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How to Take a Pay Cut for Your Dream Job

Why you shouldn’t hesitate to make a temporary sacrifice to pursue your passion

 

No matter if you’re twenty or fifty, it’s magical to discover what your passion is in life. Maybe you’ve finally stopped denying that you’re exceptionally good at writing ad copy, yet you’re stuck working in finance. Or, maybe you’re bringing in loads of cash working for a trading company, but wish you could spend your days helping kids at a nonprofit.

Whatever your dream is, stop making excuses for not pursuing it as a career. As Annie Dillard put it, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Your life shouldn’t be only living for the weekends.

But, let’s back up. I recognize that making a big career change is a huge life transition that can be overwhelming, intimidating, and of course, financially detrimental. Let’s talk about taking these blows.

Coming to terms with a lower position

You may find it to hard to wrap your mind around reverting back to an internship or entry-level position. Many middle-age workers, for instance, think: I’ve come this far, and retirement is only a decade or two away. Why would I jeopardize that now to start over?

Heck, even someone five years into a career can have this mindset. Those years have been made up of hard work, which should not be thrown aside, by any means.

But here’s why you should consider changing paths: because it’s never too late. Because we live one life and, as Annie said, our lives are made up of our days, plain and simple. Do you want to have spent the majority of your life in a job you’re not passionate about? Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you already know the answer.

The first step is to get over other people’s perception of you, of your own perception of you, and start from the bottom again. But I have to say, just the fact that you have X number of years of work experience means you probably won’t be starting completely at the bottom. Just saying.

Another tip: Volunteer or intern at an organization that better aligns with your passion in your free time. Keep the job you have and build up connections and experience on the side. Then, you may not have to start by pushing around the mail cart.

Let’s talk about pay cuts

Changing your pay is a big decision. You may have other family members that either depend on you or share your income, so make sure that everyone is supportive and on board (which, hopefully they are, re: your lifelong passion).

Then, consider building up some savings before calling it quits. This doesn’t mean you have to stay another full year at the job you hate. It just means that you see the potential for a pay cut and you are being smart about it.

Say for one or two months you cut some things out of your budget, like shopping or eating at restaurants. Voila--you could have hundreds more saved up for your transition.

And this won’t be a reality for everyone. Some will already have a big savings account, and some may have nothing. You need to figure out what you need to live comfortably while you’re building up your resume for another career path, and go from there.

But again, here’s why you should do it, no matter your financial situation:

Life=days. Days=hours. Hours=minutes. How do you really want to spend your minutes?

In the end, money only matters so much.

Some practical advice

It’s easier said than done to take a big pay cut, I know. I did it last year when I quit my full-time job at an agency to go freelance.

I have to say I was surprised by this, but it was barely a pay cut. I had built up a few clients by the time I quit and a (meager) savings account in case of emergencies, which I’ve barely had to use. And, I had a clear plan in place for my work, even if I didn’t always know which clients were going to have work for me in a given month.

I was also beyond ready, mentally, to take the leap. I couldn’t work in a cubicle anymore, with people I wasn’t crazy about, for a company I was doubly not crazy about. The work was soul-sucking and had nothing to do with what I went to college for. The only thing keeping me there was the salary, the highest I’d had in my five-plus years in the workforce.

It just wasn’t right. I felt that every day. The money stopped being worth it.

Now, even though I don’t have a “steady” paycheck each month, I’m back up to my last salary. While I’m still building up clients and experience, the good news is that I have the potential to earn a lot more money in the long run than if I had stayed in that job. And it will be earned while doing the things I love--writing, editing, and working with a cat on my lap.

Whatever your story may be, I guarantee that you will eventually earn enough money again, even if you have to take a pay cut for a while.

Your dream job, your passion, is never worth giving up for a salary. So start living your days like you want to live your life.

Want more advice about managing your career, workplace, or work-life balance? Visit InHerSight, your resource for anonymous company reviews, job-matching services, working women’s news, community advice, and more.

Meredith Boe is a freelance writer and editor living in Chicago. Aside from contributing to InHerSight with insights about women in the workplace, she regularly writes literary criticism, nature articles, poetry, and creative prose.

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