The Cost of Passion: Following Your Dream

Straight talk from women who took the twisting path to meaningful work that pays. They followed their dreams to start businesses, find creative jobs, and make a difference, but what did it cost them?

By Mary Lou Quinlan
Mary Lou Quinlan
Photograph: Photo courtesy of Mary Lou Quinlan

But Green went on with her plan. She earned a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, and now works as a counselor at a private school. She earns substantially less than she used to, so the family has had to adjust to a more limited budget and rely on a different mix of income, including savings, her husband’s salary and support from her parents. "The only pangs of regret are when I wish I could bring more to the table financially," Green says. But her pay package includes an invaluable benefit, she says — tuition to the school for her two children.

"I have faith that this has been a great investment in us," Green adds. Looking back, she feels that her lucrative brokerage work had seduced her into a certain "lifestyle" even as she felt out of place and found no meaning in her work. To be able to "blend the line between what I do and who I am is the greatest benefit of all," she says.

Moonlighting Your Dreams

Lisa Yee, 46, of South Pasadena, California, test-drove her passion for writing before abandoning Magic Pencil Studios, a marketing and design company she had built with her husband. With big clients and a staff of 12, Magic Pencil was thriving. But over time Yee lost enthusiasm. "I was managing art directors and copywriters, when I wanted to be doing the creative work myself," she says. Shortly after her second child was born, she found herself clocking 60 to 70 hours a week, getting depressed and gaining weight.

All her life, Yee had wanted to write children’s books. So she started writing at night, only to feel pressed on all fronts: "bad mom, bad boss, bad wife, bad author." Finally, she ramped down at work and hired a new associate art director. Then her novel, Millicent Min, Girl Genius, was picked up by a top children’s editor, sold 250,000 copies and won a humor award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.

Does she miss making more money? Yes. And Yee supplements her income with speaking and teaching. "Would I trade what I’m doing for the big bucks? No," Yee declares. "For the first time in my life, I am absolutely loving my job; my children have a happy mom."

For Yee, the calculus of passion has changed. "In my 20s and 30s, success had to do with proving something to the world. Now it’s more about proving something to myself."

Making It Work

Tracy Stewart, 52, sees that attitude in many women. Stewart left a highly paid job at a savings and loan to be a personal financial consultant. "When women get to a point where they cannot tolerate their situation, they will change it. If they don’t, it’s because it doesn’t hurt enough to battle the fear of failure." Stewart herself has made trade-offs. She misses being an equal breadwinner but likes demonstrating to her daughters how to be in control of their own finances. "When women choose to follow their passion," Stewart says, "they make it work financially because they don’t want to turn back. We’ve all heard that money doesn’t buy happiness. Some women prove it."

Originally published in MORE magazine, October 2006.

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