In my experience, “Follow your passion” may not be the best career advice

Just because I love blogging, it doesn’t mean I could make a living at it.

I’ve never bought into the advice given to young people today to just follow your passion and the money will follow. If only life were that simple and formulaic. For so many reasons I’ve instinctively found this philosophy to be flawed, misleading, and even dangerous.

First of all, young people rarely have the depth of life experience and knowledge necessary to even properly identify what their passion is without any significant life experience to draw on. I’m now in my seventies with more than forty years in the corporate world and several years of retirement behind me and it’s only been recently I’ve been able to comfortably identify what I most love doing. But I enjoyed a very successful career at a job I would never have envisioned when I finished school. And after seven years of writing a blog, it’s painfully evident I could never earn a living at it. I do it because I love doing it. Many passionate artists have the same practical prespective on their art.

Baby boomers didn’t go to university and college in the same numbers today’s young people do. Some of us did have a career goal in mind, such as teaching, nursing, or a profession that required post-secondary education, but most of us just “got a job” as soon as we finished high school, ran with it, and fared pretty well. There was no great career plan when we started our working lives and we certainly didn’t expect to turn our passion for The Beatles or playing hockey into a means of earning a living. We recognized our hobbies as just that—hobbies —something to enjoy on the side while working at something else to keep the wolf away.

Your garage band may not have the chops to become Queen.

Imagine telling a young person who is passionate about baseball or hockey to ignore the barriers and set their sights unblinkingly on the American League or the NHL. What if this poor soul is 5’4″ tall and weighs 120 lbs. Or perhaps someone loves music and wants to be a rock star. Chances are their garage band will never achieve the status of Freddy Mercury or Rod Stewart. While it’s not totally impossible, the odds are highly unlikely. Loving to do something does not necessarily mean you can earn a living at it. But that doesn’t mean we have to abandon our passion; just don’t count on making a living at it. There are so many misleading examples of a singer, comedian, or artist becoming an “overnight success” when in reality they spent ten, twenty, or even more years honing their craft. The Justin Biebers and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world are an anomaly, not the norm.

I’ve just finished reading a book that I wish I’d been able to read forty years ago. So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest For Work You Love, written by Cal Newport. It really fired me up even though I’m retired and past caring about a career. A common sense, practical guide, it was all I could do to not bookmark every page I read. It confirmed what I’ve always believed, that young people today are being misled into thinking that following their passion is a guaranteed path to success. Those who accomplish both at the same time are in the minority. If Steve Jobs had followed his passion, he’d have retreated to a Zen monastery contemplating life instead of living life. He stumbled into the field of computers after picking apples and taking a course in calligraphy. He capitalized on the work of others and the rest is history. The same holds true for Mark Zuckerberg. Then, there’s the flip side; doing what you love could kill you. Examples include Amy Winehouse and Robin Williams.

Financial independence is Step One in your journey to follow your passion.

This certainly does not mean we have to slave at something we don’t like for the rest of our lives and ignore our passion. Many years ago I read a book called Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. Reading that book more than twenty years ago prompted me to walk away from self-employment and return to a regular paycheque. It changed my life for the better. One of the most important messages I got from this book is that in order to have the time to do what you most enjoy (i.e. hobbies, your passion), you have to earn as much money as possible as early as possible in the short term and stash it away for that proverbial rainy day.

When you have financial independence you then have overall independence. Financial independence gives you options to do whatever you want with your time, to indulge your passions. But earning a living comes first. The sooner you have financial independence, the sooner you will have the freedom to follow your passion. That’s not the message being passed along to young people today. No wonder they’re disillusioned. There’s some value in doing it the old boomer way. Get a job, any kind of job. Start living self-sufficiently to build independence, then you can do what you truly enjoy. It’s an earned privilege.

I highly recommend both of these books. If they’re not available at your local bookstore or library, you can order from Amazon by clicking on the image of the book. Disclosure: You will receive Amazon’s best price and I may receive a teeny, tiny commission. Thanks for your support.

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[…] to Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You audio book after a friend recommended it on her blog. The author aims to debunk the concept of following your “passion” to achieve fulfilling work, […]

2 years ago

Bravo sweety….you are a Star.