Someone has a less than morally sound job, like a drug dealer, arms dealer, assassin, or lobbyist. They usually get into the job to make ends meet, especially if the job is illegal, but when they become financially sound or even get a legal job, they refuse to stop. Why? — because they're good at it. The fulfillment of being competent has surpassed the fulfillment of being a "good person." Or, they're willing (if in a legal job, like lobbyists) to let their job damage their personal lives and public facade for the simple reason of competence.
See also Do Wrong, Right and Punch Clock Villain. Compare Evil Virtues. Contrast Reluctant Warrior, who fights because he has to... and isn't necessarily good at it.
open/close all folders
Mr. Nice from The Batman Adventures wound up becoming a master criminal because he is incredibly good at it. His family first got an inkling of his future when, as a baby, he trounced and disarmed a burglar. He actually was a kiddy TV show host (his happiest days), until his live show was attacked by some terrorists and he discovered how proficient he was at combat by engaging them head-on and handily winning. His TV career ended that moment, and he discovered that being a nicer guy than Ned Flanders didn't stop him from being a freakin' great criminal, ultimately joining Mastermind and the Perfesser to form the Threatening Trio.
Lobster Random claims to be a professional torturer because he's good at it, understands it and can't do anything else.
Nexus spent most of his career bitterly miserable that a Sufficiently Advanced alien was compelling him to travel the universe executing mass murderers. The oppressed cheered him for it and tyrants loathed him for it, but Horatio himself just wanted to stop killing people. When, after years, he finally gets his wish—the above-mentioned alien agrees to leave him alone, and another member of the alien's race agrees to maintain his super-powers—Horatio realizes that he's spent his entire adult life doing this, and executing murderers is the only thing he knows how to do.
Occasionally Bruce Banner is called out on the fact that, despite having an intellect on par with Reed Richards or Tony Stark, before becoming the Hulk he devoted his life to making bombs. His explanation? He was good at it. And indeed, he made the most destructive bomb ever; one that never stops exploding. The Hulk.
Thank You For Smoking: Nick Naylor is a lobbyist for tobacco companies and invokes the trope by name in the movie (and the book?). He even associates with similar lobbyists (NRA and the alcohol lobbies) and discusses strategies and a viewer can tell that these people take pride in their work (at one point they're deeply insulted when Nick declares that only he would be hunted down by vigilantes for what he does).
Well, only he was.
Yuri Orlov from Lord of War is an illegal arms dealer who has several reasons to quit - his wife threatening to leave him, a Interpol agent dogging him, and building a successful lumber export company, but goes back to arms dealing because, at the end of the day, it is what he's good at.
He took no pleasure in being a thief, but he took great pleasure in being a very good thief.
Honor Harrington: Honor does what she does because she's "better at it than most other people" (almost direct quote from the book). Given as what she does is lead fleets into battle, and almost always wins, it might count. It's clear that she doesn't like it, just that she's very capable. She might not like the idea of killing hundreds of people on both sides in her actions, but even she admits at times that she enjoys the thrill of battle, especially if her target is someone whodeserves it. Her own husband thinks of her as the Handmaiden of Death.
In The Lies of Locke Lamora, the Gentleman Bastards don't do anything with the huge amounts of money they acquire from their long cons. It just sits there. But they are excellent thieves, so why would they give up?
In Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night, Harriet Vane discusses how she continued to write murder mysteries after being tried and acquitted for murder; she says that anyone with feeling would rather scrub floors, but it happens that she would scrub floors very badly and writes mysteries very well.
In The Godfather Returns, the interquel to The Godfather, Vito Corleone is suggested as following this trope. During a flashback history lesson, the book discusses Vito's early days as Don. While his children were still growing up, Vito used his Genco Olive Oil delivery trucks to deliver alcohol during Prohibition, amongst other things. As Prohibition came to an end, Sonny and Fredo had joined "the family business".
Even so, he had amassed millions of dollars: A staggering amount of money in the 20's and 30's that would let him and his family live in comfort for the rest of their days. Instead, he tried to form an alliance with Maranzano, the kingpin of New York. Maranzano refused, beginning the Castellammarese War that ended up Vito as the undisputed head of New York's underworld. Vito had made his fortune without stepping on anyone's toes and had sworn that his children wouldn't have to follow in his footsteps.
With such a fortune and his own wits, there were any number of legal businesses and ventures he could have undertaken. However, the book suggests that once Sonny and Fredo were part of his business, he had to continue on the path he's chosen. Not only because he was so good at it, but because his two oldest sons were not good at anything else. Left on their own, with no supervision or protection, no real skills or education, and a criminal mindset, Vito felt they would both be dead within a year.
This is also why Michael stays with gangstering later books. He keeps insisting he's somewhat ashamed of the family history and keeps wanting to go legit and "they're always pulling him back in", but the fact is he's really good as a ruthless criminal mastermind.
In the Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, there's a master architect, Goldeneyes Silverhand Dactylos. His backstory consists of him inventing marvels for various royals, only for his employers to mutilate him so that he couldn't repeat the invention for anyone else. When his latest employer asks why he didn't just give it all up and try flower arranging, he replies "I'm good at it."
And is promptly killed.
Fisk, in the Knight and Rogue Series is a good-hearted fellow who got into the con business to try and support his sisters, and since he's such a natural at coming up with unbelievable bull on the spot, kept with it. Until he got saddled with Michael, that is, and he still gets away with plenty of well woven lies and card tricks.
Li Kao from Bridge of Birds is an inversion. Born to a pair of cons, he already had a natural talent for stealing. However, he also proved to be the smartest man in China, and when he grew up, he found that a life of crime was so easy it was boring. Solving crime, however, was a much more interesting challenge, and he chose to do so for the rest of his life instead.
Spenser muses on this sometimes. For the most part, he sees violence as a byproduct of his job as a PI, but is also aware that part of the reason he picked this as his work is because underneath his Deadpan Snarker and Genius Bruiser personality, he is deeply violent, and this kind of job allows him to channel his violent impulses in a useful direction.
Belisarius doesn't particularly like being a soldier, but he's the best that the Romans have got, and he knows that the empire needs him as a general. Even if some days, he'd really rather have been a blacksmith...
Live Action TV
Nancy Botwin from Weeds is much the same in her career as a marijuana dealer, or at least she thinks she is.
Better Off Ted: The case for most of the main cast, especially Ted, who's especially adept at his job and serves the morally questionable conglomerate Veridian Dynamics despite his otherwise squeaky clean morality.
Breaking Bad: This is Walt's Motive Decay, going from making meth to provide for his family when he's gone to making meth because it's the only thing that lets him use his previously wasted skill at chemistry. He eventually admits this to Skyler in the series finale.
Walt: Skyler. All the things that I did, you need to understand–
Skyler: If I have to hear, one more time, that you did this for the family–
Walt:I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really...I was alive.
This exchange between the Doctor and Romana in "Nightmare in Eden":
Romana: I don't think we should interfere.
The Doctor: Interfere! Of course we should interfere. Always do what you're best at, that's what I say.
The reason Tyrion gives in Game of Thrones for remaining in the Deadly Decadent Court of King's Landing, despite the fact that people are trying to kill him and his father usurped his position:
"I do belong here. These bad people... are what I'm good at. Out-talking them, out-thinking them... it's what I am. And I like it. I like it more than anything I've ever done."
Person of Interest: Root, on her track record of murder and theft: "My mom told me to follow my talents, and I'm good at what I do."
Boxer "Aussie Joe" Bugner's feats include going 12 rounds against Ali and Frazier and staging a surprisingly successful comeback in his middle age, but after his second retirement he admitted he never really enjoyed boxing.
Metal Gear Solid: At the climax, Grey Fox laments that fighting was and is his only talent in life, but has some reconciliation in that he never sold out his beliefs and fought for a cause he felt was unworthy. This is a deliberate, non-callous comparison to Solid Snake at this point in the series, who is an even more gifted warrior yet has always blindly followed orders without philosophy.
The plight of those who are natural soldiers versus the concept of peace is one of the oldest and most important themes in the series. Solid Snake is loath to admit it even under the most excruciating duress, but he loves battle, and while his enemies often seek the proliferation of worldwide conflict for the benefit of natural-born soldiers like himself, he has a selfless moral instinct which forces him to stop them at any cost. In a meta sense we as players participate in this contradiction by playing the games because we enjoy and pay for simulated violence, yet portray characters who strive to prevent conflicts. The secondary plot line of the series follows the journey of his father, Big Boss, which sees him face the same quandary yet reach a completely different conclusion, choosing to fight because it's all he really has in his life and can't see any other alternative, nor does he think he needs a reason even as petty as following orders or wanting to stop the bad guys.
Zevran from Dragon Age notes that even if he wanted to be anything other than an assassin, whichhedoesn't, he has been doing this work all his life and doesn't know how to do anything else. Well, nothing else that wouldn't get him arrested for performing in public.
Isabela in the sequel gives this as an excuse for her continued career as a pirate (other than simply enjoying the freedom that comes with it), though other characters have pointed out that her skills could easily be put to use doing something else, and unlike Zevran, she chose to become a pirate and there's no one threatening to hunt her down if she quits ( Castillion comes close, but he really only cares about the tome she stole, not what she does with her life afterwords). One could make the case that this actually makes her come off as much more selfish, given how easily she can ignore the people her actions hurt. The Qunari Incident perfectly demonstrates what happens when this tendency reaches its zenith, leaving several hundred people dead because of her, yet it also marks the point where she starts to go through a bit of Character Development. Provided she has a good enough relationship with Hawke and doesn't run off first.
Implied to be the reason why Hawke prefers to work outside the law as a Part Time Hero, instead of getting an actual job or position of authority in Kirkwall. Similarly, why they continue to perform odd jobs for people around the city, even after becoming independently wealthy.
Niko Bellic of Grand Theft Auto IV fame tells his cousin Roman that, although he'd like to settle down and live a normal lifestyle, his only skills are criminal.
Thief from 8-Bit Theater originally took up stealing in order to pay for his father's medicine, then kept stealing even after the situation was resolved. Then again, he's a protagonist from 8-Bit Theater, and he's an elf from that comic. Screwing other people over is what those two groups do best.
Belkar from The Order of the Stick admits that "hurting people is the only thing I'm good at." Most of the time he doesn't have a problem with that. Most of the time.
The Accuser: When interviewed by a reporter who described his recently acquitted client as a "racketeer and reputed killer", Amoral Attorney Dan Mason claimed he did his job and was "proud of it". His wife even complained he was "too good".
In The Simpsons, Krusty the Clown once manages to refresh his comedian routine by starting to complain cynically about the modern world, and becomes popular as a stand-up act again. Soon, however, he's once again persuaded to start endorsing a product even in his act in the middle of complaining about everything else, immediately losing his credibility. He doesn't regret it, though, because as he explains he's realised his real talent isn't comedy - it's selling out.
Xiaolin Showdown: Subverted when Jack Spicer quits being evil only to turn back again when he is afraid he'll actually be worse at being good than he was at being bad.