Another comment on doing what you love

There’s a balance to doing what you love. In economics, it’s called compensating differentials. The more you love your job, the less they have to pay you to get you to do it.

I’m not sure that the recommendation to do what you love is necessarily a myth, but that maybe it should be “do what you love up to some extent so long as you’re willing to make the sacrifices entailed … you could also do what you like if it helps you get a lifestyle you prefer, or even what you hate if it’s for a short enough time and allows to to become financially independent so you can eventually do what you love”.  That’s a mouthful, though.

You can be an artist if you are talented and willing to make other sacrifices or have other support — if your view of “enough” is small, if you have family support, if you have a lot of money in the bank creating its own income, if you don’t mind working in whatever situation you can, if you’ve got a different day job. And if you’re from a working class background and deciding between being an artist or working minimum wage jobs… well, might as well do what you love. Not everybody is willing to be a nurse or an accountant, even for more money. You can do what you love, but maybe not as a full-time day job and generally not for a lot of money since a lot of talented people seem to love the same things.

I do come from the middle class and do have a very different idea of the value of education than my husband’s working class family. For me, college was always about the consumption value, the coming of age experience, becoming a more cultured person. I went to a small liberal arts college. My major didn’t matter– I would gain critical thinking skills in whatever discipline I enjoyed and quite possibly do something entirely different once I graduated. Turns out I enjoyed some pretty marketable stuff, but it could have easily gone a different path had I chosen linguistics instead of my field as my second major.

When it came to graduate school, I did look at what was marketable– my field made a lot more sense than math in terms of opportunity costs of time, and future employment and salary, given my interests in the intersection between the two, it was an obvious choice which to pursue (not math).

My husband took a different path. His parents decided he was good at math and science and should become an engineer if he didn’t want to be a doctor. He started with an engineering major right away at a big university. In the end, both paths seemed to work for us, and if they haven’t there’s still plenty of time to change.

I’ve never really thought of my future career as being defined by what I majored in in college. And really, even in my PhD program there were plenty of people who had majored in things other than my field, but chose to get their training in graduate school instead after working in the real world and developing new interests. It is never too late to switch.

#2 chimes in:  I, too, come from privilege.  My father has a PhD.  When I was in high school, he actively discouraged the view of university-as-trade-school, and encouraged the liberal arts.  I went to grad school for what I love, only because I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.

What do you think the purpose of higher education is?  How does your family background affect that view?

30 Responses to “Another comment on doing what you love”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    I am more like your husband..and took the same path. Babci never got passed grammar school, so her only advice is to have a job that was in an office and not in a factory.

    She worked in a dirty, dangerous factory and came home every night covered in oil. She always smelled of oil even after bathing. She would look at the secretaries at work, dressed nicely, sitting at a quiet and clean desk and that is what she wanted for me.

    Luckily my teacher in high school talked me out of the secretary path, so engineering it was.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My father (the immigrant, not the PhD) is always astounded at how well my sister and I are doing. He even tried to convince my sister to get a loan for a fancy new car her first year on the high-powered engineering job with the fancy company, which is unheard of for him (in the end, she stuck true to our upbringing and waited until she could pay in full for a modest new mini-cooper). But he let my middle-class American mom be the guide for our educational upbringing.

  2. danserval Says:

    Am I right in assuming that you guys are deliberately not sharing your chosen fields of study?

  3. Roshawn @ Watson Inc Says:

    “do what you love up to some extent so long as you’re willing to make the sacrifices entailed … you could also do what you like if it helps you get a lifestyle you prefer, or even what you hate if it’s for a short enough time and allows to to become financially independent so you can eventually do what you love”.

    That doesn’t quite have the same ring to it….bite size = more catchy :)

    With respect to your question about the purpose of higher education, one aim is hopefully to become a better (more rounded) person.

  4. Lindy Mint Says:

    My husband is a musician. He calls the phenomenon of being payed less for what you love as the “fun to money ratio.” The fun gigs are the one that pay peanuts. The money gigs are the ones where he plays “Brick House for bucks.”

    Okay, my comment is not related to college, but there you go :)

  5. Grace Says:

    This topic is so damn relevant to me! My working class parents just wanted me to finish college, but after that, there was zero pressure as to what to do with the degree. I went to grad school and got a further degree in a high-earning occupation. But I turned left and went into the world of non-profits. Every time I attend a reunion, I am reminded of why I did that–I LOVE my work. I am so much more contented in the workplace than most of the folks I went to school with. Of course, I’m less contented on the financial front, but my family was supportive–I still make much more than my parents ever did. But there are some sacrifices I am unwilling to make. My hobby is writing Science Fiction. I hang out with writers who make that their full time occupation. But I was never willing to accept the hand-to-mouth financial world that is the lot of many writers (nor was I willing to forego having children, which many of my writer friends have). Hence, my writing is a hobby and their writing is their life. That’s the choice we each make individually.

  6. eemusings Says:

    I’m staunchly middle class and Asian – uni was not really a choice. But I was probably the first one in my family ever to do comms rather than accounting/engineering/law/med.

    The bf is def. from working class (nonworking?) family. Nobody has ever gone to uni. We’ll be happy if the kids decide on either a trade or uni (or entrepreneurship perhaps).

  7. Money Reasons Says:

    My family is full of entrepreneurs. But when my younger sister and I went to college, we both focused on a degree that could be used to find a job after graduation.

    My grandparents and parents pushed my sister and I into getting a profession instead of being small business owner like them.

    Neither my sister or I work near as long or as hard as my parents and grandparent do/did.

    So for us, it was a tickets to a better jobs and work that wasn’t so demanding…

    I see the benefits in going to college and it did enable me to develop in ways that high school coudn’t…

    Perhaps that’s why I started my kids 529 plans so early! ;)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think we always had the luxury of knowing that whatever we did it would be professional. We weren’t going to be trapped in a menial job or an entrepreneurial job, so it didn’t function as a ticket to something we were going to be getting anyway. Plus we had family to rely on if things didn’t go as planned.

      529s are pretty awesome.

  8. Everyday Tips Says:

    I am from a working class family, and my brothers and I were the first ones to go to college. All 3 of us paid every dime, so college for me was spent trying to not only learn, but make ends meet. It was definitely a struggle that really defined who I am today.

    My undergrad degree is in finance with an MBA in Materials/Logistics Management, so I knew I could get a job in a variety of fields.

    To answer your question, my family was not a part of my decision making whatsoever. It was more about me getting out from where I was.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We visit DH’s small town a couple times a year. A lot of people are still there. I’m glad DH isn’t. (That sounds elitist and horrible, but seriously, his cousin just got in trouble with his wife’s family because they thought he was cutting into their meth business as a dealer because of a miscommunication…)

  9. Invest It Wisely Says:

    I see the merits of both sides of the debate. I think that colleges and universities should be preparing their students for the real world, and not for a job as a museum curator. On the other hand, people will be happier if they are doing what they love. Some people go into med school or law school simply to make big bucks, but they have no love or passion for the profession. I think that’s a mistake, too.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The argument on my side of the family is that teaching critical thinking skills *is* preparing students for the real world, even with an undergraduate art history degree. The content matter is immaterial, it’s the thinking training that’s what is important. Art history major should be able to sell themselves to business even without specific content skills. (Graduate school is a different animal though.)

      • Invest It Wisely Says:

        Does a undergraduate art history degree teach critical thinking skills? If so, then that’s a good point, and I agree with that part of the argument, so long as the student can sell themselves. :)

        At the undergraduate level, while the degree is important, the specific type of degree is not as important. Employers want to see that you have what it takes to get through school and that you can think critically.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’m sure it does at a good school. They’re probably detail oriented and good at making connections, would be my guess.

  10. Tara Says:

    I think that your perception of university depends on the role models that you have along the way. For undergrad, I applied to mathematics and engineering because I liked science, computers, and mathematics. I ended up doing a co-op program where I alternated school and work terms every 4 months, which I think cemented the idea that undergrad was for obtaining a good job.

    My parents actually really wanted me to do a Master’s degree before I started working, but I had an offer for a good job, which was really hard to turn down. Plus, I didn’t want to go to grad school without knowing which field I wanted to pursue. I’d say that I made a good decision though because I am happy in my work. At a point where I am no longer happy with my work, then I would consider going to grad school.

  11. Z Says:

    I’ve always thought a lot about this question.

    My parents always encouraged me to go into something even less marketable than what I did (literature) — they wanted art, music and so on, because they wanted me to be the best possible flower on the marriage market / a true asset as a corporate wife / someone who could be happy with her art and music while her husband was working.

    They also valued the liberal arts, and they discouraged the sciences and social sciences and anything that would lead to professional school (e.g. business, medicine, engineering, law) because they saw that as too middle class; I was to aspire higher.

    So, I majored in the liberal arts to compromise with them over the music/art issue; otherwise I’d have gone into the social sciences. By the time I was ready to graduate, I’d gotten quite interested in my field, so I went to graduate school in it because I was funded. And I enjoyed that; it was very good for me, although it hasn’t led to the kind of career I’d really have liked.

    During graduate school, I asked myself every year if I wanted to continue. This was because I knew I was doing something that was acceptable to the family and that this was one of the reasons I was doing it. My question to myself was always: would you also do it if there were no family to satisfy? And my answer was always yes, so I always concluded that I shouldn’t quit just because my field was acceptable to the family.

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