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Day Job vs. Dream Job: When to Pursue Passion or a Paycheck

Day job or dream job

I graduated from college with a degree in English. It’s a loaded statement to admit, and I’m always nervous about telling anyone. There’s a stereotype among us liberal arts graduates – we’re all going to end up as baristas (which is a perfectly fine job) or stuck in dead-end jobs with no advancement opportunities that have nothing to do with our degree.

Unfortunately, some of us are forced into day jobs that won’t give us anything but a regular paycheck. And sometimes that’s all we need, as long as we have enough time (and energy) to explore our own personal passions.

But at what point can we choose those passions over the regular paycheck? What is the threshold for quitting that day job and pursuing what we really want to do? There are many things to consider when making the decision.


Money is usually the biggest wall between staying in a day job and doing what you really want to do. Passion is passion, and should be taken seriously, but you have to pay the bills regardless. But it can also become a catch 22. You need money to support yourself and your passions, but in order to make any money from your passions (not that it’s about the money – but it’s nice), you need the time and energy that a day job takes up.

Day job: Start off getting a day job. I know this is counter-productive to everyone’s “follow your dreams” ideals, but unless you’re fully supported by someone else, you soon won’t be able to even fund your dreams and the supplies needed for them. It’s a sad reality about our society: you have to be able to pay for things.

As a solution, find a day job that will pay the bills and then some, but won’t work you to the bone where you’ll be too exhausted to do anything else after your shift ends. If it’s at all possible, have scheduled time where you focus entirely on your dream job and the steps to take to get there.

Dream job: As part of the money you’re bringing in, have an amount (percentages are easiest if your net pay is different every paycheck) that you take out to dedicate to both present and future funds. One option is to have a goal number in mind that, once reached, you can quit your day job and live off of as you dedicate time to fully realizing your dream job. This might take a while, like a long while – this amount has to be able to cover everything (from rent to bills to anything you spend money on). That while might be too long.

Instead of a stark transition from day job to dream job, work on a more gradual transition. Slowly supplement your income more and more with what you create. Eventually (hopefully), you will be able to fully support yourself on your creativity, but you need to fully establish yourself (be it as an artist, a freelance writer, a sculptor, whatever your medium) first.

Family and Relationships

When you’ve been working all day, all you want to do is get home and be with the people who are going to make you feel better and keep you going. Be it a pet, your kid, or your significant other, those people that we come home to, or make plans with, after work are hard to ignore, including when our dream jobs are calling. That time we spend with our loved ones, especially when it’s limited to evenings and weekends, is just as precious and sacred as time spent working toward a passion, but which, a day job or a dream job, will help satisfy everyone?

Day job: If your day job has you sitting in a cube farm, odds are it comes with consistent hours. You’re working eight to five, five days a week, 52 weeks a year. You know what your hours are and you know what free time you have. When your job does not have you sitting in an office all day, your hours could be more erratic. You may have an eight-hour shift one day, and a four-hour shift the next. You might not even have consistent days off. Annoyances and frustration with having such a random schedule aside, you may actually have the advantage, at least when it comes to balancing time between loved ones and your passion. If your hours off are while your people are working or in school, you have that much time to focus on yourself and get done what you want and need to do. If you’re stuck in a day job, consider dedicating time to yourself and working on your projects during your time off during the week. Yes, this will mean sacrificing time with your loved ones, unfortunately, but sometimes gotta do what you gotta do to further yourself.

Dream job: Still, day jobs are stressful and exhausting, especially if they’re not giving you anything you need (even a paycheck isn’t enough of an incentive sometimes) and sometimes relationships suffer no matter what your hours are. Working for yourself gives you that flexibility during the day and into your time with your loved ones. You’re making your own hours and aligning yourself with what needs to be done and what projects you need to finish. But, you also get to be flexible with your time with others. Your work time, alone time, and people time aren’t competing nearly as much.


Sometimes your dream job just isn’t possible in the area you’re living in. It’s just a fact of life. Whether your dream industry just isn’t there, the jobs are few and far between, or the area is just too small or limited for what you want to do, location can be everything. So what can you do?

Day job: Try to find a day job that will still help you in your path to your dream job. There are always little details in the background of jobs that are the same across the board. Experience with those little details are going to mean the difference between selection and rejection in your dream job. Working from the ground up is going to give you a different perspective than someone who walked right into their dream position. Pursue the day job that is going to give you the background that will support your future endeavors.

Dream job: Ask yourself: What do I need to do to get to where I want to be? What will it take? What can be done right now to do that? The answers to those questions are going to drive you to continue working to reach those goals. Do what you can with what you have, with where you are, with everything you can take advantage of to help you further your path.


What kind of timeframe are you up against? And this doesn’t always have to do with your industry. This could mean your living arrangements have a deadline or your student loans are due. But it could also include your industry. Does your industry require you to follow a strict path to the top? Do you have certain licenses or certifications that will expire after a certain amount of time?

Day job: If your urgency issues are not industry-related, a day job is going to take priority, unless the deadline you’re up against is still a ways out. Apply to both kinds of jobs just in case, but, with the day jobs, focus on quantity of applications over the quality of applications for your dream job. If you really just need to focus on making money and moving out right now, do so.

Dream job: There are certain fields where getting an applicable job as soon as possible is a necessity. Licenses and certifications are usually time-sensitive and with industries (such as engineering) that are highly technical, there’s the worry that after a certain amount of time you might be too out of practice. If this is the case, dedicate your time to finding this job. In fact, finding this job is your job.


Working, no matter the amount of love you may have for your job, is exhausting. Spending long hours at the office, standing for your whole shift, interacting with customers and clients are all huge energy sucks. So how do you push through the want to just put on your comfy pants and marathon your favorite show all night?

Day job: It’s important to keep up the momentum of your day. The second you get home and sit down, you won’t want to get up. Instead, stay on the activity high and transition straight into what you really want. Use your best judgement on this – there will be nights where you probably should just rest and that’s perfectly okay. Make (or pick up) a good dinner for yourself, pour a drink, and just relax. You deserve it.

Dream job: Motivation doesn’t grow on trees. And after a week of a soul-crushing, dead end day job, it can be a hard to do anything else but sleep. But you have to keep going. You have to push through the exhaustion and do what you were meant to do. It’ll be worth it. I promise. Working on what you’re truly passionate about might even give you more energy. You’ll be so jazzed about what you’re doing that you’ll get a second wind and want to just keep going. Maybe you’ll be so excited that you’ll be itching to get off work just to keep creating.

It’s a sad fact that many of us have to face: before we can soar into our dream job, we have to build our wings in a day job. It can seem soul-crushing sometimes, but there’s often no other choice. Just remember that no job is a terrible job, nor should you feel embarrassed by a job you’ve had to take. Just keep fighting the good fight and doing you. Just keep your goals in mind and you’ll get there.


About the Author

Julie Winsel

With a background in magazine and newspaper publishing with a splash of business-sense, Julie (Eckardt) Winsel is re-pursuing her passion for writing. Now living in Eugene, Oregon, with her husband and cat, she likes vodka-crans and getting caught in the rain.