The Passion Pit: Why following your passion is a terrible idea
“Follow your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
- EVERYONE. (or so it would seem)
I’ll admit it, I was once a “follow your passion” disciple. I believed that if you could just pinpoint what you were most passionate about in life, it would lead you to the promise land of work that felt like play, where the hours would just fly by and the paycheck was just the cherry on top.
I’ve got news for you (and younger me, that silly, naive girl): if you follow your passion, it’s highly likely that you won’t work a day in your life… because that perfect job almost definitely doesn’t exist.
Ugh, what a bummer I am! Just hear me out. I’m not a dream-crushing, passion-squashing jerk, I simply want to say to you what I wish someone would have said to me long ago. I spent too many years of my early career feeling guilty for not having found the perfect job that allowed me to follow my passion AND get paid for it. But what if I was looking for something that simply didn’t exist?
Here are three reasons why following your passion is bad advice:
1. We’re too well-rounded and multi-talented
Most of us grew up being told we could be anything we wanted to be, while being raised to be pretty good at a lot of things. I had plans to be an astronaut, TV show host, primatologist, Broadway actress, and third grade teacher (in no particular order.) My friends and I learned a second language, played multiple sports, and took piano lessons all while being able to pass a standardized test like a mofo.
Because of this, many of us don’t have the first clue where to begin to look for our one “true calling”, since our options are seemingly unlimited. (Poor Millennials, raised to be overly-optimistic and multi-talented. I know I know, this is why they call us entitled whiners.) I can’t tell you how many friends of mine have expressed being overcome with “possibility paralysis”, which states that when overwhelmed with options, we often choose none. Too many options = no idea where to start = guilt for not having found our passion.
2. It ain’t always rainbows and butterflies
If the goal in following your passion is to so thoroughly love what you do that you could do it forever without feeling like it’s work, then you’ve already lost before you’ve begun. Ask anyone who has turned their passion into a career and they’ll tell you, it’s not always awesome. If you do anything on a regular basis for a huge chunk of your life (like oh, say, 40 hours a week for 40+ years), there’s no way you’re going to absolutely love it 100% of the time. That’s just not realistic. Have you ever eaten your favorite food until it made you sick, then couldn’t even smell it for months after? Oh, uh, yeah me neither.
3. We’re not all good at the things we’re passionate about.
Bummer, I know. Unfortunately, for every successful travel photographer, food critic, and professional puppy snuggler (I swear to you this is real) there are thousands of people who just couldn’t hack it. This hurdle often comes for those of us who are most passionate about creative pursuits. Not everyone can be a professional macrame-ist (unless of course you’re the Emily Katz) or an adult watercoloring book creator (sigh, I know one of those too. Having talented friends is equal parts inspiring and depressing.)
Letting your passions be your hobbies without making them into a job is not only okay, it’s probably best. If you turned all of your hobbies into work, what would be left to help you relax and unwind from that job you’re so un-passionate about?!
4. Not all passions are monetizable.
“I was told to do what you love and the money will follow, so I ate pizza, drank wine, took a 5-hour nap in my underwear, and took selfies with my dog. Now I wait.”
Let’s assume you found the one thing that makes you super excited to get out of bed each morning, you lose yourself in it for hours on end, and you’re really, really good at it. Except it’s eating pizza, drinking wine, napping, and taking dog selfies. Bad news: your check is not in the mail.
Even if you can make a little bit of money from your passion, there’s generally quite a gap between making enough money to not only survive, but live well. This is the perfect time to recall the advice from above - let your hobbies be your hobbies. If they make you a little side money, amazing. If not, just enjoy them for what they are, and quit trying to make your passion bring you home a paycheck.
5. Passions change, because people change.
Say that despite all odds, you found your passion. You’re able to identify that one thing that brings you happiness, you don’t mind doing it all day every day, you’re actually great at it, AND it pays. Amazing! You go all-in, create a business, get clients, and chug along for a bit. You reach some level of success, maybe even hire some employees, and start to be known as the guy/lady who does “X”. Then something happens… you start to not love it. You may even start to - gasp! - not like it. Have you lost that loving feeling?
The reality is, our passions change throughout our lives, because we change. The things that bring us happiness in our teenage years are not generally the same things that make us excited and fulfilled in our twenties and beyond. We are dynamic, ever-changing creatures, and to expect that we’ll be captivated by one singular thing for the entirety of our lives is a sweet, yet unrealistic hope.
The people who suggest you follow your passions mean well, they really do, I just think they’re slightly off in their recommendation. “Find your passion” implies that you have one passion to find, and much like the idea of finding your soulmate, that’s a lot of freaking pressure. Instead, look to your various interests to guide you toward roles and companies that could be a great fit. If your passion is your soulmate, consider your interests the people you date along the way.
Try a bunch of different things, go through phases, and follow your interests to all kinds of experiences both personally and professionally. When you’re over them, throw out the old, “it’s not you, it’s me” line and move along. Your career should be treated as a “choose your own adventure” story enabling you to experiment, learn, and grow along the way. Who knows, maybe while you’re busy playing the interest field, you may just stumble upon your passion along the way.