passion, drive, careers

Stop following your passion

I am a little (and by a little, I mean a lot) tired of hearing:

Follow your passion!

Now, passion is important. It is, there is no question of it. You should be passionate about many things: your work, your family, your hobbies, your friends–you need to be passionate about your life.  

But, the phrase “follow your passion” is oft-repeated in regards to choosing your career. It is the rallying cry of Silicon Valley, Alley, and whatever street type (Place, Way, Path, et al.) that is next lurking on the horizon:

  • “Follow your passion” to become a data scientist, strategist, junkie
  • “Follow your passion” to bring shoes to the shoeless, and literacy to every man, woman, child in every desecrated, deserted, dilapidated village in all corners of the globe
  • “Follow your passion” and change the world NOW by becoming part of [choose your own adventure] non-profit, NGO, political-organizing group
  • “Follow you passion” and [spend all of your life time and energy]

And that is what I am tired of, this insidious, shallow idea that passion is the answer for everything.

It is driver. It is a motivating factor. It should be, as I said above, necessary in all facts of your life. But it doesn’t exist in and of itself; it does not solve every problem, it does not put money in every pocket or food in every mouth, it does not mean that if you have enough of it you are guaranteed to succeed.

It is a distraction from what most people do not want to confront. And what are those spooky things that go bump in the night?

  1. Hard work is worth more than passion; grit will make you pound away those extra hours.
  2. Just because you work hard and you really (really really really ) want something, there is no guarantee that you will get it and that you will succeed.
  3. Really, there are no guarantees, none at all, for anything, in this life.
  4. As my father reminds me, “the world ain’t level.” Yes, we can and should work towards making it more level, but “fair” is for fairy tales
  5. Speaking about fairy tales, there is a reason they all end with a “…”

“Follow your passion” is a nice soundbite.

It is the easy way out and I believe that all of us — young or old, flea-bitten abd broken or bright, fresh, spritely, and new — deserve more. We deserve more than a cute soundbite and we deserve more than a shell game.

Follow your passion, yes, but more importantly, know:

  • What you are getting into,
  • Why you are getting into it
  • How much it is really worth to you and your life?
  • What you want your life (work, family, friends, hobbies) to look like, and
  • How you want to live that life.

Prepare yourself for the hard days. Find out what happens in the spaces between those ellipses.

Your life is not merely a passion play, it is more than that.
So live it that way.


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One comment

  1. This brings a little sanity to a difficult decision of ones career, so that makes it valuable, a breath of reason, a pause for important reflection, before jumping into something that will quickly move from fantasy to reality. I do have to say though that there is a spiritual part of job hunting, and even more importantly, in job having. It’s an emotional layer that can rest like a soft blanket on the hardest of terrain to make it more acceptable. I’m not sure that blanket is all that rational. If someone has a passion for educating youth that runs very deep, it can create a buffer to deal with the insane internal politics of working in an educational environment, and the structure, and the meddling legislation, and of course, the difficulty of teaching a bunch of difficult students. If when evaluating a job, a person digs through all the mucky parts of the job, they may never take it. In fact, with enough research on how a job REALLY is, there probably isn’t one anywhere that a person would want to pursue. Unless . . . they have passion to create that dulling, unrealistic, blind, and a little stupid, cloud of hope and joy to live through all the junk. So, for me anyway, I’m not throwing away my rose colored passion glasses just yet. Things just kind of look better, and what’s wrong with that?

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