Pursuing Passions or a Paycheck

opportunity cost blog post imageBy Gracie Hunt on 29 March 2017

In a world where the mentality that money allows people to do whatever they like, the ultimate price of building a career and amassing money rather than building and living a fulfilling life, leaves many bereft of what pays the most when looking back upon one’s life, “as time is one of our most scarce resources” [1]. Work offers people the chance to grow and develop their skills in a particular field, while also climbing the social ladder, forming powerful relationships, or achieving a certain level of satisfaction with life; however, “The real cost of something is what you must give up in order to get it, which is almost always more than just cash” [2]. Living a career-centralized life poses a steep opportunity cost in all other aspects of living.

Beginning with the assumption that “Individuals act to make themselves as well off as possible,” economics aid in understanding how people “seek to maximize their own utility,” or happiness [3]. A recent study shows that “Nearly three-fourths of employees (are) dissatisfied with their jobs,” which presents a concerning issue when weighing that seventy five percent of people “(spend) valuable, limited capital, (time), in exchange for something worth far less” [4]. When evaluating human contentment and happiness, economists ask if earning a higher salary improves human utility; however, a recent study in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences discovered that “beyond household income of $75,000 a year, money ‘does nothing for happiness, enjoyment, sadness, or stress,’” displaying that when pursuing a higher paycheck or a career promotion, many do not realize that they will not achieve more contentment in life [5]. Professor Kahneman, a Nobel laureate in economics, believes that many people want to make a lot of money, but the benefits of having a high income are ambiguous,” and in addition, recent data collected from studies suggest that wealthier people ‘seem to be less able to savor the small things in life,” ultimately leading to greater discontent [5]. Even greater proves the risk that those who pursue a career based solely on the size of the potential paycheck that comes with the job eventually realize “that the work is unsatisfying” [5]. Each person can prioritize whether making the big bucks or following a passion leads to the most enjoyment in life.

Interestingly, other scholars condemn pursuing a career chosen from a list of salaries as “a fool’s game” since economic conditions remain subject to rapid change: a hot market or field of employment today may deteriorate to a trickle of what it once was years down the road, or even become nonexistent [5]. In a capitalist market of promotions, innovations, and ever-changing technology, people display a commonality in those whose work stems from passion, and unravels as something enjoyable tend to flourish in their particular fields, while others who grind through each day as if it were a marathon live in greater discontent than their counterparts. Ultimately, no black and white answer key can answer what leads to the most fulfillment in a “complex and uncertain” life [6]. People possess limited time to build a life worth loving.

  1. Wheelan, Charles J., and Burton G. Malkiel.Naked economics: undressing the dismal science. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. 10.
  2. Wheelan, Charles J., and Burton G. Malkiel.Naked economics: undressing the dismal science. 11.
  3. Wheelan, Charles J., and Burton G. Malkiel.Naked economics: undressing the dismal science. 6.
  4. Hall, Kim. “The Opportunity Cost of Your Job: Live with it or leave it?” Engaged Marriage. January 03, 2015. Accessed March 21, 2017. http://www.engagedmarriage.com/opportunity-cost-of-your-job/.
  5. Korkki, Phyllis. “Job Satisfaction vs. a Big Paycheck.” The New York Times. September 11, 2010. Accessed March 21, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/12/jobs/12search.html.
  6. Wheelan, Charles J., and Burton G. Malkiel.Naked economics: undressing the dismal science. 9.
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