What to Do When a Job You Want Comes With a Pay Cut

June 13, 2016, 11:30 PM UTC
Mad Men
Courtesy of AMC

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “In choosing a career, how much should pay matter? is by Cliff Johnson, co-founder and chief development officer at Vacasa.

Like many startups, some of our employees took pay cuts when they joined Vacasa in the early days, including me. But I’ve always believed that salary shouldn’t be the first consideration when choosing a career path, and it’s that attitude that has given me a fulfilling and varied career.

After I graduated from law school in 2006, I tried to find a law firm that suited my interests. I had trained as a tax attorney, I had student loans, and I had invested a lot of time and resources getting through law school. I felt pressured to find work as a lawyer. But in my heart, I knew I wasn’t on the right career path. I finally found the job I was looking for, and it wasn’t at a law firm. That’s why my best advice is to not get too caught up in the credentials you have. Instead, find a way to do for a living what you would do anyway.

See also: Why You Should Never Take Pay Over Experience

Of course, not everything you do for fun will pay the bills, and there will undoubtedly be times in your life when you’ll have to take a job just to keep the lights on. I’ve been there many times, but I’ve always found ways to learn from the people around me—to make the most of my professional experiences even when I didn’t have the ideal job.

For instance, being a tax attorney would not ultimately have been fulfilling for me, but it did teach me to dig deep into the businesses that I worked with. My background in tax law helps me understand what makes businesses thrive, which is crucial in my work as a startup entrepreneur.


A key factor for me in finding the right career was variety: I like facing new challenges and working on new projects, and I get to do that as an entrepreneur. At Vacasa, we give that same variety and flexibility to each of our employees so that they have the opportunity to grow professionally and personally. We’ve found that providing autonomy and room for creativity matters a lot more than salary.

Because I’ve always focused on keeping my fixed financial obligations as low as possible, I was able to take a lower salary to help launch Vacasa. I strongly recommend taking the same approach with your personal finances—adjusting the amount you need to live on so that you’re free to seize opportunities as they come along. Plus, businesses tend to be very loyal to employees who took a chance on them in their early days. If you’re invested in your employer’s success, chances are they’ll be invested in yours.