Price of Happiness: Role of Money in Career Decisions

During my childhood, my parents went through four bankruptcies, which had a huge impact on the importance of financial security. But despite such experiences, I’ve also been very aware about how money doesn’t buy happiness. Could I truly be happy without any money? No. But could money substitute everything that makes me happy in life? Again, no.

Despite the American aversion to speaking about money, I wanted to express my opinions on some common misconceptions about the role of money in career management.

1. Your Salary Doesn’t Determine Your Worth

Many people always try to measure what they’re worth by their pay. Why? Because it’s the only universal, objective measurement regardless of your title, industry, and location.

But does an external measurement on your “success” matter at all if you’re not making an impact? The salary that is set for your specific job is a result of labor market supply and demand. There are too many variables other variables (e.g. profitability of your industry, timing, etc.) that affects salaries to tie your self-worth to it.

Instead, try to measure your impact at your job – not only on your company, but on the world, society and most importantly, yourself. The most important measurements of whether you’re successful at your job are the subjective, internal ones. It might not feel natural to value those above the objective measurements since subjectivity is often correlated with bias. But at the end of the day, there’s only one stakeholder affected by your career decisions: You.

2. Best Monetary Decisions Don’t Translate to Best Career Decisions

When I ask someone why they’re making a certain career decision, the most frequent answer I receive is “because it pays more”. Which is a perfectly acceptable answer if it’s a side effect to a more substantive reason. If you’re applying for a higher title with a better salary in the same exact career path, that’s a good career and monetary decision. I’m also okay with choosing more money when everything else remain status quo.

But it’s when I see people make monetary choices at the cost of  career decisions that I internally cringe. And when I say the “right” career choice – I don’t mean the kind that leads to promotions. I mean the kind where you can find personal satisfaction and pride in the work you’re doing. I think this is a really easy mistake to make for the same reason I mentioned earlier: your career choices only affect yourself.

Human beings are more sensitive to doing something wrong to other people than something wrong to themselves. I’d bet that if choosing money over a fulfilling career impacted anyone else but themselves, much more people would be much less inclined to do so. But hiding the discomforts of making the wrong choice that impacts only you is much easier to hide and rationalize. Although given the number of people who go through Quarter Life Crises, I would argue that many overestimate their abilities to quiet down their internal doubts.

There are two types of monetary decisions that “cost” your career choices: taking a new, unfit job for more money (proactive) and staying at a job that doesn’t fit you because of the money (passive). Neither is worse than the other, but the passive decision is definitely more difficult to self-identify as the job might already define the current standards of your life. It’s also the more difficult one to overcome because like Newton’s Law, an object in motion stays in motion. If you’re already making a change through a proactive choice, it’s easier to just make a better choice. But once you’re in rest, it’s hard to go back into motion to change a status.

3. Chasing Money is the Short-Term Solution

When someone tries to stick out a bad career decision for money, it’s always “temporary” until they have “enough money to do what they really want”. I’m not going to argue with the validity of that statement, because depending on circumstances, it’s definitely reasonable. However, most people who say such a thing become complacent and stay in that job far longer than they originally intended to. Here are my two reasons against such an approach: opportunity cost and burnout.

You might be making more money at that “temporary” job than your dream job, but are you accounting for the opportunity cost of the decision? The human life has a finite number, and even with the medical advancements these days, every year you’re spending on a job that isn’t for you in the long-term is costing your ability to succeed in the correct career path. What price can you put on that?

An interesting article offered a great insight on the when burnout occurs: “when the workload is greater than the motivation to do work”.  If you continue on a career path that isn’t right for you, then you will ultimately reach a permanent burnout. No amount of vacations or yoga classes will be able to get you to go back to your old job because the motivation to do work will be extinguished. If you can’t leave your job on your terms (because, let’s say, of financial security) but are suffering from burnout, you risk reputational damage with your work quality suffering and attitude shifting. So your monetary decision could have come at the cost of your reputation.


A good monetary decision is not always a good career decision and vice versa. As someone who values financial security, my advice isn’t to make a career choice at the expense of your financial independence, but to look for the ideal solution: a good career decision that is also a viable monetary one.



One comment

  1. How tough is it though?! Love the content, ever seen the post from Alan Watts “what if money was no object”? To your success! Keep it up.

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