with the ‘dream’ but accept that I’ll probably never be able to afford a house, or go for a good pensionable job that allows me to pay the bills. It breaks my heart that it’s come to this, but I see no other solution.”

Ciara is like countless women up and down the country feeling the squeeze due to rising living costs and finding their dream career isn’t necessarily one that covers the essentials, let alone the luxuries.

Aoife* works in radio and finds herself in a similar predicament. “I’m working my absolute dream job at the minute – I’m presenting my own radio show and I absolutely love it!” she tells me. “I’ve wanted to be on radio since I was about 10 years old and I still pinch myself sometimes, but I’m struggling to save any bit of money at all. I think most people have this misconception that in radio you’re minted but it couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m living from paycheck to paycheck. I rent in Dublin but commute so my fuel costs are high and every month, without fail, I dip into the overdraft. I don’t think I’ve had savings since my Communion days. It’s just not feasible on my current wage.”

Still, Aoife admits that, for her, the joy of doing what she loves outweighs the struggle. “We spend most of our days working and I’d rather make sure those days are spent doing something I truly love. I’m 24 and single so it’s probably the best time in my life to just work my arse off and pursue this passion.”

If I start thinking about marriage and kids in my future, I may have to give up this career and that completely terrifies me but luckily, that’s not something I’ve had to worry about yet.”

Unfortunately, it is a worry for some people. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Ireland seems on the brink of a mass exodus right now, with countless young professionals relocating for better job opportunities and cheaper living costs, squeezed out by high rents and the increasing expense of living here. Living the dream is great, but it isn’t so fun if you’re living hand to mouth, struggling to make rent and worrying about the future. Job fulfillment may be crucial for our happiness, but it doesn’t always pay the bills, and while money certainly can’t buy happiness it can buy you stability.

It can help you support a family, buy a house and lead a fulfilling lifestyle and really, aren’t these things the very reason we work in the first place? Don’t we work so that we can have security and get enjoyment out of life?

“I always thought that if I worked hard enough, the money would come. It’s so disheartening that even though I’ve worked my way up and done really well in a job I love that I still can’t afford to put money away for the future,” says Ciara. “I want to be able to get married and own a home but at the minute it seems like I need to be able to choose between the two: my dream job or a stable future.”

So what’s the solution? Paula Coogan, a life and career coach ( says this is a problem more and more clients are coming to her with, and while she can’t advise them what to do, she has a strategy for helping them identify what it is they truly want. For her, when it comes to your dream job or one that pays better, there’s no right or wrong choice, it’s about tapping into your own innate values.

“When working with a client, we would look deeply into their values so that we really understand them, we’d look at who they want to be and what they want to do, have and experience in the next say two to five years and we’d look at how to get there. It all comes down to wellbeing. If you’re in your dream job, and you are stressed about finances, then something needs to change, but likewise if you’re in a job that sucks the life out of you but you’re paid an absolute fortune, something also needs change.”

Bottom line, it all comes down to this, explains Paula. Ideally, “meaningful work honours our values, it allows us to be and express ourselves so that we make a contribution; it’s having access to a tribe of ‘your’ people who will support your dreams; and it is financially viable given your desired lifestyle. In my experience, finding meaningful work is always a balancing act. You have to balance each of these four parts and make a decision about what your priorities are.”

Niamh*, an office worker, provides another interesting point of view: just because you’re working a job that isn’t necessarily your first pick of career, doesn’t mean you’re miserable. “What about those of us still doing the 9-5?” she asks. “I would love to be in a job where I can let my creativity flow. I regularly think about alternatives, different career path, going back to college, setting up the side business… then, when I sit back and think about it, the truth is I do actually like my job.”

I love the people I work with. I like the regular paycheck. I like that it has allowed me to buy a house with my partner so that we can make a home together. I like that I can buy food, pay bills and plan for the future, even if planning is something as boring as saving for a rainy day.”

For Niamh it all comes down to understanding what we actually need in life to be happy. “The 9-5 jobs still have to be done. They still have to be done by people willing to give them 100percent. They may not be ‘cool’ dream jobs but they are important. For us, they allow us to be financially secure, so that we may be creative to do what we love in our own time.”

So should you chase the dream or the money? Or hope that maybe you’ll be lucky enough to be able to combine the two? There’s no right answer, but it all comes down to this: do you want to do what you love or build a lifestyle you love? If you can answer that, you’re half way there.

*Names have been changed


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