Q: I turned 40 this past August and work in a dead-end job, doing billing for a major insurance company. I just started college for the first time this summer. I am currently enrolled in an associate's paralegal program. However, I am having second thoughts. I chose this area after researching and finding that this is a well-paid profession, yet I really never had any interest in law. My true passion lies with animals. I have contemplated going for a vet technician; unfortunately, the projected salary for this position is less than what I make now—so much so I could not survive on it. I am torn. Do I choose something for the money or for the love of doing it, even though it pays incredibly low? What are the chances of me succeeding in an area that I do not have a passion for? I am 40 years old and still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I better hurry up before it is too late. Can you help?
— Jennifer, age 40
A: Jennifer, "should I choose love or money?" is such an insistent and urgent question that I think we have to be careful that we haven't painted ourselves into a corner by asking it. It may be that you do have to choose between doing what you truly love and maintaining your standard of living; but it may also turn out to be a false choice that you don't have to make. The best way to find out is to explore what you love.
You are clearly confident when you say, "my true passion lies with animals." But do you have any passion about being a vet technician specifically, or is that just what comes to mind when you picture working with animals? Since that field seems too financially limiting to you, you should consider whether there are other ways to pursue your passion. If what you really love is knowing that you have helped an animal who needs it, you may be able to find fulfillment in the legal realm by focusing on animal rights or working for groups that do. If what you love, however, is working with animals hands-on, ask yourself: is veterinary medicine important to you, or could you be invigorated by pursuing work in another field, such as training animals?
The more specific detail you discover about what, precisely, makes you feel strong, the better prepared you will be to weigh your options. If you haven't done so already, I would encourage you to volunteer at an animal shelter or something similar so that you can learn what specific activities do or do not strengthen you.
If, in the end, you do find that it is impossible to reconcile doing what you love with your standard of living, I can't really tell you what to choose. All I can say is that, after spending my entire career talking to people about what they do and how they feel about it, I've found it incredibly rare for someone to be truly happy doing what she doesn't love.