At age 25, would you pursue a well paying corporate job that makes you unhappy or a hobby that has no guarantee of paying the bills? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Jane Chin, author of Practical Leadership for Biopharma Executives (Elsevier), on Quora:

I agree with people who say passion is overrated.

I agree with people who say you should stay in your job and reduce misery with new challenges.

I agree with people who say you should quit your miserable job and just go for it.

I agree with these contradictory views because I find these can all be correct for the same person depending on when and where in life that person is. This was true for me. I am in my 40s and have lived and worked enough to experience situations where these contrary opinions held true.

Instead of rehashing a point a hundred different ways, I'm going to be selfish.

I'm answering this question for myself, by addressing a younger me:

When you start out, you will think about money, and how much you make. You have lived at poverty level for 10 years accumulating tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. You personally know what it's like to be really hungry and you realize how important money is, and why you feel no shame in going after good money. Pay off the student loan. Start saving every penny. You'll need it. [1999]

At some point, you will gain the privilege of choosing between money or a cause. You will ask, "Is this it? Is this all there is?" You will chase goal after goal, until you meet a cause you cannot ignore. It will be kind of sudden (aren't all such events?); you will not have a plan. All that thinking about money earns you certain freedom to risk without exposing your family to undue risk. Go ahead. Quit that 6-figure job. Follow your bliss; advocate for your cause. [2004]

Eventually you will learn that what made you "happy" can, and will, change. You will grow. You will seek. You will come to a point where you outgrow your cause. You will still ask, "Is this it? Is this all there is?" You will spend an entire year asking, "If I follow my bliss, will success follow?" and find, at least for yourself, that you will have no idea what the answer is, because you don't know when this Bliss-Success experiment actually ends, but aren't you glad that you had the money to survive the financial crash of 2007 when every other house on the block was being foreclosed? When you have a young child, worrying about whether you have a place to live, food to eat, and money for healthcare is no longer a trivial matter. These things can make or break a family's stability. Everything you decide is now bigger than just you; other people's lives are at stake. [2009]

Now you will feel lost. How can this be? You are in your 40s, you are middle-aged, and you know less now about what you want to do with your life than you did when you started! You'll have experienced earning good money, and you think this is important. You'll have experienced advocating causes, and you think this is important. You'll feel the rush of having a purpose, and you think this is important. You'll feel the letdown of waning passion, and you think this is important. Stop cursing; it doesn't get better than this (I'm not being sarcastic, I'm being sincere). [2013]

That's why it's been weeks and you still cannot answer this question to your satisfaction:

How do you show that life is not black or white, but shades of gray in the decisions you make?

How do you show that it's never about the thoughts you ruminate, that it's always been the actions you take with the opportunities you make?

How do you show how opportunities can hide in the strangest, most miserable of places, and that many of the skills that helped you succeed chasing bliss, you earned from working those miserable jobs?

You can't.

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Published on: Apr 4, 2016