Once upon a time, your career path was pretty much set in stone: you’d follow in your father’s footsteps. He would teach you the trade and you would go on to work with him. He would retire, and you would have to continue the trade until your own retirement. Nowadays, however, the idea of having no say in our careers and staying in one place sounds absolutely horrible; many of us choose not to follow our parents’ career paths and new graduates tend to stay in each role for only three to six months.
Which is great. Branching out in different directions is why our world has changed so much and why there are now jobs that didn’t even exist a few years ago. The good news is that we can now choose to do pretty much whatever we want. The bad news, however, is that we can choose to do whatever we want… Raise a child on a certain kind of candy and they’ll grow to love it; take your child to a candy store and tell him to choose, and he’ll develop a dangerously sweet tooth.
Freedom to choose is great if you know what you want. Unfortunately, some of us aren’t so great at making decisions, especially ones that might tie us to one particular job for the rest of eternity. When we say we don’t know what we want, we’re told to follow our passion. While a list of passions might be a good way to try and decide what industry to aim for, here are some reasons why we need to be careful:
See Also: How to Find Your Real Passion
1. Passion Can Become Obsession
When you think of doing something you’re passionate about, what are you actually thinking? A situation where you’ll be going in to work every day and finding the work rewarding, or a job where you can often be found thinking "without my work, I’m nothing" and "I can’t think about anything else"?
Being passionate about something means finding it enjoyable and feeling like you’re making a difference to the world. There’s still a distinction between what you do and who you are, and your job hasn’t become your only identity. If you become too passionate, however, you risk becoming a workaholic who lives to work and who is so goal-focused that you neglect and abuse your relationships, both personal and professional.
You might think there’s no such thing as being too passionate, but you’ll know it if you are: it’s when you start to lose yourself to your work and when feeling passionate about what you do has given way to feeling passionate about what the work does for you. Once you start doing it for the rewards and social status, your new passion has become an obsession with how you’re seen and what you can get for you. You, you, you.
2. You Won't Succeed If No One Else Cares
When you dream about following your passion, you’re probably imagining sitting on a beach in anything but a suit, doing the thing you love while surrounded by your adoring customers who are literally throwing money at you. (Then you wake up and realize that what you thought was a warm sea breeze is actually your dog panting in your face).
There’s something you’re forgetting that’s quite important: while working for yourself means there’s no one for you to call boss, your customers are the boss instead. When you go to an interview, or ask for a raise, you’re advised to market yourself as an asset to the company and convince them why they need you. That doesn’t change when you’re doing what you’re passionate about, as you still have to market your business and convince your potential customers that your product or service will help them. It isn’t quite true that they’ll come just because you’ve built it.
The thing about people is that we’re really quite selfish and self-centred. People are going to look at you, wondering "what’s in it for me?" and if you don’t have a good answer, then your passion alone isn’t going to be enough to get you very far.
3. Passions Change Over Time
The thing about passions is that they can actually change. Consider relationships: you’re passionate about one person, you break up for some reason, and you go on to become passionate about the next person. If you had quit your job to follow that first person you were passionate about, then you would have been lost big time when you broke up, wouldn’t you?
And so, in your career, the only thing more dangerous than following your passion is following your passion when you’re young. The younger you are, the less you’ve done, and you can only be passionate about something you’ve experienced: if you had chosen your career path when you were four years old and had followed your passion for pretending to be a dog, you wouldn’t have gotten very far.
You should instead be thinking about how to apply your passion to something bigger than yourself; what problem are you looking to solve and what is the mark you want to leave on the world? The world’s already done what it owes you by ensuring you exist, and now it’s your turn to think about what it put you here to do in the unique way that only you can.
4. Most Passions Don't Pay Well
It doesn’t matter how passionate you are about writing the world’s next great novel, what matters is that you aren’t going to get any money from it until you’ve written it, found a publisher, and become a bestselling author. Quitting your job right now would mean months – or years! – of not getting the money you need for food, shelter, or to provide for your family and, unfortunately, we need to worry about the basics before we can even start thinking about being fulfilled.
For every famous musician or singer, there are thousands of others who can’t get discovered. Unless you’re prepared for a life of scraping by doing local gigs (and for the fact that many creatives are expected to work for free if they’re doing what they say they love), it might not suit you to walk away from a job where you have the stability of a paycheck. Opt instead to find a job that allows you the flexibility to follow your passion on the side, at least while you do the legwork involved in starting your own business.
5. Not Everybody Is Cut Out for It
"Do what you love and never work a day in your life". Sounds great, doesn’t it? You’d skip to work every day, feeling lighter than air that you’re going to go and spend eight hours doing that thing you love the most. However, like most of these sayings, you can’t take it at face value, and a lot of work goes into making dreams come true. Consider this:
You love making beautiful cakes for your family and friends, so you take their advice and open a cake shop. The stress of having to make enough money (and cakes) to make ends meet, and to satisfy the demands of hundreds of picky customers, means that you might have closed up shop after only a few months. You’ve failed at making a success of your passion and that might have ruined your passion altogether. Worse, you might come to realize that being passionate isn’t the same as being good, when it comes to the opinions of strangers.
First, you should have taken into account the fact that you never could have done it alone, and employees is just one step in creating a successful business, even if they’re your family or friends. Second, money and passion rarely mix well: once money gets involved in something, it becomes your motivation, and actually doing what you love takes a backseat.
Work First – The Passion Will Come Later
It isn’t passion itself that’s the problem: it’s deciding on your (current) passion and trying to turn it into a job rather than finding a job and becoming passionate about what you’re doing. Think of it like the career equivalent to the chicken and egg dilemma.
Obviously, if you hate kids and try to work as a teacher, you won’t become passionate about it. However, if you look for work in an industry you’re interested in, and find a job with the right community and people who share your values, you’ll be engaged and that engagement will become passion. You’ll start working passionately towards making a difference to the world, and one day you’ll look back and realize that finding meaning in what you do was just as important as loving it.
So, to sum up: work hard > become good at it > enjoy it more > become passionate about it. Note that the second step was to become good at whatever it is you’ve chosen to do, as we always have the potential to learn new things and we aren’t limited by what we’re capable of now. Your true passion may actually lie in something you haven’t even tried yet.
Of course, the reason "follow your passion" became such well-known piece of advice is because people did succeed by doing just that. Depending on your passion and your determination, it can work for you, too: the danger is in giving this advice to everyone. Someone looking for direction in their life might do well to think about what they could enjoy doing, but tell them to follow their passion for watching television into a job watching 10 movies a day and assigning them age ratings and it might quickly lose its appeal. Rather than diving headfirst into something you’re passionate about, you should consider the long run and how viable it is as something that will make a difference to the world and something you can do for the rest of your life.
Did you follow your passion? Have you ever given this advice to someone? Let us know how it worked out for you in the comments section below.