Why the advice “do what you’d do if you didn’t need money” is kind of bullshit

I got this advice somewhere, I think it was Tim Ferris, a few years ago and thought it was brilliant. I immediately decided that, if I didn’t need money I would want to help the world by working with people who were interesting in an ancestral diet. Primal, paleo, perfect health, gluten-free, whole foods, take your pick.

It seemed logical. I mean, I know a lot about it, it’s basically saved my husband’s life, and I enjoy talking to people who are interested. And that’s in line with this thing called “health coaching” where the coach works with the client to help them make behavior changes that can lead to sustained improvements in health and their life style. It’s actually totally legit. From a psychology stand point a lot of the principals are spot on and people I know who have worked with a health coach love it and the people I have worked with have seen a lot of improvements.

So when I decided that health coaching was what I’d want to do if I didn’t need money I felt like a huge change in my life had happened. THIS was my PURPOSE. I dove into it. I took a $5,000 course from Duke Integrative Medicine and I loved it. I was really good at it. I helped people. It was awesome.

Then, back in the real world I was meeting with people and talking to them and they were interested and I wound up with a couple real, paying clients. Only I was doing it for about half the price I wanted to charge and the whole “referral” thing didn’t really happen. Maybe it would have if I stuck to it, skipped out on my full time job and went to a bunch more networking meetings. But really it was super irritating. I was making $60 an hour working with a client and spending god-only-knows how many hours trying to find clients and trying to not piss off my boss when I was taking 2 hours out of the work day to go to a networking thing. Bottom line, it was really unsustainable.

So I stepped back and thought about it. I also had a website that I could use to reach a wider market which seemed like a great idea because Adam and I were moving again and suddenly I didn’t have a fancy house or a nice office to meet local clients in anyways.

I dove into the website and I did everything right. I posted every week, I was active on social media, I grew my Pinterest following really fast, I grew my Facebook page to the point where it started growing organically, I grew my email list, networked with other bloggers…everything. Except I got to the point where I hated it.

Know what does really, really well in the health sphere? Recipes. I was coming up with a new recipe every week, taking gorgeous pictures, editing, and promoting them. It got to be a huge chore. Know what doesn’t do well? The kind of writing I enjoy. Things like this post where I get to think about what’s going on in my life or in someone else’s, assess it, and breakdown a way to change it and improve quality of life. The kind of thing I’m really good at in the coaching sphere.

So, trying to get to the point that I could do what I really wanted to do, I got bogged down in all the things I really didn’t like doing. Plus, I wasn’t making anything like the money I wanted to!

At the same time my 9 to 5 (more like 8 to 5 these days) career took a really interesting turn. I’d been a scrum product owner (product manager) for a number of years and was in a really good position. I was one of the very few in my local area who was really good at it and I was probably the only one under 30 and under $100k. I know because a friend of mine was looking for someone with my credentials but a little more background in stats (I’m a beginner there) and had to start looking to import a candidate from the west coast. In fact, I think he’s still looking.

Unfortunately, I was also really, really bored. I hate learning in increments. I like learning in leaps and bounds, doing something super new and challenging. I already new how to do the product management thing really well so I was just going through the motions.

Then, I got the opportunity to do conversion rate optimization. I’ve already got a background in user experience and I’m naturally good at it. Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is another arm of user experience (UX) and one of the only areas of UX I didn’t have any experience in. So I jumped on the opportunity.

Would I be helping make the world a better place? No. I’d be convincing more website visitors to buy life insurance. Would I go home at night thinking about the difference I’d made in society? Nope. This job in no way would fulfill my altruistic sensibilities. But I would be doing a job I found fascinating that challenged me and that I excelled at.

I got the title “Director of UX and CRO” (I lobbied a bit to be “Director of all acronyms” but it didn’t fly). And in my area the average salary for Director of UX was $117k. Adding on CRO which is a relatively new discipline would greatly increase my value. I could easily hit my six-figures-before-30 goal.

Plus, in a few years if I wanted to get out of corporate, it’s much easier to freelance for UX and CRO and I’d get paid a hell of a lot more for that than coaching.

So I’m happy. I’m not making a ton of money changing the world, but I am making a lot of money doing something interesting and setting myself up to freelance if I want to work from home when we have a baby.

The people shouting out the “do what you love” thing are way over simplifying:

  • Any job is going to have parts you like and parts you don’t.
  • You do, in fact, need money.
  • It’s freaking hard to start a business while working a full time job. Especially when you have to do all the crappy parts at the beginning and keep it up for a long time.
  • And, I think, there’s more to loving life than just picking the perfect career and making money at it.

With the houses, Adam and I plan to retire in 10-15 years (I’ll still be under 40) and live on the rental income. I can’t do that without my current salary, though. So I’ll do something interesting now and maybe I’ll help people when I really don’t need to make money.

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