Because Dreaming Costs Money, My Dear

Pursuing paychecks vs. passion in light of the profit motive
Some of us may enter university deadset on a career for the typical reasons: job security, benefits, and, of course, salary. But that perfect job isn’t always what we dream of and it often comes down to a choice: profit vs. passion. Ella shares her own experience and interviews a VIU grad to discuss how we can follow our dreams in a capitalist world.
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A page out of Lana del Rey’s Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass

On the first day of grade six, I knew exactly who I was and what I wanted to be. 

I was lucky—I was as sure of myself as I was of my (in hindsight, questionable) fashion choices as I waltzed into my new classroom wearing my new teal high-top Converse paired with a galaxy-print skater skirt. 

My new teacher instructed everyone to share something fun they did over the summer, as well as what they wanted to be when they grew up. When my time came, I looked up and said:

“I’m Ella. I went swimming every single day, and when I get older I wanna be a writer.”

As I went through elementary and then high school, the answer was always the same. When dentists, coaches, and friends’ parents would ask me about my plan, I would say my dream life was simply reading and writing.

One time, I asked a dental hygienist if she was doing her dream job, and she responded with a little laugh. Obviously, I’d asked a stupid question. Who would want to spend their whole life staring into people’s mouths?

After graduation, I was accepted into university. It was my time to begin this journey I’ve been talking about for years. I could finally pursue my passion.

Yet somewhere along the way, something changed. This time, when I was asked about my dream job, I didn’t know how to answer.

I applied to the Bachelor of Science program, majoring in psychology. I believed with my whole under-developed frontal lobe that, logically, this was the best path for me to get a job. After all, my sister went into psychology, and if I knew anything about life, it was that my sister had it figured out.

I grew up with the idea that science equals ‘smart,’ and over the years, I internalized this belief.

So instead of pursuing a BA, I registered for chemistry, physics, and biology courses. By doing a BSc, I thought I was fulfilling this constructed ‘smart-person’ trajectory.

My dad is without a doubt the smartest person I know. I wanted to be just like him, and since he has his PhD in psychology, I believed his path was the blueprint for academic success.

When I would tell people about my science courses, they would congratulate me on going into a difficult degree. This only validated my perceptions.

So I completed my first year in the program. I knew I didn’t like my program that much, but I also knew that in three years’ time, I would graduate.

When my second year rolled around, I had yet to face the ultimate boss of the sciences: organic chemistry. While I was initially determined to make it through this weeder course, one week in, I was miserable.

It wasn’t until one day when my mom said, You don’t have to be in this program, that something clicked.

For the first time in years, I remembered that science wasn’t my only career choice. Once I realized that I didn’t have to follow the scientific route, my new program was obvious.

I switched to an English major.

That girl who thought she was following the traditional route is foreign to me—a momentary blip in the mosaic of my creative life.

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But my stories are not unique experiences—many students change programs. Many realize their passions and decide to follow them. 

This could be a computer science major who decides to pursue visual arts, but there are also many people whose passions aren’t associated with the increasingly under-funded creative industries. Case in point: my brother who is incredibly passionate about math. Like, he brings calculators on road trips rather than a book or his phone.

But life isn’t just about your job, and Gen Z living in the western world are discovering that the typical nine-to-five leaves little time for hobbies and hanging out with friends.

The ‘soul-sucking’ work schedule is considered to inhibit creativity and enforce a rigid structure that simply doesn’t work for the new generation.

The phrase “I don’t dream of labour” has been popularized on social media and is now a widely used colloquial expression. When asked about their dream job, Gen Z has none—they don’t dream of labour.

The rise of work-from-home jobs and opportunities on social media for entrepreneurship could offer the flexibility that Gen Z craves, but in a world where pursuing one’s dreams appears antithetical to earning a living, it is a privilege to even have this option. Taking a risk on your passions often requires a network of support—whether it be job opportunities, industry connections, financial resources, or friends to hype you up. 

Even with a support system in place, we cannot ignore the fact that pursuing artistic careers more often than not offers much less job security. 

I’m not the only one who’s had to make a difficult career choice following this realization.

Recent VIU graduate Maija Dutton also had a difficult time navigating the choice between following her dreams or having job security. Dutton has always been a very artistic person with a particular interest in film, yet she graduated from the Bachelor of Science program with a psychology major.

Facebook marketplace listing with photo of kitchen. This 1 bed 1 bath apartment is listed for $1,789 per month.

Dutton graduation picture from the BSc in Psych program
Photo by Maija Dutton 

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“Well, I’ve always enjoyed science and been pretty good at it,” Dutton shares, explaining that she comes from a very science-oriented background. “It kinda felt like the rational route.”

While Dutton did have an interest in and appreciation for psychology, she shares that it’s not really her passion. 

Like many others who have grown up and made the dreaded decision of what the heck to do with the rest of their lives, Dutton felt pressured to follow a traditional career path which was secure and lucrative. 

The incentive to follow the pipeline from high school to college to career is so ingrained in how we view the trajectory of our lives that many don’t even consider another option. 

While Dutton always loved movies, it wasn’t until her dad asked her one day why neither she or her friends were pursuing a career in the film industry that Dutton considered this trajectory a real possibility. 

Mere months after earning an esteemed science degree, Dutton is already in film school and says that she believes she is truly following her passions now. 

Dutton’s take on the “I don’t dream of labour” movement affirms that she feels that she is indeed following her dreams. Although Dutton understands the premise of this phrase, she feels like the sentiment is misplaced.

“Obviously I don’t want to have to work, but also, what else is there to do?” Dutton says. “We don’t live in a society where we have to scavenge to survive, so you’re going to have to do something and you might as well get paid for it.” 

Dutton felt more secure in pursuing film with a psychology degree in her back pocket.

“I did wait four years to finish my degree for a personal backup,” she says. 

Dreaming costs money, and while Dutton knew that she wanted to pursue her passion, she also recognized that her career choice could come to define her life.

“Film is very unpredictable,” Dutton explains. “There’s no pension. There’s no insurance … it’s a much more risky decision.” 

Dutton’s fears are especially pertinent in the wake of the recent Writers Guild of America strike, which revolted against the unfair treatment of workers and the lack of proper compensation. The strike has had significant and ongoing impacts on the development of new television shows and movies.

Facebook marketplace listing with photo of kitchen. This 1 bed 1 bath apartment is listed for $1,789 per month.
Dutton and her friends working on a film set
Photo by Maija Dutton

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The film industry is a very difficult one to succeed in, and even if you do, proper compensation for the majority of workers is rare.

“Some people are winning and some people are suffering…. It’s a flawed system,” Dutton laments.

Society idealizes the image of sacrificing everything in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire. Like, come on, there are few things more romanticized than the starving artist aesthetic. 

But in 2024, we are not romanticizing poverty and famine. At some point, some will have to decide whether they want to pursue paychecks or their passion in higher education. There are trade-offs for each decision, but the two choices are not entirely mutually exclusive.

While the idea to follow a traditional job route may oftentimes be marketed so heavily as the smart decision that it seems like the only decision, it’s not.

You can switch your major, or you can get two degrees in radically different areas. The point is: you’re not fixed for a certain life.

Don’t predicate your entire career choice on what degree of financial success it will give you. Of course, the caveat here is that everyone has to pursue a job which will pay a living wage—which is a whole different problem altogether. 

Capitalism reduces people to market values. When we introduce who we are to others, we say “I’m a server” or “I’m an electrician.” Capitalist ideology is so ingrained in our language that we colloquially define ourselves by our career, whether we think about it much or not. 

But when it comes down to it, you’re not a server or an electrician. You are a complex person with values and dreams, and your job is something you have chosen to help achieve your values. 

Choose a job based on what’s important to you. If your main value is financial freedom, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Maybe your values prioritize a career which feeds you creatively, even if you have to give up being a lawyer. 

Just don’t let anyone tell you what your dreams should be, or that your dreams are too big or are too expensive. 

It’s capitalism, baby, and we’re all just trying to survive.

Dreaming costs money, my dear. But so does everything.

Headshot of Ella Hannesson
Editor

Ella—short for Ellisif—is a passionate English and Liberal Studies student in her second year. She enjoys fashion and Lana Del Rey, and she spends her free time reading, writing, and thrifting.

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