Do Something You Love, Before You Have To Do Something For Money

This was my recent advice to a family member who still has his entire adult life ahead of him. Thankfully, he’s still debt free, which means he has plenty of options. He can choose to spend his income, pile up debts, and eliminate these options, or remain free. It really is that simple.

Photo by Justin Donnelly

It felt a little strange giving this advice since from the time I was his age I have largely done what I had to, or whatever I could do, to earn money. That included staying at a particularly lousy job for over six years in my early twenties while working my way through the rest of school. As bad as that job was, I couldn’t afford to quit. After all, I had a wife, a baby, and student loans to feed!

Yes, I jumped onto the debt bandwagon in college, accumulating debt for schooling itself and credit card debt for the little “perks” that came with college life (college textbooks, late-night pizzas, and a few Sony Playstation games I just HAD to have). I spent the next decade working to pay off my years as a spendthrift.

But my cousin has the chance to take a different path. I’ve joked with him before that if I knew what I know now at his age, I’d be approaching early retirement. He laughed, until I told him he wouldn’t be laughing when he’s my age with very little savings, and a list of monthly obligations for which he trades in his free time to be in an office 40-50 hours a week. I told him to simply do something he loved, before he had to something for money.

Do Something You Love

I’ve never liked the “Do Something You Love” mantra, probably because I feel a little like I missed my chance to take that advice. I suspect there are plenty of 30-somethings out there who share this same feeling. But there is still time to reinvent ourselves. There is still time to chase our own dreams of what we want to be when we grow up.

The first step is to free ourselves from the financial shackles we voluntarily placed around our own legs years ago. So many people think a framed diploma and a job offer entitle them to a new car, a big house and new toys. Not so. It is far more important to build emergency savings, begin to invest for retirement, and save cash to pay for large purchases. But try telling that to your average 23 year-old.

We’ve all heard this before from parents and grandparents, but life really does have a way of sneaking up on you. After college there’s some single life to be enjoyed, but soon a spouse and child come along with a whole new set of financial worries.

You get your wills done (the first real wake up call that yes, you are mortal), buy some life insurance, look for a home, scan the safety ratings of a potential car purchases, and open a college savings account. And that’s just in the first few months of being a parent!

Over the years, you’ll celebrate certain milestones, which have a way of coming quicker and quicker the older your kids get. Before long you’ll be worrying about them driving (and worrying about what they will drive), wondering if you’ve saved enough for college, and then hoping they land on their feet, financially, instead of landing back in their old bedroom.

All that to say, if you are young, please choose to live frugal and do something you love. It’s a decision much easier made at 25 than 35.


  1. I very much agree with the general idea being expressed here. The one caveat I would tack on is — It’s not always clear to a young person what he or she is going to love for the rest of his or her life. We’re born stupid and we accumulate insight over time. You might choose accounting for the money and end up loving it after you see how good accountants can make exciting businesses work out.

    So I would say to start out with a plan to gain the freedom to do what you love when you figure out what that is. That certainly means being frugal. But it might also mean taking a high-paying job that you don’t exactly love with the thought that you might grow to love it or that you might throw it overboard after you make a lot of money from it and toss it in favor of the work you have learned through experience you really were put on earth to do.


  2. Other than the debt portion, you sounds just like me and my concerns!

    I’m cheating the system. I’ve invested money in stocks from my kids since they’ve been babies. And while I don’t have a lot of money in there accounts. Some day, I’m hoping they can use the accounts as a base to grow future wealth. This way they can pursue the career that interest them.

    I love the picture of the boy with the fireman helmet! My son is a big firefighter enthusiast, and so naturally it reminded me of my son… 🙂

  3. If I could go back to when I was in college and do things differently I would be in a lot better place right now. I am not in a bad place and I am trying to pursue something I love while working at something I need to pay the bills. The earlier you realize the power of restraint in life the better off you are going to be.

  4. I love it!

    I am now ‘stuck’ working a higher paying job to pay off debt. I like the job. But I now use my downtime to do what I love and pursue what is exciting. That limits me to just a few hours a week or less. If you cant do what you love 24-7, at least do what you love 1-7.

  5. Great post today Jason! I couldn’t agree more. While I am 27 and struggling to get out of debt, I am thankful that I had my financial wake up call early on in life. Realizing that if I did not make serious changes in my spending, I would be a slave to a job I hated just to give my money away to a faceless corporation. My life really would be as a slave to my debts. I wouldn’t be working for myself but to pay my lenders. Not the life I wanted and it brought about a serious shift in how I think about life and money.

    It is nice to see my sentiments refected in your post today and while you may have a few years on me, I have no doubt that both of us can accomplish whatever we set our minds to. It is never too late to chase after a dream.

  6. This is a great exercise for anyone who is young and still has a lot of time to make plans for the future. I agree that keeping out of debt will open up your options. My only caution to this would be a slight tweak of the wording, “Do something you love that does a little better than just paying the bills.” Even with frugal living, one has to pay for rent, basic transportation, utilities, food, and health insurance. Probably the most oversold line for my generation was to just go to college and get a four year degree in…something…anything…just get that degree. Then the doors of the world were supposed to open and fortune was to follow.
    As many have learned, college is not a guarantee of wealth. It means debt for many. My advice as a 30-something to a 20-something is to get trained in a field that pays well and you feel is challenging and worthwhile. Build up a pile of cash quickly (maybe 5 years worth of very frugal living) then use that to knock out some of life’s most costly and long-lasting expenses. Make a huge downpayment on a house, open a business for all cash, pay for your post-graduate degree without using debt, etc. Then by the time you are in your late 20s you should have the freedom to do whatever it is you want AND avoid the ‘starving artist’ / debt ridden lifestyle that has plagued so many. I’d also postpone marriage until at least 2 – 3 years out of college or 25, but that’s just a personal opinion. I think you have to learn who you are and what kind of life you value before you go mixing yourself in with another person (who should also have time to learn who he/she is and taste single lifestyle). Too many marriages ending in divorce these days due to money issues. Too much debt too quickly accumulated, usually in the name of outfitting a nice house or driving a nice car. Take your time, grow slowly and steadily, learn to love deeply, learn to save, invest, and what adds value to your life vs. doing what your parents/in-laws expect. Mid-late 20s is plenty of time for most to start a family.

  7. Like you, I didn’t pursue my career dream but I’m not really sure it was because of necessity. I was so afraid of being broke that I never even considered doing what I love.

    Now, fortunately, I love what I do but I wish I had explored more options.

    I echo your advice.

  8. I spent my post-college years working to pay back my student loans, and saving…and saving…and saving.

    It took me some time to discover that my true passion in life is writing. Happily, by the time I did, I had built up enough of a financial cushion to pursue it full-time (without starving!).

    I’ve always envied those who’ve found “what they love to do” in high school or college. It takes some of us a little longer to find our way. The advantage, however, is that by the time we do, we may be in a slightly better (financial) position to pursue it! 🙂

  9. Haha I am 23.

    I love this article, and I think that you are absolutely correct in your analysis on the worth we as a society place on a diploma. It isn’t worth anything unless you are using to do what you love. In fact, having a diploma usually means more financial responsibilities, especially right after college. The only advantage to a diploma is that it is the key to certain types of jobs, not necessarily better jobs (once you factor in all the “extra work” and loans and time in school, etc).

    I went to junior college for 2 years, changed majors 3 times, and racked up a total of $400 in debt when I moved to San Diego to finish school at UCSD. I also held 2 jobs (a landscaper and a barista). I think it is important for people to find their passion before they strap themselves to debt, and if they know it is probably a job that needs a degree, but they don’t know what that job is, go to junior college. And get good grades, it helps.

    Luckily I found my passion (I saw a surgeon bring a girl back to life by opening her chest and manually beating her heart…). Now I am 40,000 in debt, LOVING school as a full time biophysics major, working 40/week as an EMT at $10 an hour, volunteering, tutoring. I am married to a nursing student (fell in love before I wanted to be a doctor). We work a few extra hours to put money into a EFT account to save for a house one day. I have 401k from Starbucks that I rolled over into an IRA. We have a few hundred in emergency cash, and live one paycheck ahead (the YNAB way). We are poor, frugal, and enjoy what little we have while looking forward to what we will earn one day.

    The truth is, I would be miserable doing all this work if it wasn’t for something I truly had a passion for. I would hate to go to school, especially a 4 year university, and graduate with 80,000 in debt just to be directionless and unhappy.

  10. I would add to that advice, think long and hard before you go making a baby!! Make sure that’s really something you want and can afford, because it’s the rest of your life and there are no backsies! I cannot imagine the financial and emotional hell I’d live in today if I’d jumped on the mommy bandwagon when I was young. Like college, parenthood is not for everyone.

  11. For those of you who know what you want to do, congratulations! That’s the hardest part for me.

    I’m in my late 20’s and have no idea. My favorite job ever was working as an attendant at a bowling alley on campus during college…really, I just like people and was able to see alot in that position.

    Anyway, if you know what you’d love to do, grab it like a rabid monkey and hold on tight! Good luck!

  12. I couldn’t agree more! While I worked at an internet start up for 7 years, I worked on weekends and at night to prepare for my transition to running my own business. If I had started earlier, it would have been much easier. But, now I’m running my own business and its wonderful!

  13. I spent a lot of years doing jobs I didn’t love because I needed the money(should have picked rich parents I guess).

    I was fortunate enough to retire early, and now I do things for free that are hard and often dirty work that I really enjoy. Better late than never.

  14. “Do something you love, before you have to do something for money”.. I do agree with this one though we all know money is a very very important thing for all of us. But for me, if you love what you are doing, you’ll learn how to earn money on it

  15. How about do something that you love even IF it does not pay loads of money?
    I am continually amazed that people get work in fields they dislike just because it pays well. My BIL died at 54. He worked as a jazz musician for five years and then became a lawyer. He was a great lawyer- but hated the work. He died with loads of money. My sister is enjoying the money he gave to her- but was it worth it? He should have stayed with jazz and made ends meet- IMHO.
    My son is has a degree in nuclear physics. He now flies helicopters for the Army. He could make tons more in a lab….
    My mantra to our kids. Always be learning and never let the money get in the way of living.

  16. My advice to someone starting out is to have a family at a young age. If all your children are in grade school by the time you are in your early thirties this means that you will have loads of kid-free time during the days with which to pursue your career at the time when people actually start paying serious attention to you.

    Think about it: not many twenty-somethings get respect in career jobs. But if you cruise along in your 20s while putting most of your effort toward your kids, you can reap more rewards from your work effort in your 30s, 40s, and 50s and not have to feel guilty that you aren’t home when your kids are young. This is the way I did it.

  17. Okay this is just too strange. I just finished typing a post with a very similar theme. My post however does not have a conclusion. I left it open ended. I really don’t know what to make of the whole “follow you passions and the money will follow” theory.

    On one hand you can follow your passions through 20s, turn 30 and realize “shit I’m broke!” I mean let’s be honest– we’re all guilty of the survivorship bias. Only success stories get out. What about the young guy who put his life towards starting his own business and it went no where?

    Then on the other hand, you can work a job you don’t hate but don’t really like either, make some decent money, and be financially secure by the time you hit 30. You won’t be the happiest guy out there but your bank account will be healthy.

    What do you guys think?

    @Beth interesting take but there’s no chance you can convince me to have kids in the near future lol.

  18. @Beth: This is what we did, though I have to admit it wasn’t intentionaly – or at least, not for the reasons you mention. Oddly enough, what you described is exactly how my 20s played out.

    I worked in a dead end job, finished school, and just plain enjoyed time being a dad. Now my kids are older and I burned out with same career and started something different. Jury is still out on what the remainder of my 30s and then 40s will hold.

  19. Like MD at comment 19, I’m also torn about this advice because of the survivorship bias in the success stories you hear. On the other hand, if you follow the money and sacrifice your dreams, you’ll get zero sympathy from people simply because you’re rich, as shown at this blog post.

    So, maybe following the money really isn’t worth it after all. You give up your dreams AND emotional support from other people.

  20. There’s a quote that goes something like,

    “Match the world’s deep hunger with your hearts deep gladness and you’ll find success.”

    It’s all good to follow your dreams and do what you love but you must add a dash of reality to the mix and make sure there’s a market for it.


  21. Wise words….I have given similar advice to my much younger brother and cousin, both who are entering the “big decision” parts of life. “If only I knew then what I know now”- the sentence heard ’round the world.

  22. Absolutely. The “do something you love” mantra lasts only as long as you can put food on the table. The real secret, as I see it, is to find your passion and then find a way to make money at it. Often easier said than done, but definitely something that should be done before you have mouths to feed and a big mortgage to pay. Nice post, glad I re-discovered your blog!

  23. The problem I have with this type of advice is it’s pretty much useless to most of the population. First off, if a high schooler or college grad really has an honest to God passion for something, chances are they’re going for it to begin with.

    However, IMHO they are the rare case. Most people, at best, have a vague notion of what they want to do, generally find something in an area of interest, and then later in their career realize it may not be exactly what they love, but it ain’t too bad. At that point, hopefully with some perspective and real world knowledge, they can zero in on a real passion or enjoy the current career and have fun doing other things as hobbies or chuck it all and go for something else.

    So unless the person has a clear goal to begin with, the above advice just put a boatload of pressure on the relative to “discover” at all costs their passion before they are chained to a spouse and kids and dead end career and become miserable like their older relative who they may have thought reasonably enjoyed his life.

  24. I have to agree with kyle. With the Technology we are surrounded by today. There is no reason why anybody cant monetize anything that they love to do.
    I my self have made hundreds of thousands of dollars monetizing the simple fact that I know how to play the drums at my local church and I wasn’t even good enough to make it in a H.S. jazz band. Im not saying that to impress any of you or to toot my own horn. But just understand that if a 21 year old college dropout can use modern technology and not spend more than $100.00 a month to create that type of income when i couldn’t even make it in a high school jazz band, I know that people who have a true PASSION for what they do can take their income to what ever level they want. My actual passion is Network Marketing and Coaching People In Network Marketing and because I am good at monetizing it earn a consistent 6 figure monthly income. The Only question you should have in your head right now and the one question that brought me from where I was to where I am now is:
    Who Can Teach Me How To Monetize My Passion?
    Stop trying to reinvent the wheel and find somebody who has done it and ask them to teach you how to do it.(Mentor)

  25. If you love what you’re doing it’s not even work. It’s such a cliche, and it’s so true.

    One tricky thing not touched on above is even a job or role or career you love can change into one you don’t.

    A classic example is creatives who get promoted into managers. They do it because after a certain point it’s the only way to make more money (unless they go freelance, which they rarely do and to be honest often shouldn’t).

    They’re the usually terrible managers, and they’re usually unhappy.

    I’ve seen this happen with programmers, too.

    Nothing easy in this life!

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