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Why following your passion may not be such a great idea

Amanda Datchens //  0 Comments

Dreaming of following your passion so you can finally be happy at work? These 4 things will wake you up to reality so you can make the right choice.


"If you do what you love then you never have to work a day in your life"

Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

Why shouldn’t you follow your dreams, the job you crave, the one thing that will make you happy to go to work and feel alive?

To tell you not to follow your passion is downright counterintuitive, right?

That is, until it isn’t.

The problem with following your passion

Now, there is of course a very small percentage of people in this world who just know from being a child exactly what they want to be when they grow up.

And, when they are all grown up, they remain passionate about their calling for the rest of their lives.

But these people are exceptional.

And to be exceptional you are, by definition, the exception.

For the rest of us mere mortals, it's a bit trickier if you decide to let passion navigate your career choices.

I don’t say this lightly.

Over the last 20 years delivering recruitment and outplacement, I’ve seen the same mistakes made over and over again.

I’ve even done this myself in the past.

So today I’m going to give you four very good reasons why basing your career decisions solely on your passion can be a really bad idea.


1 Following your passion can kill it

Here’s a cautionary story from BBC Worklife 101.

At 19, Andrew was passionate about patisserie and confectionery. In fact, in his own words, “that was all I cared about.”

He truly believed this was his calling so he took a job at a local hotel in his hometown in Scotland.

In a matter of months, he was promoted to junior chef and by 21 he was a commis chef in an award-winning hotel in the Lake District, in England.

At 26 he had made it.

He finally had his dream job in a revered Scottish eatery.

That’s also when he dropped out of the hospitality industry completely and became a student on a four-year software-development degree.

So what went so wrong?

Well, the harsh truth was that when he actually achieved his goals and got the dream job, he realised the sacrifices along the way, low pay and long hours just weren’t worth it.

Between the ages of 19 to 25 when all his mates were out having a great time, he was tied down to a 70 hour work week getting paid a salary of just over 20,000 pounds.

Certain industries trade on people’s passions and get away with paying lower salaries in return for fulfilling dreams.

Think about working with animals, children, acting, art, dancing, design – the list goes on.

So, the first problem is that following your passion and getting a low salary and a long workday often result in people falling out of love with their passion and having to start all over again.

Ask yourself this question.

That thing you are passionate about.

Are you sure you want to do it for a living, or would it be better keeping it as a hobby or an interest on the side?

But what about ‘passion jobs’ with a decent or even high salary?

Surely these support the idea of basing your career on your passion?

 This brings us to problem number two.

2 Passions change with time

Even if your passion job pays well, you simply can’t know what your future self wants.

Putting the blinkers on and concentrating on just your passion could block out other opportunities that would be more appropriate for you in a few years’ time.

Shankar Vedantam has a fantastic TEDtalk on this subject.

In his words, "You are constantly becoming a new person.”

He tells a great story to explain the profound impact of something he calls the "illusion of continuity" - that is, the belief that our future selves will share the same views, perspectives and hopes as our current selves.

“When I was 12 years old, I fractured my foot playing soccer. I didn't tell my parents when I got home that night, because the next day, my dad was taking me to see a movie, a soccer movie. I worried that if I told my parents about the foot, they would take me to see a doctor. I didn't want to see a doctor, I wanted to see the movie.”

At the time he was so passionate about soccer that he would do anything to pursue it.

On the morning of that movie, to his horror, his Dad suggested they walk to the cinema because it was a nice day and it wasn’t very far.

He put on a brave face but couldn’t help limping.

To cover this up he said he had something in his shoe.

So, was it worth the pain?

His 12-year-old self said yes, absolutely.

“The movie was spectacular. It told the story of some of soccer's greatest stars, great Brazilian players. I was ecstatic. At the end of the movie, I told my dad about the foot; he took me to see an orthopaedic doctor, who put my foot in a cast for three weeks.”

So, I bet you are wondering what Shankar is doing now?

Is he a professional soccer player?

Maybe a soccer coach?

Or perhaps a sports scientist?

Actually, these days, he doesn’t even consider himself a soccer fan anymore.

If you are thinking well, he was just a kid, here is another example.

Ten years later at 22 he entered his electronics engineer phase.

He was in Southern India and was totally passionate about this being his true calling.

Now, three decades later he is living in the United States and is a journalist and podcaster.

“So, my future was not just unknown; it was unknowable.”

I want you to think back to when you were 12.

What were you passionate about then?

Now, go forwards each decade, and think about how you have changed your passions through time.

As Dan Gilbert says, “the person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you've ever been.”

People change their passions over a lifetime just like a river that flows and changes course over time.

It starts small, but as it picks up momentum and encounters obstacles, it may carve out a new path and change direction.

Personal growth and change, like the flow of a river, can bring renewal and new purpose to a person's life.

So, problem number 2 is, don't assume that your current passion will be a constant.

Don't base career choices solely on any one passion at any one time in your life.

But what if you feel nothing?

What if you have been searching for a job that makes you feel passionate but had no luck?

This brings us to problem number 3.

confused man

3 Some people will never feel passionate about work

Gasp, horror, I know, but it’s true all the same.

For some, this is never going to happen and that’s OK.

Their attitude towards work is that it pays the bills, it’s a necessary evil.

These people are passionate about things outside of work, and that makes them happy and provides balance to their life.

There’s no right or wrong here, just being true to who you are.

In fact, relentless pressure from friends and family pushing them to find their true passion can actually be harmful to people who feel nothing.

It leads to negative self-talk like “what’s wrong with me” and general feelings of disappointing others.

If this is you, don’t worry and reassess.

Lower the passion bar and look for jobs you would like rather than love.

And finally, talking about pursuing the things we like, here is problem number 4.

kids painting

4 Your passion may be unrealistic

Many people feel desperate to feel something, to find that perfect job, to know they are doing what they were born to do.

But for this to work, they also have to be realistic.

In movies, perfect opportunities tend to fall into people’s laps all the time.

Characters are lost or confused and then something happens that by sheer coincidence changes the course of their lives by showing them what their true purpose is.

In real life, it is far more subtle, and you have to go looking for it.

For example, if your passions are origami and dogs, it may be hard to combine these into a dream job.

Don’t expect weird combination jobs like this to magically just appear someday because actual jobs have to exist otherwise, they remain exactly that - a dream job.

You have two choices.

Either work on narrowing it down to just one interest.

Or, if the job doesn’t exist, go start your own business and create it.

And then there is this...

It’s a bit harsh - but it could be true.

Just because you are passionate about something, doesn’t mean you are good at it.

For example, you may love painting, but nobody would pay for your creations.

You may really want to be a social worker but be unable to emotionally cope with the actual workload and problems you will encounter.

Be honest with yourself and take stock.

Use your friends and family as a sounding board.

Tell them what you are thinking of doing and see how they react.

So is following your passion a bad idea?

Should we just totally give up on the idea of being passionate about our work at all?

Absolutely not.

The truth is that we tend to be passionate about what we are good at.

To find out what you are good at, you need to get out there with an open mind, do your research, and try different things.

View passion as an outcome, not as the driver itself.

This creates a healthier process and allows your passions to change as you continually change yourself.

Obviously, you will need to do a bit of soul searching to kick start this process so ask yourself questions such as these.

  • When was the last time I really enjoyed something at work?
  • When was I so into a project or task that the day literally flew by, and I didn’t even think about lunch?
  • What do I find absolutely draining at work and hate doing?
  • If money was not a concern, what would I ideally do for a job?
  • If fear was not a problem, what would I really like to be doing with my career?

Not so obvious is the fact that you mustn’t stop there.

In fact, if you ask yourself these questions and then do nothing about it you will be more frustrated than before.

To land your dream job, you have to take action.

This is why it is important to research potential types of roles and companies before you start your job search.

Start with the end in mind so you go in the right direction, and you don’t just apply for the same old jobs at the same old companies.

Discover new industries & sectors first

Go to your job site of choice such as Monster or Seek and look at the list of possible industries and sectors.

Do any jump out at you? Select one that interests you.

If it’s the one you are already in that’s fine too but make sure this is a conscious choice and not just a habitual choice.

Research companies

Google companies within these industries and within the radius you are willing to work in.

For example, ‘advertising companies in Brisbane’

Take a closer look at their websites.

Explore job titles

Go to LinkedIn and look at people who work at these companies.

Take note of their job titles to get an idea of what’s on offer.

Apply now or make a plan

Go back to your job sites and search for the job title and sector and see what comes up.

Look at the duties and see if any of these make you feel excited.

Do you already have the skills and experience required?

Now you have narrowed it down, make a list of companies, write a targeted cover letter, and apply directly with your resume so you can bypass their applicant tracking systems.

If you need to retrain our study, make a plan of how you will do this.

You may have to stay in a job you don’t enjoy for now, but you will have a plan which will make you feel much better about it.

And, each time you start to feel stale or stuck, go through this process again to make sure you are targeting jobs that will reignite your passion.

After all, it is very likely that your passion will have changed again by then.

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About the Author

A career coach, headhunter, Amanda has founded and been involved in developing multiple companies known for innovative HR and recruitment solutions. Originally from London but now in Queensland, Australia, she is the co-founder of Real Life Career Advice

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