My career decision: choosing passion over money

As you might know, I recently switched jobs. In my long journey of finding a new one, there was a moment where I was offered way more money than I had anticipated for a role that I was not as passionate about. I wish I could say that it was an easy no for me. But it was not. I wanted to say no. But instead, I kept asking myself, “Am I really going to do this?”. I even talked to quite a few close friends about that decision. Everybody, including my parents, told me that I was insane to decline that offer. But I did it anyway. I ended up choosing passion over money.

This post is about how I landed myself in such a situation. And the things I considered while making this decision. I will also talk about my mental model for being able to make this hard choice.

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I had often heard such quotes and called them bullshit, thinking who would turn down more money? But this journey made me self-introspect a lot more and figure out where I am heading towards.

Without further ado, let us get started with my story of choosing passion over money.

The beginning

Once upon a time…

Nah, this is not going to be a novel. I will try and keep it as crisp as I can since there is a lot to cover.

I will provide some context about how I ended up with a job offer that was a huge number which I declined because I was not passionate about it. After all, you only apply to jobs that you want, right?

I was desperate. I had not been getting success with interviews because I refused to memorize data structures and algorithm questions. Or maybe I am not that good of a programmer as I imagine myself to be.

Whatever the reason, when you have had so many rejections, you just start applying left, right, and center to any job opening you see. That was what I was doing – If the title had the word engineer in it, I applied. I was not reading the job description to see if it matched my skill set or not.

And this company called me up and told me the technology stack. I mentioned that I had no experience in that stack. They were willing to train me on it if I cleared the interviews since it was a proprietary technology and they were unable to find developers for it. I went through the process and cleared the rounds. And once they made the offer, that is when the dilemma appeared.

They offered me a huge load of money, but I would be working on something I did not really like.

And this is where I will start with the things that I considered that brought me clarity:

1. Clarity of what I wanted

After going through numerous interviews and being rejected by the FAANGM companies, I realized that I was not really interested in working at a larger company. I enjoyed building products from 0 to 90% rather than optimizing for the last 10%. That clarity was one of the critical things the process provided me with.

With that clarity in mind, I knew what I wanted. More importantly, I knew what I did not want. I was able to prioritize working at a startup and choosing passion over money because of this clarity.

The thought process from the interviews and self-introspection played a crucial role in figuring out if I was going to go for the lucrative offer or not. The facts that I liked building things being a software developer and the technology stack being a proprietary one restricting me were at odds with one another. I would be stuck in that role and not like it in the long run because of the restrictions of the technology stack. So that was going to be a huge roadblock for me as I kept working at that job.

2. Safety net

I was lucky enough for my parents to have taught me the value of financial independence early on in my life. I was living a debt-free life. This was probably the second, if not as equal to the first reason, factor in my decision. I knew that I had the resilience to survive even if I declined the offer. And I was not fired from my current role. I had my current job, which I could have continued working on without having much to worry about. I could wait it out and try for a few more offers around things that I did like. Even though I might not get such a lucrative offer, I could still be content with it.

If I had been financially stuck, it would have been almost impossible to say no, and we would not even have been having this post. But I had a backup and was stable enough to work through the situation and find something that I was passionate about than choosing the money.

3. Age and risk tolerance

I am in my late twenties and a single person. Not having any family to look after except for my parents was a positive for me. I could experiment without a lot of external pressure of having people dependent on me. It is easier to work at a startup, building products, dedicating large amounts of time when you do not have any other commitments.

While I was somewhat in my comfort zone in my current role, I had the appetite to take the risk of working at a startup and leave my comfort zone. Many times, it is difficult for us to do that. But I knew that I valued work more than a comfy place, which drove me to take action. I was not happy about the stagnation, and joining a smaller company did not scare me because I knew about my passion was around building things.

I was going for an open road, along for the ride, with a good amount of upside. The risk was worth it. If things work out quite nicely, which they have been so far, I would still be working on things I like. That makes work and life, in general, more enjoyable.

4. Self-confidence and trusting my instincts

While choosing to work at a startup on a visa might have been a bit of a gamble, I was willing to risk it because I had the confidence of being able to get another job if needed. I knew that I had the skillset for getting a job, and while it had taken me longer than I had anticipated finding a job in the United States, it might have been linked to my visa restrictions too. And if, for some reason, things did not work out, I was confident that I could find something back home in India. Or, if push comes to shove, I would have ended up doing some freelance work.

I was looking for growth and learning opportunities.

Luckily, after talking to the people at Brighthire, the startup I ended up joining, I knew it was the right choice for me. The people are amazing, and the technology stack was what I wanted to work on as well. I decided to trust my instincts and have been working here for almost a month and am happy that I made that choice. I already have learned a ton of things, and still love working with everyone around me, which is an invaluable feeling.

5. Motivation

While some people love living a lavish life and spending money, that is not my life’s aspiration. I have spent a lot of time with myself figuring out what motivates me and what my priorities in life are. If you ask me about what I would be doing in the next 5 years, I still do not have an answer for that. But I have dug a bit deeper into myself to know things that I would not be doing. Thinking from first principles made this choice easier just because I had had that thought process.

I would rather have a meaningful life and work on something I love than aimlessly print money. You might be someone who wants more money in life. There is nothing wrong with that. Who am I to judge what you like/dislike or need?

Go and live life on your terms. It is your life.

Wrap up

These were my reasons for choosing passion over money. I wanted to write this post down not to say that I am cool. It took a crazy amount of courage to do it. It was scarier because I was unsure of what kind of offers I would get in the future.

And I did take a salary hike when I switched jobs. It was not as huge as the lucrative offer, but it was still an increment. In the end, it was my preference for the work I wanted to be doing that led me towards choosing passion over money.

I hope that this post provides some context to someone who might be stuck in the same dilemma as me.

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