September 8, 2016

We don’t have to Choose between Money & Meaning.

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“Work is love made visible.”  ~ Kahlil Gibran 

I love talking to people about what sort of work truly lights them up.

However, as a career coach, I frequently notice a pattern that stops people in their tracks.

At its core, this pattern is based on the common cultural belief that we have to choose between money and meaning.

According to this belief, we can either have:

a) a safe, but unfulfilling, career (“good employee” archetype), or
b) live our passion, but be in a precarious financial situation (“starving artist” archetype).

For instance, those who choose the first option may feel like their path is slowly killing their soul. In this situation, they may either decide to stay on their current path for financial reasons, or, alternatively, they may decide to “take the plunge” by following their heart. Yet once they have chosen option b) instead, they often find themselves worrying about their ability to pay the bills.

Whenever we are stuck between two bad choices, we don’t really have a choice; we have a dilemma. The way to move beyond this dilemma is to find a third choice—“the better way.” This third option consists of something that takes us beyond the dilemma we are facing and into a better place.

In the dilemma of money or meaning, that third choice consists of bringing both of these qualities into our life.

Building a life on the basis of this third option usually does not happen overnight, but is instead a process. In this process, there is no simple cookie-cutter formula we can follow, as this third choice can look vastly different from person to person.

For one person, it can mean living one’s passion on the side while getting their income from doing other work. Some people may simply wish to make certain changes in their current career to have it be more fulfilling, whereas others may want to create a whole new career.

Here are some suggestions for beginning the process:

1. Identify where you are in the dilemma between money or meaning.

Whenever we want to change something in our life, we first need to determine exactly where we are. So if the dilemma I described above resonated with you, the first step for moving beyond it is to identify which side of the dilemma you currently find yourself on.These questions can help with the exploration: Do you love what you are doing, but have less financial security than you would like? Do you feel okay with your finances but not passionate about what you do? Or do you feel you have neither money nor meaning in your life?

2. Identify what area you need to focus on when it comes to improving your life.

Once we have clearly identified the problem in our life, the next step is to figure out the road to change. So, if you have money but little meaning in your life, the key is to focus on anything that brings you more purpose. One simple first step to doing this is to engage in weekly artist dates—reserving two hours every week just to do something that feels like play. This exercise by author Julia Cameron helps one to reconnect with one’s inner creativity. In contrast, if you do work you love but are financially insecure, focus on ways to create more money.

This could mean exploring strategies to grow your business (if you are self-employed) or finding side hustles and different ways of generating income. If you find yourself in a place where you have neither money nor meaning in your life, it can be difficult to work on both areas at the same time. In this situation, it is generally easier to focus on creating more money first and bringing in meaning later, because financial security is a more basic human need than self-actualization. It can also be hard to give ourselves permission to really explore what lights us up if we are concerned about paying the bills.

Focusing on bringing in money first gives us access to a range of resources we might otherwise not have, such as courses that allow us to explore our passion or other forms of support, such as coaching. While there are ways to explore our passions for free or cheap (such as by getting books on them from a public library, borrowing musical instruments from friends, watching YouTube video topics that interest us), having more money gives us more options.

3. Commit to baby steps.

We are less likely to move forward in big kangaroo leaps than through consistent baby steps. Whenever we do not know what we should do to move closer toward our goal, we are likely thinking too big. The habit of thinking too big without taking action tends to paralyze us. In this situation, the best thing we can do is to start taking baby steps. One small baby step that we take is better than a giant leap we never make. As Paulo Coelho advises us, “When in doubt, just take the next small step.” That small step may be a phone call, an internet search, or an email. So how do we find out what baby step we could take? The best thing to do is to simply ask ourselves the question “What is one small step I can take now?”

And to then take that step.~



How to Move Past the Dilemma between Financial Security & Following One’s Heart.


Author: Bere Blissenbach

Image: Movie Still: American Beauty

Editor: Travis May

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