Not too many young people enter their careers looking to sell out. Rather, most career advice out there tells you to follow your dreams, do what you love, and generally seek fulfillment. A standard career-counselor question is to ask what you would do if you were a multi-millionaire and never had to worry about money again, and the answer is supposedly what you are meant to do with your career. Figuring out how to make money off that passion—to monetize—is secondary. Everyone, so the thinking goes, will eventually serendipitously discover a way to monetize their passion one way or another.
Frankly, I find this line of thinking to be deeply, tragically flawed (and that’s the polite way to say that).
The problem with pursuing your passions
First of all, anyone with kids who is not already earning a comfortable living is likely to ignore advice that doesn’t put that as priority number one. Secondly, the road to fulfillment is littered with broken dreams and great, unmet expectations.
The fact is, many passions just don’t pay. Unless you are both born with superior talent and blessed with incredible luck, the following activities will almost certainly never give you the money or even the career you really want: making art, acting, playing music, playing sports, writing. It’s true that many who pursue these passions may happily end up in a tangentially related career (instead of a professional athlete you’re a coach; instead of a famous novelists you’re a copy editor).
Even those idealistic careers such as saving the environment or serving the poor can often lead to a deep resentment among those who pursue them for too long, whether because the cause they serve remains just as intractable as ever despite their best efforts, or because office politics, dwindling funding, or lack of advancement begin to outweigh their commitment to the cause.
Meanwhile, those pursuing careers involving art or fame often decide to get a second career to make ends meet. Maybe you get a promotion or a raise and decide to stick with it a bit more, devoting ever more of your time and attention toward it. Maybe life changes, such as marriage or kids, compel you to seek more security. And maybe you eventually decide that your passion will always remain just that: a passion.
Why you should sell out
But rather than continue to dwell on that flawed advice to just follow your passion, let me suggest an alternative path to fulfillment: sell out, and sell out early.
I learned this lesson, as many do, soon after becoming a parent. Suddenly my passions and my entrepreneurial, literary, and athletic flights of fancy gave way to an unbridled, almost carnivorous search for ways to make more money. I moved cities to get paid more. I took on side work. I started calling old acquaintances and colleagues and asking if they had even more work or knew of a better, more senior job I could apply for.
And my career flourished.
And once my career began to flourish I began to make more money. The more money I made, the more I began to put away my carnivorous search for ways to make more money, and think more seriously about the ways I wanted to spend my life, the ways in which I wanted to seek fulfillment. In other words, selling out led to more money, which led to more comfort in pursuing my passions.
So many people are stuck in the rut of knowing they want to do something else, but lacking the financial security to do take time, money, and effort away from their primary career to actually do it. My advice: sell out more, sell out early. Rather than chasing highly idealistic or fanciful pursuits for the first decade before settling down into a more secure and lucrative career, try finding a lucrative career so that you can spend the rest of your life chasing your dreams.