We all have a work philosophy: a blend of our family background and ingrained (or rejected) values, our education, career and life experiences, and our unique personalities. In my 10+ years of interviewing accomplished women (and men), most people seem to follow one of two broad work philosophies: do what you love or love what you do.

Do what you love

Susanne Strandänger is a Morocco-based visual artist:

“In my first career I lived a bourgeois life as a well-paid business lawyer, but I always felt something was missing inside. Since early childhood I found my greatest pleasure in drawing, painting, writing poems, and I have always been inspired by nature. When my best friend suddenly died from a heart attack, leaving her husband and three small children, I realized that life can end in an instant without warning. At that moment, I decided to start changing my path in life and today I work and live as an international artist between Morocco and Sweden. If you live your dream, you are in the flow and as a consequence the money will come.”

Rie Rumito is an executive coach and water-colourist in Singapore:

“When I was growing up I loved drawing and painting. My Mom dissuaded me from choosing art as a vocation. She actually told me off and said “Don’t be an artist – you will die before you make it.” I did my Master’s in Finance and worked for most of my career in HR mainly in the finance industry. About 25 years ago I had a big urge to paint. I was a single parent at the time and I enrolled in an oil painting night class. It was fun but then I met a new guy and I abandoned painting. About seven years ago when I was done with major family obligations and could carve out a space for myself I picked up painting again and from then on I have spent every single hour of my spare time painting. My advice is to decide in which space you will contribute and then nurture yourself in that direction.”

Love what you do

Derek McGeachie is the founder of Mi5 Print and Digital, a North American company:

“I don’t believe that young people should go out and ‘do what they love’ because this may not be something that allows you to support yourself. My advice instead is to also do what is going to make you wealthy and learn to love that. It might not be natural to you at first but you can learn to love what you do. You can also learn to appreciate the dark days as well. And the reason that I’ve been able to attract a large team of really great people? I’m right in there with them…I’ll drive a delivery truck sometimes, I’ll pack a box, or I’ll run the equipment. I like to have my sleeves rolled up as much as the next person.”

Afifa Siddiqui is the founder of Canadian Payroll Operations:

“My philosophy about money is quite simple: Do what is closest to money first. I don’t believe in that adage about doing what you love and the money will follow. You will not have great love for everything you do but you will certainly need to do some things that will bring you close to money. When I was deciding what to study, I wanted to go into business but decided that this route wouldn’t lead to good money right away. I noticed the types of jobs available and chose to attend engineering school instead. I was one of the first students to get a job in my final year. Do what is closest to money first. This is how I run my business and I love my business…because I created it and I work with people I like to be around. The love came after the money.”

The Meaning of Work

In his 1959 classic Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl discussed the idea that either “creating some work” or “doing some deed” is a way to give meaning to our lives. Maybe that means we don’t need to make a binary choice between doing what we love or loving what we do.

It is possible that the things we are creating right now or the deeds we are doing right now are not fulfilling our need for meaning. But as we can see from the four stories, if we pour our full efforts into the work at hand – even if it seems less meaningful – we are likely to develop ourselves as individuals and open the doors to grander opportunities that will hold more meaning for us.

Barbara Stewart, CFA is one of the world’s leading researchers on women and finance, focusing on real life financial behaviours and providing global insights into how smart women think and communicate. Barbara is an advocate for women, for diversity, and for financial education. In addition to her Rich Thinking® research, Barbara uses her proprietary research skills to work as an Executive Interviewer on a project basis for global financial institutions seeking to gain a deeper understanding of their key stakeholders, both women and men. Barbara is a frequent interview guest on TV, radio and print, both financial and general interest. She is a contributor to the CFA Institute’s Enterprising Investor website. For more information about Barbara’s research, please see www.barbarastewart.ca.