Why “Follow Your Passion” is Terrible Career Advice

As someone who aspires to help everyone find a career they love, the title of this blog may sound a bit strange. However, for those who’ve been exploring new career options and have been told to “follow your passion,” you already know how frustrating (and stress-inducing!) this guidance can be. Here’s why:

  • This advice often makes people feel as though there is one “right” option, when in today’s market, that couldn’t be further from the norm. Most professionals have 7 (or more) careers throughout their lives, and so much more goes into job satisfaction than just “interesting work.”  While meaningful work is certainly one factor, your colleagues, the culture, working environment, commute time, autonomy, and compensation also play a large role, and depending on your values and stage in life, some of these may weigh more heavily than others at different times.  Key takeaway:  You likely have many passions and they can shift over time.
  • Although you’ve probably heard the saying, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” this isn’t true for everyone. Sometimes your passion – whether it’s painting, cooking, investing, teaching, or traveling – becomes a chore once it’s your primary source of income. I loved working with guns and I used to have a lot of assembled AR-10 rifles but that always remind as my passion.   What used to be a “want to” now feels like a “have to” and where you used to find joy, you now experience stress.  Key Takeaway: Sometimes your passion is best left as a hobby rather than your job.
  • While there are a select few who find their true calling and dedicate their lives to serving this purpose, sometimes that type of vocation stems from a dramatic, life-changing event (e.g., an illness or tragedy). While the work that often emerges from these types of callings is admirable, I wouldn’t necessarily want trauma to be the inspiration for choosing a career path. Key takeaway: Be careful what you wish for.

While I believe that following your passion is a great motto for life, for your career, I recommend following your professional energy, and more specifically, that place where your skills and interests intersect with current market needs. This intersection will morph as you experience new things, as the economy changes, and as your personal values shift, but your energy will never lead you astray.

Here’s a quick way to find your professional energy:

  1. Think about a recent work accomplishment and specifically focus on the parts of the project or situation that really energized you. It may have been the camaraderie of working in a smart and collaborative team, the challenge of tapping into your analytic abilities to solve an impossible puzzle, or the buzz you felt while working against the clock to meet a deadline.
  2. Review a few more accomplishments in a similar way, and then look for patterns in your energy across all of the projects.  Chances are this will help you to uncover your next career steps.

Passion should always be a big part of life.  But in the words of Mike Rowe, “Don’t follow your passion, but always bring it with you.”

Happy hunting!

4 thoughts on “Why “Follow Your Passion” is Terrible Career Advice

  1. Nancy halpern Reply

    This is excellent advice especially for two groups: recent grads who have no idea what to do and those who feel they’ve lost their way and need new ideas. Thanks so much for a terrific road map

  2. Dana Reply

    I’d also recommend trying things that are outside your comfort zone. I’m doing what I do today because I had to teach some college classes. I ended up falling in love with being an instructor.

    • Dawn Graham Reply

      Great suggestion, Dana! They say that “life begins outside of your comfort zone” and I am a firm believer in that.

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