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Follow Your Passion is usually bad advice

One of the most common pieces of advice given to job seekers when they are trying to decide what they want to be when they grow up is: “Follow your passion!” or “Do what you love!”

While there may be some exceptions, this is usually bad advice and advice that has left many people’s careers in a mess!

It sounds good, and who wouldn’t want to do what they love to do? There are, however, multiple reasons why this usually doesn’t work and there are better alternatives.

Many don’t have passions! That may sound sad, but it’s true. I would say that perhaps most people, while they have things they enjoy, can’t say they have a real passion for any particular activity, task or hobby. Diving in to pursue something that’s outside of your career training or traditional jobs based on a mild enjoyment will not likely give you the  drive necessary to ultimately be successful. Be careful of making one up!

It may be a passion, until you have to make a living at it. Many people do have a great passion for certain things. Perhaps it’s a hobby, or sport, or music, or some leisure activity they do when ever they can carve out the time. Often, however, it’s a passion because it’s an escape from the pressures of a career and earning a living. It’s a way to do something without expectations. Once the activity is required to generate an income, all the fun runs out of it. Now it’s no longer a way to kick back and relax doing something for leisure, but rather something that has to be done well in order to meet customer expectations or build an income out of it in some way. It’s not unusual in that situation that the passion becomes something you despise.

A passion may not pay the bills. Something that may be a passion may be a lousy money-maker. One example from one of my job search classes a while back was a woman who had built a successful career over many years in a manufacturing company, and unfortunately got caught in cut backs and was laid off. She looked at her circumstances as an opportunity to do something she had “always wanted to do”. She decided she would pursue becoming a photographer. Unfortunately, she discovered that even “successful” photographers usually earned around half her previous income. While she was prepared for somewhat of a pay-cut, she was not prepared for one that would be that drastic.  It’s not unusual that a pleasurable hobby pays nowhere near what a traditional job may pay.

Be honest… are you really that good at it? What many people fail to recognize is that while they may be pretty good as an amateur, they are nowhere near being able to make it as a professional. The early weeks of each season of “American Idol” demonstrate that in terms of singing. However, the same is true for any number of other skills as well. Get objective and honest opinions about your skills and level of ability before deciding you’re ready to make your passion a career.

What’s better?

Instead of looking to do what you love… love what you do! Many people decide they are in the wrong career because they aren’t enjoying their workday, or they haven’t been as successful as they hoped, or they want more flexibility in their schedule. Those may, or may not be legitimate factors to consider. However, looking at what you currently do in new ways can have dramatic effects. What parts of your current work do you do best? How can you approach your current work in new ways to make it more enjoyable or more fulfilling? Do you actually dislike your career, or where you’re currently working? (Sometimes a bad culture or work environment can make it difficult to enjoy a career you may otherwise love).

It’s not unusual for someone to not be enthusiastic about a particular job, but over time come to thrive and find they really love what they do. It was not something they would have chosen, but find they’ve grown to thoroughly enjoy their career. It may take deliberate effort to get there, but the results can be worth it.

What gives you a sense of accomplishment and achievement? Most people enjoy things they are good at. They take pride in things they’ve accomplished and things they can perform with excellence. Striving to do your best in your current role, over time, can often make that role very rewarding personally, professionally, and financially.

While pursuing what you love sounds like a great concept, and may be appropriate in some cases, it’s often a recipe for disaster for a great many people. In most cases, a better recipe is to learn to love what you do!


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