Is the Risk that Comes with an Opportunity Worth a Shot at Happiness?

When I was growing up I heard lots of people tell me to do what I was passionate about. I always nodded my head and moved on. In concept I got what they were saying but like most teenagers / young adults I had no experience to know where they were coming from, let alone know what I was passionate about.

Now in my mid 30s I have a little more experience and a different perspective. I graduated from Truman State University with a degree in accounting. I pursed accounting because I was good with math, I liked logic and accounting is a system that once you know the rules of the game you can master. It was also nice that there was a clear career path for most accountants unlike my friends that graduated with a marketing or management degree. The path was to go work for a public accounting firm and grow your career from there. I was lucky enough to land at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the largest accounting firm in the world (at least at the time).

I spent the next 4 years living in that system. It is very similar to a lawyer. They put you through the grinder and treat staff like an expendable asset. You work really hard, you learn a lot and you get good pay. I was making a good $10k more than most of my friends and thus the chase began. My success was being judged by the size of my paycheck and that was validated each year by the size of my raise.

As my career continued to accelerate so did my salary for many years. I liked my job enough but it was far from ideal. You get into such a pattern of comfort that you don't want to risk something different. I moved from running a finance group to working in business development to running a startup. You don't realize how much you need a change sometimes until you make the jump.  I found this in moving out of finance to running a startup.  The difference level of enjoyment was massive even though I went from little risk to massive risk.

Through this journey you realize that the bigger picture is not about the money. Money is nice but it starts to flatten out when you reach a certain level. It could go up more but the rate of change is not all that great in the traditional rat race. Family comes into the picture and you start to question if you are spending your time in the place that gives you the best long term return. Even though you ask the question you are sucked into the system and into your own mentality about the system. Change is scary and uncertain so people don't do it.

Over this time you start to learn a lot more about the world and a lot more about yourself. I have always been a big fan of the process of self actualization. I look at my life and find the parts that get me excited. It is not always very clear but those are the pieces that are indications of your passion. When you find that passion you want to spend your time there.

Those people that told you to do what you are passionate about during high school and college and figured something out. Life is much more enjoyable if it is centered on your passion. All parts of your life benefit because you love what you do everyday. After all, life is very interconnected. Those people that gave you advice years ago - I bet most of them were living in regret, wishing that they could be following their passion but not having the balls to take the risk. They were now in the system and change would cause major disruption. It introduces risk. How would they pay the bills? There are lots of people depending on them now. The balance of responsibility, risk and happiness.

If you were in a situation where you had an opportunity was in line with you passion but had significant risk. Should you take the risk and follow that passion or play it safe and leave things as status quo? Is it a paycheck or happiness that you are after? Are those one in the same for you or if you were to describe your ideal world is $$ required for your happiness?

To be clear - this is not about money for me but so many people are chasing a check or don't feel that they can take a risk because of how it affects that income. What do you think? Where do you stand?