I recently switched jobs. And during my long journey of finding a new one, I was offered way more money than I had anticipated for a role that I was not as passionate about.
I wish I could say that it was an easy no for me. But it was not. I wanted to say no. But instead, I kept asking myself, “Am I really going to do this?”
I even talked to quite a few close friends about my decision. And everybody, including my parents, told me that I was insane to decline that big offer. But I did it anyway. I ended up choosing passion over money.
This post is about how I landed myself in such a situation. And the things I considered while making the decision to say no. I'll also talk about my mental model and circumstances that allowed me to make this hard choice.
I had often wondered in the past who would turn down more money. But this journey made me introspect a lot more and figure out where I wanted to be.
Without further ado, let's get started with my story of choosing passion over money.
Once upon a time…
Nah, this is not going to be a novel. I will try and keep it as concise as I can since there is a lot to cover.
First, some context: I was desperate. I had not been successful in my interviews so far, because I refused to memorize data structures and algorithm questions. Or maybe I wasn't as good of a programmer as I imagined myself to be.
Whatever the reason, when you have had so many rejections, you just start applying left, right, and center to any job opening you see. And that was what I was doing – if the title said engineer in it, I applied. I was not reading the job description to see if it matched my skill set or not.
And this company called me up and told me the technology stack they were using. I mentioned that I had no experience in that stack. But they were willing to train me on it if I cleared the interviews, since it was a proprietary technology and they were unable to find developers for it.
I went through the process and cleared the rounds. And once they made the offer, that's when the dilemma appeared.
They offered me a huge load of money, but I would be working on something I did not really like.
So here's what I considered that brought me clarity and helped me make my decision.
I was clear on what I wanted
After going through numerous interviews and being rejected by the FAANGM companies, I realized that I was not really interested in working at a larger company. I enjoyed building products from 0 to 90% rather than optimizing for the last 10%. That clarity was one of the critical things the process provided me.
With that clarity in mind, I knew what I wanted. More importantly, I knew what I did not want. I was able to prioritize working at a startup and choosing passion over money because of this conviction.
This thought process resulting from the interviews and my introspection played a crucial role in figuring out if I was going to go for the lucrative offer or not.
I liked building things as a software developer, but the technology stack was a proprietary for me – and these two things were at odds with one another.
If I accepted that lucrative offer, I would be stuck in that role and not like it in the long run because of the restrictions of the technology stack. So that was going to be a huge roadblock for me if I kept working at that job.
I had a safety net
I was lucky that my parents taught me the value of financial independence early on in my life. And thus, I was living debt-free.
This was probably the second – if not the first – factor in my decision. I knew that I had the resilience to survive even if I declined that offer.
I had also not been fired from my current role. I had my current job, which I could have continued working at without having much to worry about. I know that I could wait it out and try for a few more offers if I found something that I did like. And even if something else wasn't as big of an offer, I could still be content with it.
If I had been financially stuck, it would have been almost impossible to say no, and I would not have even written this post. But I had a backup and was stable enough to work through the situation and find something that I was passionate about instead of choosing the job based solely on the money.
I'm young and risk tolerant
I am in my late twenties and I'm a single person. Not having any family to look after except for my parents was a positive for me. I could experiment without a lot of external pressure of having people dependent on me.
And it is easier to work at a startup, building products, dedicating large amounts of time when you do not have any other commitments.
While I was somewhat in my comfort zone in my current role, I had the appetite to take the risk of working at a startup and leaving my comfort zone. I know it's often difficult for us to do that. But I knew that I valued work more than a comfy place, which drove me to take action.
I was not happy about my current stagnation, and joining a smaller company did not scare me because I knew my passion was around building things.
I was going for an open road, along for the ride, with a good number of upsides. And the risk was worth it. If things worked out quite nicely, which they have so far, I would still be working on things I liked. And that would make work and life, in general, more enjoyable.
I had self-confidence and I trusted my instincts
While choosing to work at a startup on a visa might have been a bit of a gamble, I was willing to risk it because I had the confidence of being able to get another job if I needed to.
I knew that I had the skillset for getting a job, and while it had taken me longer than I had anticipated to find a job in the United States, this might have been linked to my visa restrictions.
And if, for some reason, things did not work out, I was confident that I could find something back home in India. Or, if push came to shove, I could have ended up doing some freelance work.
I was looking for growth and learning opportunities.
Luckily, after talking to the people at the startup I ended up joining, I knew it was the right choice for me. The team are amazing, and the technology stack was what I wanted to work on as well.
I decided to trust my instincts and have been working here for almost a month – and I'm happy that I made that choice. I already have learned a ton of things, and still love working with everyone around me, which is an invaluable feeling.
I had the motivation to make a change
While some people love living a lavish life and spending money, that is not my life’s aspiration. I have spent a lot of time with myself figuring out what motivates me and what my priorities are.
If you ask me what I want to be doing in the next 5 years, I still do not have an answer for that. But I have dug a bit deeper into myself to know what I don't want to be doing. Thinking from first principles made this choice easier just because I had thought it through.
I would rather have a meaningful life and work on something I love than aimlessly gather money. You might be someone who wants more money in life. And there is nothing wrong with that – who am I to judge what you like or want or need?
Go and live life on your terms. It is your life, and this is mine.
These were my reasons for choosing passion over money. I wanted to write this post down not to say that I am cool. It took a crazy amount of courage to do it. And it was scarier because I was unsure of what kind of offers I would get in the future.
And I did take a salary hike when I switched jobs. It was not as huge as the lucrative offer, but it was still an incremental improvement. In the end, I wanted to enjoy the work I was doing, and it led me towards choosing passion over money.
I hope that this post provides some context to someone who might be stuck in the same dilemma as I was.
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