I recently read an article on the Huffington Post called, “Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ Is Bad Career Advice“.
And while I do agree that “Follow your passion” may be considered “bad career advice” if one chooses to follow it without any bit of common sense — or to follow it without any regard to all the other factors necessary to make a career “successful” — being successful in one’s life can mean any number of different things to different people.
Some people consider their careers successful when they make X amount of money per year. Others measure their success by how many people they are in charge of, or how broad a territory they cover, or how many stores they own. Others aim to leave a legacy behind.
And then there are others still, who consider themselves successful if they are simply able to pursue what they are most passionate about in life while making just enough money to meet their basic needs to afford them the luxury of doing more of what they love.
And as Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Alan Watts poses the question (in this video), “What would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life?” because to do anything other than that sets you up to, “Spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid. Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.”
I think he makes a very good point. The alternative to not pursuing your passion is to spend a life following a vicious cycle of doing things you don’t want to do to make a living doing things you don’t want to do.
“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” — Seth Godin
In his commencement speech at Kenyon College in May 1990, Calvin & Hobbes creator, Bill Watterson, had this to say about careers:
“Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.
To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.” – Bill Watterson
As such, I don’t think “Follow your passion” is bad career advice at all. And if one is simply looking for a problem with it, as the Huffington Post appears to be, then I would say that problem — if you can call it that — is simply this:
It isn’t complete career advice. It’s only a single step in a larger process.
Step 1, of course, is to discover what it is you are passionate about.
This isn’t necessarily as simple as it sounds. There may be many things you like to do, but nothing that you are particularly passionate about. There is a big difference between simply enjoying something and being so into it at times that doing anything else feels like a distraction. Eating, sleeping, bathing? They can wait!
While a rare few know exactly what they want to do from a very early age, most don’t discover the things we are truly passionate about until they stumble upon them. And then, whatever it may be, the process of doing it becomes enthralling.
“Many people fail to find their passion because they either fail to search methodically or search persistently. Some will simply not commit the time and energy to a search that can often be frustrating. In fact, they want their “destiny” to find them; they do not want to find it themselves. You cannot find your passion idly staring into space, hoping for it to appear as a revelation, from one book, article, blog posting or casual conversation.” — Larry Smith
Discovering what you are truly passionate about is important is because people who truly love what they do tend to want to do it to the best of their ability and continually find ways to improve — all the while enjoying the process.
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” — Steve Jobs
See also: How will you recognize your passion when you encounter it?
Step 2, after discovering your passion is to pursue that passion and hone your skills. All the while keeping the third step of this process in mind:
Step 3, is to use your passion and skills to create something that others desire and will pay for.
Because unless your passion fulfills a need, you can work night and day and never do enough to generates a sustainable income, let alone a viable career.
“A sustainable career is built upon the ability to show that you can fill a need that someone is willing to pay for.” – Monique Valcour
This is why it can be to your benefit to not quit your day job (as I did, for example) while you are still in the process of discovering how your passion will generate income.
See also: You might have to look for more than one passion
“Doing what you love is as important as ever, but if you’re going to make a living at it, it helps to find a niche where money flows as a regular consequence of the success of your idea. Loving what you do is almost as important as doing what you love, especially if you need to make a living at it. Go find a job you can commit to, a career or a business you can fall in love with.” — Seth Godin
Neil deGrasse Tyson and Neil Gaiman Describe Vision & Brilliance
“If everyone had the luxury to pursue a life of exactly what they love, we would all be ranked as visionary and brilliant. … If you got to spend every day of your life doing what you love, you can’t help but be the best in the world at that. And you get to smile every day for doing so. And you’ll be working at it almost to the exclusion of personal hygiene, and your friends are knocking on your door, saying, “Don’t you need a vacation?!,” and you don’t even know what the word “vacation” means because what you’re doing is what you want to do and a vacation from that is anything but a vacation — that’s the state of mind of somebody who’s doing what others might call visionary and brilliant.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson
- “Do not follow your passion.”
- Your heart’s desires
- Offsite: What do you desire? – Alan Watts (video)
- Offsite: How will you recognize your passion when you encounter it?
- Offsite: Why you will fail to have a great career: Larry Smith at TEDxUW
- Offsite: Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid…
- Offsite: You’ve got to follow your passion
- Offsite: Excerpt from Paulo Coelho’s introduction to “The Alchemist”
- Offsite: You will know you’re on the right path when the process enthralls you
“You have to be burning with “an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right.” If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.” — Steve Jobs