mponeydoney_B&WRecently, a friend of mine told me his goal was to make some “fuck you money.” This was a new development for him, as he had never before prioritized a big score. As we talked about his options, he described several promising opportunities that he decided not to pursue, because they weren’t interesting to him. Despite his proclamation that making money was his new priority, he couldn’t change the fact that he wasn’t strictly wired to be financially motivated.

I’ve seen many people try to convince themselves that making money was their primary goal even when it wasn’t. I’ve been guilty of doing it myself. Truthfully, I think life would be much simpler if I were coin operated, but I’m not. And despite what others like my friend might claim, the vast majority of people aren’t either. Most people don’t realize it, but the pull of non-financial motivations creates one of the biggest decisions many of us face in life.

Unless you’re one of the lucky ones whose interests are naturally lucrative, here is the choice you face. Do you do something you care about which might be more difficult, or even impossible, to make financially lucrative? Or do you set aside your personal motivations and pursue whatever provides the best opportunity for making the most money with the fewest obstacles?

I’m sure you’ve thought about this question before, but you probably did so only as a philosophical exercise. Did you really think about it when you accepted your last job? For the entrepreneurs reading this, do you really love your startup? Or did a random opportunity present itself, and you just went along with it while you convinced yourself that mailing stuff in a box is your dream company?

The decision often seems one-sided because there’s no external measure of our internal motivations. Only you know how much they matter to you. In contrast, we’re bombarded with messages that correlate financial success with absolute success. We end up losing sight of the decision because one side of the equation is screaming at us with big houses, fancy cars, and the respect of our peers, while the other side offers nothing that the rest of the world can even measure. Considered this way, there hardly seems to be a decision at all. But just because one side speaks more quietly than the other doesn’t mean it carries any less weight.

Despite the fact that this decision determines the course of our lives, very few of us really take it seriously. We hypocritically quote Confucius and tell people to, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” while we spend our own days at jobs we honestly don’t care for that much. Somehow, when it came time to make this decision for ourselves, we probably didn’t really think about it. Most likely, we let circumstance or convenience make the choice for us and ended up with whatever was put in front of us instead of choosing our own path.

Unless my friend gets lucky with a really fast score, I don’t think he’ll be able to follow through on his goal of making, “fuck you money.” He just isn’t built that way and I don’t think he can force himself to pursue the cash if his heart isn’t in it.

For me, it took a string of choices that left me wondering, “Why the hell am I doing this?” before I decided all of my work decisions would be guided solely by my personal interests and nothing more. It’s a decision that has made me happy, but without question I’ve left a lot of financial opportunities on the table.

How about you? Have you made the choice for yourself? Or have you let the decision fall to chance?

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]