Why “Follow Your Passion” Is Bad Advice

don't set your sights on passion
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When you’re trying to figure out your career path and how to approach life after college, you’ll get a lot of people trying to offer you advice (whether you ask for it or not). And one of the most common things you’ll hear is to “follow your passion.” In theory, this sounds great—who wouldn’t want to spend their time doing something they love and getting paid for it?

Unfortunately, this can lead you astray in a few different ways. It can set unrealistic expectations about life in the professional world, and it can make you feel like there’s something wrong with you if you don’t find a job that you’re wildly excited about every second of every day. And it turns out that passion can fade, so what happens then? Guest writer Chau Le knows what that feels like. She tried to follow her passion and found herself burnt out and starting from scratch after just two years. These are some of the lessons she’s learned along the way about some of the right—and wrong—ways to let passion guide your job search.

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You’ve heard it a thousand times: “Follow your passion,” “Do what you love,” and so on and so forth. And while it’s true that doing something you absolutely hate is pointless, going to the opposite extreme usually results in skewed expectations.

Read the story of any start-up success or big-time entrepreneur who seems to turn everything they touch into gold (while seemingly loving every minute of it) and it’s hard not to take away the message to “do what you love.” This phrase has been so overused that we’ve forgotten what it actually means.

I speak from personal experience: I love the Chinese language, and believed that because I was so passionate about it, it had to be my career. I didn’t give thought to any logistics, like the fact that Chinese is one of the hardest languages to reach fluency in as a native English speaker, or that careers as a translator, like acting, often needed to be backed up by a second job until you make it big.

But in blind faith and under the mistaken impression that I had to be passionate about my job, I studied Chinese nearly exclusively for the first two years in college. Ultimately I graduated with a BA in Liberal Studies instead, completely turned off from my “passion” after spending a year in Taiwan studying and speaking only Mandarin.

That passion had fizzled out. Even though I enjoy watching a film or two in Mandarin during my downtime, and am happy that I can read menus in Chinese, this “passion” did not lead me to my big break or money tree as I assumed it would in my early twenties.

While advice to “do what you love” has merit in that it encourages us to pursue our dreams and passions, it’s also confused a generation of career-seekers into thinking that not pursuing your passion as a career is somehow undermining yourself.

Let me ask you a question: do you like chocolate? Most of us do. In fact, most of us claim that we love chocolate, are passionate about chocolate, and would eat chocolate for a living if we could. Following the rule of having to do what you love, it would make sense that you made it your life goal to seek out and obtain a job where you got paid to eat chocolate, right? Taking this path would be following your passion, and that’s what you’re supposed to do, right?

But how many jobs as a “chocolate taster” can you find on job boards? Or, if you are lucky enough to find one, how many bars of chocolate would it take before it started to feel like you had to eat them? You’d probably start to hate the chocolate you once loved! It is important to understand that choosing a career shouldn’t be based solely on what you love: be sure you consider the economy and environment in your search, too.

How passion really works

Successful figures are often quoted saying that their passion got them to where they are now, that passion made them resilient, made them smarter, made them think harder, made them pretty much a superman or woman. And while it’s true that believing in your cause gives you strength and inspiration, we forget that these successes relied heavily on connections and luck. This often leads people to believe that by loving something and sticking to it, you’ll be led directly to your dream career.

Let’s look at passion from a different angle: I am a Krav Maga fanatic, and attend class five times a week, sometimes twice a day. I usually get in about 10 to 15 hours of intense exercise a week. Assuming that I should turn what I love into a career, teaching Krav Maga seems to be the next step. While this is not impossible, realistically it’d take me four to ten years of intense training to become a proficient teacher. As much as I love Krav Maga, I don’t know if I want to drop everything and train for four years or more, only to learn that I don’t even like to teach.

But I am indeed profiting from this passion, just in an entirely different way. My passion and intensity for Krav Maga brought me to the gym so often that it became inevitable that I would make friends. The feeling of camaraderie from practicing a martial art led to really deep connections with my classmates, so when they heard I was searching for employment, everyone wanted to help me.

One of my freelancing gigs was thanks to a classmate’s keen eyes. On a lunch break from work, my classmate noticed that the chocolate store next door needed a content writer, and immediately sent me an email. Twenty-four hours later the owner of the shop called me in for an interview and I got a part-time gig as their content developer.

How did I get the actual job? The owner was looking for someone with experience writing about food, and thanks to my passion for food, I already had a portfolio of reviews and recipes, convincing him that I was the perfect fit. My passion for Krav Maga expanded my network, and my passion for food blogging secured me the position. However, I did not make it a strict rule that I had to turn either of these hobbies into careers.

Passion vs. satisfaction

The word “passion” is often overused, and the reality of the world is that we pay for skills rather than passion. But there’s a reason why enjoying—or at least getting some kind of satisfaction from—your job is important.

If you can’t get excited over karaoke night, chocolate fondue, or House of Cards because every minute is filled with dread about your job, that’s when you might want to consider finding something else. You don’t have to find your PASSION, but you should find something that doesn’t make you feel miserable.

When passion is important

Having a hobby or something that you enjoy doing alleviates stress and restores pleasure in life. There was a time when I would attend formal networking events, and while these are very useful for meeting recruiters or simply to get out of the house, I’d go only with the goal of getting a job. I’d come home exhausted, and wishing that I could have made it to my Krav Maga class that evening instead.

Don’t get me wrong—networking events are very useful and really can lead to opportunities, but if you’re feeling less than excited, maybe even a little lifeless about something, consider trying a different route. I realized I was networking by accident, simply by doing what I love (Krav Maga). Classmates became friends, and those friends became advocates for me in my job search.

Remember that if you attend an event or class that you think has no value, most people can tell that you’re forcing a smile, and are less likely to want to help someone who doesn’t want to be there. Letting passion guide you probably won’t lead to immediate achievement, but it will put you out there as someone who is excited and focused. That attitude is what attracts people who want to help open doors and opportunities for you. And that’s when passion is important.

What’s your take? How do you feel about the advice to “follow your passion”? Do you apply it to your own job search? Leave a note in the comments section below to let us know!


 

Chau Le

About the author: Chau Le is an avid globetrotting polyglot, who has an unhealthy romance with Nutella, an attraction to writing, and an addiction to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Read more of Chau’s writing at http://thetravelingcherub.wordpress.com.

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One Response to “Why “Follow Your Passion” Is Bad Advice”

  1. Angelica Bell

    Thanks, I really enjoyed the article and found it to be helpful and enlightening. I’m actually going through this right now. I have a year left in grad school and there are so many different directions I can go in. While on one hand it’s a blessing to have so many options, it’s also stressful…especially for someone who is indecisive. And on top of my indecisiveness there are so many people in my ear with different forms of advice. So this article helps with my reasoning.

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