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Why “follow your passion” is bad advice

Jan 7, 2019 Kate Lopaze

Why “follow your passion” is bad advice

“Do what you love”… that’s the dream, right? Everyone fantasizes at some point about quitting their day job and going full-time after something they already love to do, whether it’s a hobby or a secret passion. Steve Jobs once famously said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” So what could possibly be the drawback of making your passion your career?

6 reasons passion shouldn't drive your career

1. Not everyone has a passion

If you feel like you should be pursuing something you’re passionate about in order to feel fulfilled, that presents an immediate question: what is your passion, anyway? For some, it’s an easy answer. For others, not so much. If “do what you love” sounds more like a command and less like an opportunity, then that pressure may lead you to do something just for the sake of doing it—not because it’s the right path.

It’s totally okay to keep your passion as a free-time activity. It’s also okay to have a lot of different interests instead of one driving passion. Not everyone feels a calling to do one particular thing, forever and ever.

2. Passion might not pay the bills

Your career is about the life you want to create for yourself—it’s a comprehensive picture. For most people, that includes long-term stability for themselves and/or their families. Pursuing your lifelong love of being a performing accordionist may sound appealing now, but what’s your strategy for the long haul? If you can’t plan how your passion path will be sustainable as a career and not just a temporary choice, then it’s probably not the best professional option.

3. Pursuing your passion may not solve your problems

Following your passion may seem extra appealing for a lot of reasons: stress at work, boredom, and general life malaise are a few. But even if you march into your boss’s office and hand in your resignation tomorrow, that doesn’t mean your life will be magically happier or more fulfilling. Before you consider making any big life change, it’s important to think about why you’re making the choice, and what (realistically) you will achieve by doing it.

4. Making a career out of a passion can blur boundaries

If you love to do, say, stand-up comedy on nights and weekends, but keep it entirely separate from your day job as a nursing assistant, that might not be a bad thing. If you make your passion your career, that means you’re going to be spending a lot of time on and off the clock thinking about it, doing it, and engaging with it. There’s definitely something to be said about setting work-life boundaries and keeping a balance.

And it could be that comedy is a great release for your work stress or daily routine, but wouldn’t be as fun when you’re not only doing it all the time, but also need to focus on making it pay the bills. Will you love doing this as much when it’s your main source of income and you’re doing it every day?

5. What we love may not be what we’re strongest at doing

Fact of life: sometimes our passions don’t line up with our skills. For example: I love to bake. I’m decent at it, but definitely don’t have the skills or infrastructure to do it professionally. And although sometimes I think about what it would be like to quit my office job and bake cookies full-time, I’ve made peace with the fact that my most marketable professional skills are geared toward jobs outside the kitchen.

What we love to do and what we’re trained/educated/great at doing may not be the same thing at all. So when someone tells you to follow your passion as a career, there’s a significant risk that what we love to do on an amateur level just may not be a strong choice for going pro.

6. Even passion projects require a plan

“Follow your passion” is very vague. The logistics of your new passion career are probably not. For example, would your new business require you to get additional education or certification if you were to go pro? What kind of connections would you need to dig up employment opportunities in your passion field? There’s a very good chance that elevating a passion to a career would involve starting over in many different ways, so be prepared to plan it out beyond “I really like doing this, therefore I should do it full-time.”

Making a personal passion into a career sounds like great, life-affirming advice—and it can be. But in many cases, it’s just not feasible or sustainable. So before you follow your bliss, consider all aspects of your hot new career path. And remember: there’s no shame in doing a job that may not inspire an all-consuming passion. If you’re doing work that challenges you and helps you fulfill your goals, you’re already doing pretty well!

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