Following your passion might be the most often given career advice. But it just might be steering you in the wrong direction.
It’s that time of year again — the time when hundreds of thousands of doe-eyed college students walk across stages in funny looking outfits, throw their caps into the air and wave goodbye to the college life.
That all depends on what advice they take.
Of course, the advice from their parents might sound something like, “get a nice job that pays well” or some variation of that. Probably with some overtones of, “whatever you do… don’t move back into my house.”
But the advice from the rest of the world, which has a tendency to scream much louder, is probably saying something quite different.
The most often promulgated advice these days — not just for college graduates but for anyone making important career choices goes like this:
“Follow your passion.”
And while it might seem like perfectly harmless — and even good — advice, if we don’t dig below the surface to find out what people really mean when they give it, we could easily be led in the wrong direction.
Three Problems with “Follow Your Passion!”
One major problem with the “follow your passion” advice that very few people ever talk about seems the most simple, if you ask me. It’s this: not every passion can earn you a paycheck.
I mean, it’s great to be passionate about pig grooming. But if there are no jobs in the pig grooming sector and no business model that could make pig grooming profitable you’d be better off searching your repertoire for another passion or skill that can be profitable.
I mean, if you’re making a good living in your day job, you can groom as many pigs as you want in your off hours.
Which leads me to the second problem with this advice, which is: it presumes we only have one passion to follow. “Follow your passion” could feel like terrifying advice, if only because you have seven passions you wish you could follow and you’re not sure which one to pick.
Maybe you’re passionate about sales, sail-boating, family, dogs, playing the trumpet and cooking.
The “follow your passion” advice doesn’t account for the fact that we all have many passions and some passions make better careers than others.
Finally, “follow your passion” assumes that our passions are fixed in life and never change. If this had been true for me, I’d still be passionate about trading baseball cards and trying to get my math teacher, Mr. Simmons, to give me an “A” without actually turning in my homework.
Thank goodness our passions change. And how better to discover our new passions than to open ourselves to new experiences and jobs we might not have chosen for if we were only following the passions we know about. Passion grows through experience and practice.
The Beauty of “Follow Your Passion!”
All of that said, I do have to admit that there is some value to the “find your passion” advice. I worked for years in a project management position before I started tinkering around on the Internet and designing websites.
When it came time to leave my job in order to design full-time, I needed that “follow your passion” advice. What that advice meant to me, in that moment, was simply this:
What is safe and predictable is not always best.
Sometimes it’s good to listen to that little voice inside of you that says, “Take a leap. Take a risk. Take a chance.”
- Follow Your Passion is Crappy Advice
- The Secret to Career Contentment: Don’t Follow Your Passion
- Not Every Creation or Passion Should be A Business
If you’re in a career transition and wondering about next steps, stop and think for a moment about what “find your passion” really means for you. What are the things you are passionate about and how can you find a way to incorporate these things in your whole life — not just your career?
No Sidebar: At Work
There’s a lot more that goes into career success and satisfaction than whether you’re immediately passionate about the work you’re doing. For example, how well do the daily tasks match your skill set? Do you work with people who energize you?
Following your passion doesn’t account for these variables and therefore won’t give you the full picture of the best steps to take.
If you find yourself struggling in your career because you have too many abilities and none stand out, or you don’t have any abilities you think would make a good career, try this approach to career-finding instead.
No Sidebar: At Home
One of the things “follow your passion” doesn’t help you consider is how you can find a career that lends itself to the kind of home life you want.
In fact, it just might be best for you to start with your home life and follow with your career. In other words, consider what kind of life you want first — then find a career that fits it.
As Seth Godin suggests, it is possible to cultivate a passion. Why wait for you passion to come to you when you could find a passion that matches your career and the rest of your life?
Although many millennials are committed to getting their careers settled before they focus on marriage, career coach Penelope Trunk calls bunk on that. Get married first, she says. Then focus on your career.
No Sidebar: In Your Soul
If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “Oh great. I already followed my passion and now I’m miserable. Don’t fear. Your life isn’t over. There is an art to being happy, no matter what your career. Happiness comes from the inside, out.
Despite the fact that “follow your passion” isn’t complete career advice, there is a certain element of truth to it. If money is our primary motivator, it is bound to steer us in the wrong direction. If we pay attention to what motivates us besides money, it will likely come to us.
No matter what your career choice may be, it is important to make room for your passions in life. That much the “find your passion” gurus have gotten right.