Paychecks may be wonderful, but career fulfillment is more rewarding. Here are a few ways you can find a stronger connection to your career.

“I thought you went to college so you could get a ‘real’ job.”

I received this sentiment from a well-meaning friend a few months after I graduated with a writing degree. During my post-college job search, I continued to work as a nanny to pay the bills. Though I was slowly building a professional portfolio, people kept asking me, “Why don’t you just do [insert non-writing job here] full-time until something comes up?”

My stubborn refusal not to settle eventually paid off. My dream would become a reality because I’d do whatever it took to make it so. Having a real connection to my career was something I highly valued. Many of my peers would agree.

If a personal connection to your career is important to you, then get to work!

1. Seek advice from the person you aspire to be

A mentor can help you sort out your goals and make smart choices. Until you find your mentor, you can seek out online professional advice through articles or social media. Better yet, take some advice from my mentor, Lisa Brock.

Lisa runs her own public relations firm, Brock Communications. She’s also a published author and champion of young professionals. We met when she was my professor at the University of Tampa, and she has continued to be my mentor and chief source of inspiration.

“Resist the urge to just take a job,” says Brock. “The first job is about opportunity, and no job should ever be taken for money.” (Click to Tweet!)

She advises young professionals to hold out for a mentor, the right culture fit or a job they would do for free.

2. Pay attention to your emotions

Emotional intelligence is a crucial skill for emerging leaders. Understanding your emotions can help you communicate with your coworkers and work well in groups. And it can help you reach your real career goals, even when you’re feeling confused or stressed about them.

Listening to yourself is important. There may be times when you have to face major career decisions or balance work during difficult family situations. Working with a mentor can help improve your emotional intelligence and make it easier to transition through hard times.

3. Do it on your own time

It may not be possible to stop everything to pursue the career you want, but you don’t have to quit your day job. Your full-time work doesn’t have to be the entire source of your career fulfillment. You can pursue freelance opportunities or volunteer in your field of interest.

Sometimes you have to be flexible with your career timeline. When I was working as a nanny, every freelance writing job I found brought me one step closer to writing for a living. I also used every personal connection I had to bring me closer to my goals.

Listen to your mentors, and don’t get discouraged if things take longer than you hoped.

“Life is real, and it can take a while to get the footing or foundation to follow one’s bliss,” says Brock.

I’m not a millionaire, but I pay my bills doing something I’d do for free. I’ve done unpaid writing assignments for nonprofits and for projects I really care about.

Paychecks are wonderful, but feeling fulfilled is even better.

Erin Palmer is a digital content specialist who happily spends her days writing, editing and helping college students figure it all out. She has been published in The Chicago Tribune and The Huffington Post, yet she still gets excited every time she sees her byline. Interaction with readers makes her day, so reach out to her on Twitter @Erin_E_Palmer.


  1. jrandom421

    Try telling that to your landlord, utility company, grocery store, clothing store, healthcare provider and your holder of all your student loans.
    I’m sure they’ll be happy to accommodate your feelings when you can’t pay them what you owe.

    • Erin Palmer

      You’re right, feelings don’t pay the bills (otherwise I would be set for life)! But having a career that is fulfilling AND provides for your family is the ultimate goal. It is possible, but it requires hard work and a TON of patience.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • Career Coach,

        I’ve noticed that a lot of people are frightened to pursue careers that don’t have an immediate, substantial monetary payoff, even when these paths would be personally fulfilling and could eventually grow into stable careers.

        It’s interesting that we’re willing to pay boku bucks and devote four years for a college degree, but we aren’t similarly willing to invest a few formative years towards letting our authentic careers develop. And yes, those years will likely involve reducing expenses and getting a pay the bills kind of job as Erin describes.

        • jrandom421

          So what’s the solution to this?
          How do you pay the bills when you’re still waiting for your business to develop a self-sustaining return? Menial job? Welfare? Loans? Mooching off Mom, Dad and friends? Begging on the street corner? PayPal crowdsourcing?
          What happens if it never becomes self-sustaining? What then?
          I’m curious to hear what your solutions to this are.

          • Career Coach,

            There’s not one solution, and sure, any of the options you listed are valid, though the victim tone in many of them probably wouldn’t be appealing to most. Live with roommates, support yourself through another job or jobs, and avoid unnecessary expenses.

            As to your second question there are a couple things going on.
            1) Do you have your head in the sand holding onto a dream without attending to the practicalities and marketing involved in making it work? If so, pay attention to learning how to get customers. I see more people fail from a lack of this knowledge than anything else.

            2) Are you seeing evidence that your venture could be self-sustaining (aka some income) or not? Some markets are harder than others. I remember Warren Buffett telling a story about opening a gas station across the street from another gas station who constantly undercut their prices. Even Warren Buffet couldn’t make that one work. It’s okay to try something, learn it’s not working, and then revise and attempt a better course.

            Overall thought- people cite money reasons as a socially acceptable way to cover their fears of trying something new, putting themselves out there and risking failure. But it seems to me being willing to endure these things is the ticket to a full and well lived life free of regrets.

          • jrandom421

            To your last paragraph, I know many former entrepreneurs who are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, divorced, and forced to work at jobs far below their skill and ability, simply because there isn’t anything else they can do to sustain themselves. They still keep dreaming, trying and failing, falling further into debt, becoming more and more isolated from friends and families.
            It’s sad to see, and there doesn’t seem to be any cure for failed entrepreneurs from continually trying and failing.

          • Career Coach,

            We are definitely at opposite ends of the optimism/pessimism spectrum. I have many friends who are making hundreds of thousands of dollars running businesses they love.

            Both possibilities (success and failure) certainly exist though. No argument there.

            Thanks for the discussion!

  2. Map

    I worked very impatient, then himself regretted. Prices as all can do. What I really mean to share. Thank you.

  3. TeachPR

    @f9238b5fbf68aa92b404f12ec6a55e68:disqus Erin provides some valid points to creating a life vs. being pulled along on one. It doesn’t necessarily all happen at once but it CAN happen. Take each point on and then move to the next. And it’s also important to believe you can or if you can’t find that in your self, try and find a mentor who can help you find it. I really hope you’ll give what she has to say some valid consideration.

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  5. Maegan Anderson

    This is exactly what I needed to hear today! I like the point you made about seek advice from the person you aspire to be, knowing what sets you off in the first place is incredibly valuable information to have. It can help prepare you for future occurrences before what happen.

    • Erin Palmer

      SO glad to hear it, Maegan! Thank you.

    • mozu517

      Same here! There’s an organization in another state that I really admire. I’m going to contact them to see who has the same mission closer to home. Then I can get involved in an issue that really means something to me.

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  7. jrandom421

    “Paychecks are wonderful, but feeling fulfilled is even better.”
    From my mom: “Since bills don’t just go away simply by feeling good about yourself,, paychecks are like breathing. It only becomes a problem when they stop.”

    • Erin Palmer

      Your mom sounds pretty awesome!

      This article isn’t about ignoring bills in an attempt to find work fulfillment. Keep the paychecks coming in, make sure to earn enough to meet your needs, but don’t give up on your larger goals.

      And hey, if big paychecks are your source of happiness, that’s still a goal. There is no right or wrong, every person has their own priorities.

      • jrandom421

        I’ve got a really dumb question: Why must I turn my passion into a business? Agreed that we spend a lot of our lives in work, and it helps a lot if you love what you do, but why must it be my livelihood?
        There are a number of passions that will never see the light of day as a self-sustaining business, so why force them to be? Why not have a “day job”, and use what it earns to be the patron of your passion. This then frees you to pursue your passion without the tyranny of running it as a self sustaining business.
        It worked for a friend of mine, who’s a technical writer by day, but at night, pursues her passion of translating medieval literature into contemporary romance novels.

        • Erin Palmer

          That’s not a dumb question at all! I actually agree with you completely, your passion does not have to come from your day job. Though it works for some, it might not be possible for everyone.

          Your friend is a perfect example. Realistically, translating medieval literature into contemporary romance novels may not pay the bills. Finding a way to work it into her life, even if it isn’t her 9-5 thing, is exactly what I meant when I said “do in on your own time.”

          Even though I love my job, fiction writing is another aspiration of mine. I write fiction on my spare time and may never make a dime off of it, but I love it nonetheless.

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