What would you give up for a career you love?


If you’re cruising Idealist, you’re obviously itching for new ways to have an impact in the world. Have you ever hesitated because making that switch could mean less pay? If so, here’s an exercise that can help you identify things you’d give up for more meaningful work.

The biggest lifestyle change for most people would be to downsize a home or move to a less expensive city. The classic cuts are things such as a latte habit, hair coloring at a salon or wardrobe updates. But it’s possible that some things that provide you with a lot of satisfaction aren’t high ticket at all – like living near friends and family or having a beloved pet. And it’s possible that some creative thinking on the expense side – cohousing, renting out an empty room in your home, or giving up a car and going green – would give you more flexibility.

Find a quiet place, grab a cup of something warm, and fill out the following lists as thoughtfully as you can:

Three must-haves:

Three like-to-haves:

Three can-give-ups (try to include one big-ticket item that represents a big chunk of your monthly or annual overhead):

Next, think about the different forms of compensation that can come from working. One, of course, is money. Another is a sense of purpose or gratification. Others might be community involvement, a great work environment, a nice social life, flexibility or stability. As you weigh various options, try thinking about money as just one form of compensation.

And as you compare your options, look back at prior jobs to see how they stacked up in terms of non-monetary compensation. A job may have paid well, but how did it score on the other factors? Did you learn a lot? Did you enjoy the lifestyle? Did you feel good about the work you were doing?

As you try to identify these factors, write down the top five things you identified as being important to you in your next stage of work.


Now tie it all together. Would you be comfortable giving up the three things in your can-give-up list to have one or more of those things on your list of what you want from work? Which ones?
Would you go further for anything on that list – meaning, would you give up anything from your like-to-have list to have any of the elements on your what-you-want-from-work list? Which ones?

For now this all may be completely hypothetical. But going through this exercise could help you clarify what matters to you most as you mull over what’s next. So do it now, put it aside and, as you get closer to some real possibilities, consider doing the exercise again when the choices before you are real ones.

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Photo Credit: Zurijeta, Shutterstock

About Author

Marci Alboher is a Vice President of Encore.org, a nonprofit making it easier for millions of people to move into encore careers. She is the author of the newly released Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life (Workman 2013).


  1. Ava Weaver on

    I love my chosen career as a mental health therapist. However I cant afford to pay my student loans now so I am going back to school. I have downsized to stay in my current profession as the many changes in healthcare make mental healthcare more difficult to provide even though the demand is there our government chooses to ignore there is a need here worthy of funding right in our own back yard. Our Vets are coming home only to find there is no nhelp for them to keep the military family together post tours of duty in OIF and OEF

    • just wondering if you cannot pay your student loans why would you go back to school to add more student loan debt? Is your new chosen career going to pay that much more for you to get your debt paid off? New pay vs cost vs time left to work, is it feasible?

  2. Jack Thompson on

    Marci, Your exercise has a worthwhile introspection during a critical point in one’s life. Compensation is the gateway to the inner game of change and reflection on what constitutes quality of life. When one is on this journey, the lifelong partner can be an invaluable element in these life enhancing changes. We have been in this stage for a while and stumbling on to Encore and realizing that passion and purpose was what we were searching for in our lives was a seed change. It brought a gentile breeze in our lives. It is a “Road less Travelled”…Thank You…

  3. Pingback: 9 new ways to think about finding your passion | Idealist Careers

  4. Pingback: What would you give up for a career you love? | Idealist Careers

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