Do what you love. That sounds so lovely and so easy, right? Pick your obvious passion, and find a way to get paid for it. Easy peasy…except when it’s not. Doing what you love isn’t always the easy option—it could require sacrifices, complicated decisions, or even the realization that you don’t know what you love to do after all. So what do you do? Should you find a reliable career path that doesn’t stress you out, but also doesn’t really excite you? Or should you pursue that passion project, and risk it all on that path?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. Both have benefits and drawbacks. Let’s look at some of both.
Let’s say you’re feeling ready to turn that photography hobby into a small business, or take the job working for that tiny nonprofit instead of the wealthy conglomerate. What are the benefits?
“Legacy is greater than currency.”
If you choose a job that pays the bills but doesn’t feel like your calling, you don’t get any promises that it will pan out as the best financial option. But entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk is pretty militantly on the go for it side, arguing that you can monetize what you love, as long as you hustle.
Money doesn’t have to be your personal currency.
And I’m not talking about bitcoin or Chuck E. Cheese tokens here. Your relationship to your work may be your own personal currency, worth as much as the financial benefits you might find elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, you still need money of the cold hard variety if you enjoy food, shelter, and wifi, but your personal currency might not always align with money considerations.
You’re more invested in your job.
If you’re doing something that engages you personally and professionally, you may be more likely to be attentive and creative.
Stability might not outweigh misery.
If you’re truly unhappy or under-stimulated at your stable-but-meh job, the resulting stress and malaise could actually be harmful to your emotional and physical health. Some research suggests that happy employees are 12% more productive, so why not find work that makes you actually happy?
You spend more time at work than anywhere else, so why not make it count
When you think about spending 40+ hours a week doing something (anything), how does that make you feel? If the idea of spending that time processing Excel reports makes your face involuntarily scrunch up, that’s a sign that maybe you should look for something more in line with your interests.
Now let’s take a peek at the devil’s advocate side. What are the potential drawbacks of making your passion your career?
It may close off other paths.
If you lock yourself into a path you may have chosen as a youngster, you may not find it as easy to branch out and develop other skills, growth areas, etc. In his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Author Cal Newport argues that you’re better off bolstering skills instead of interests, and giving yourself career capital that you can use in various avenues throughout your career.
There’s no guarantee your passion will be a fulfilling professional choice.
Have you ever really wanted something, then gotten it, and realized that hmm, this isn’t as great as you thought it would be, in your head? There’s a real chance that following the “follow your passion” advice (you follow me?) isn’t a great long-term choice for you, once you get into the stage of needing it to pay the bills.
“If you follow your passion, you’re probably going to fail.”
Another Ted Talk-er, this time Benjamin Todd, a career coach, walks through the scenario of pursuing that passion, and finding that the work itself isn’t all that fulfilling. Todd argues that there’s no real evidence linking interest-matched jobs and job satisfaction.
What if your passion changes?
Most career choices don’t have to be made once and kept forever, but changing paths can be a major challenge. If you do choose your passion as a career, think hard about what happens if you wake up one morning and decide that you’re not so keen on that hobby that’s now your livelihood.
What you love may not be where your talents lie.
For example, I love TV. I love watching it, talking about it, reading about it. But as much as I enjoy it as an art form, the industry isn’t really aligned with my educational background or skill sets. Those are both things that can be picked up and developed, but personal investment isn’t always enough to make the professional leap. If you’re a rockstar at accounting, and can put together a profitable and reasonably satisfying career doing that, is that the worst thing in the world?
How Do I Pursue My Passion as a Career?
Okay, so if you’ve gotten through the pros and the cons, and still want to move forward with this “do what you love” thing, there’s a major logistical problem: how? How do you get started? What do you consider? What do you do to move this ball forward, so that it’s no longer an “I should do this” pipe dream?
Think hard about the choice you’re making.
Career choices shouldn’t be made lightly, or impulsively—the consequences of your decision can mean the difference between loving your job and being unemployed and unhappy.
Set a timeline.
So many awesome ideas die on the vine because they get lost in the realities of daily life, and don’t have a schedule attached to them. I’ll do it later, tomorrow, next week. Once you’ve made the decision to pursue your passion project as a career, come up with your game plan. That includes timing. If you want to be in a new job by next year, start working on your resume and building skills now. Set interim goals that you can hit in the meantime, so you feel like you’re making progress toward the ultimate goal of working in your passion field.
If you’re 36, it’s probably too late to be a ballet dancer or an astronaut if you’re not already on that path. Turning to your inner child to help identify what you’re passionate about can be great, but this choice really needs to line up with the adult you’ve become, and your realities. Similarly, here’s where you decide if your love of Ukranian chamber music affords any actual job opportunities in your area. Dig in and do some research about what the job opportunities are for your interest.
Take classes and build your skills.
It may be that pursuing your passion means starting your own business. If that’s the case, learn everything you possibly can about how to start and run a business, and the various hardships you might face. Take classes online or in person to start building a structure to go with your new career goals.
At some point, you’re going to have to take a leap here. You should absolutely take the time to figure out if this is the right path for you, but you also need to be prepared to end that phase and just go for it.
When you make the decision to go for it, understand that you’re taking a risk. But isn’t everything a risk when you get right down to it?
What If I Don’t Know My Passion?
A lot of pressure is put on the phrase “doing what you love,” that sweet spot where your interests, skills, and opportunities line up so magically. What if you like some things, are good at some things, but don’t know if that constitutes the kind of passion that demands a career change?
Life coach Terri Trespicio advises you to stop looking so hard for that “passion.” Try different things, and don’t be afraid to fail while you look for the most fulfilling career path. “[Passion] is the full force of your attention and energy that you give to whatever is right in front of you. And if you’re so busy looking for this passion, you could miss opportunities that change your life. You could also miss out on great love because that’s what happens when you have tunnel vision trying to find the one.” Start by finding what you like to do, what you’re good at doing, and go from there. If you’re open to letting your passion find you instead of the other way around, you could find yourself on that “doing what you love” path without even meaning to be there.
There’s no single way to pursue your “passion,” but as long as you put time and energy into figuring out a) what that is; or b) how that fits into your life and your career, chances are you’ll be just fine.
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