The stories of two friends prompted us to dig into this topic. (Throughout the book we do not use our classmates’ names or other identifying details, out of concern for the protection of their privacy.) Growing up in the Midwest, one friend had watched her mother struggle to support herself financially after her parents divorced. With “the power to support myself” as her primary driver, she opted for a career in dentistry. She doesn’t love the job, but she loves knowing that she can, and does, support herself. Now married with two kids, she keeps her finances separate from her husband’s, even though they earn about the same.
Another friend also had a turbulent financial childhood. Born to hippie parents who were unable to care for her, she grew up being shuttled back and forth among family members in her North Carolina town. She was the star of her high school––known for her resonant singing voice—a reputation that followed her through our college years. Post-graduation, she worked on launching her singing career, but after years of auditioning without much luck, she switched to a job in the financial-services industry. It wasn’t something she cared much about, and after she was married and pregnant with her first child, she quit. She’s been home caring for her three children for the last 15 years.
In considering the divergent trajectories these two friends followed, we thought a lot about the different ways the two women planned their career paths. In part because they held different perspectives when it came to the importance of money and financial independence, they ended up in different places. We wondered about the relationship between following your heart and finding a job that is financially rewarding but possibly not the most ardor-inducing way to spend one’s time. How had our other friends managed to balance the two?
After our interviews were complete, we polled our friends on whether they’d prioritized passion or economic independence in their career choices. More than half our friends told us they’d opted to follow their passion and hoped that the money would work itself out. But hidden in that number was an interesting story. For our friends who didn’t see earning money as a do-or-die prospect (it goes without saying, a very privileged position to be in), when the thing they were passionate about didn’t lead to a lucrative career (or, in some cases, any career at all), they gave up working altogether. “I think if I was doing something that I loved, I would’ve been insistent and said, ‘No, I still need this in my life,’” our singer-turned-stay-at-home-mom friend told us about her decision to quit working when she was pregnant with her first child. “But I was ready to get rid of the job.”
Another friend had similar feelings about her job, even though it was in an area she’d originally loved. She was a journalism major, and before she got married, she’d had a job in PR in downtown Chicago handling big clients, working in a sleek office building and feeling “like I’d made it.” But when her husband took a new job in a smaller southern city, she begrudgingly joined a small, local PR firm with industrial clients. “I went from working with fun spokespeople for Quaker Oats to working with the CEO of a trucking company. It was just not as interesting for me.” And when, a few years later, her first child arrived, it wasn’t that big of a leap to leave a job she wasn’t thrilled with anyway. “I wanted to be with my daughter more than I wanted to be going to that office every day,” she told us.