Why Following Your Passion for a Career isn’t Always a Great Idea
On the heels of my last blog where I made a pretty decisive and potentially controversial statement about the value of money over job satisfaction, I felt it would be a good idea to talk about the topic a bit more. More specifically, why following your passion for a career or job isn’t always the great idea it has been made out to be. After all, the motto that’s been heavily reinforced the past couple of decades by parents, industry icons, celebrities, and all those in between has been to “follow your passion and you will find happiness and success.”
In theory, it’s a wonderful idea and I myself can’t disagree that there are benefits that become possible when you’re working in a job you’re passionate about. However, I learned first hand what it was like to work with your passions, and why it might not be the best choice in the long run. You may be surprised by what actually happens when you take something you’re passionate about and turn it into a job.
First and foremost, the truth is that most people’s passions usually do not translate well to actual, in-demand jobs. If they do, it’s likely those jobs are hyper-competitive and/or within extremely niche markets where there are tens of thousands of people competing for a very small number of jobs across the entire country, maybe even the world.
Not to say these pursuits are always impossible, but you’re certainly going against the grain and fighting the odds. In that regard, people who realize this are off to a good start of understanding why it makes sense to stay away from passions when looking for work or a career. That’s because they’re usually right. Most hobbies or passions simply don’t translate into real, in-demand jobs that there is a market for.
But as I mentioned, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some jobs out there that people may be passionate about and they just happen to be real, in-demand jobs as well. The Craftsmen might find work in Construction, the Musicians find work in the Entertainment world, the Foodies find work in the Restaurant industry, or the Tinkerers find work as Engineers, among many other examples. Shouldn’t people always pursue these careers since they are passionate about them and interested in them?
What could possibly go wrong?
It can absolutely RUIN your passion or hobby for you.
“Ruin it? HOW!? Impossible!” (I think that’s the logical response anyhow). I think most people would think, “Well, I love doing this in my free time, I would love to get paid to do this too!”. It sounds great in theory, but in practice, the reality of it can be very ugly. The problem is in the very words of what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to turn your passion into WORK.
I’m going to drop a saying of mine that you’ll probably hear me repeat again at some point. “Work is work.” By this I mean that any work, any job, is going to have its good and bad moments. This is the nature of work at its core, and this is how it always will be. Sometimes we will like it, sometimes we won’t.
Even reviewing the dictionary definition of work itself, an “Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result”, tells us that work requires effort and I can say without a doubt that the effort isn’t always pleasant. Exerting effort can be a difficult thing, and there will certainly be times we feel that the effort is not worth exerting at all due to a job’s tedium, frustration, or irrelevance. This brings us to the most important part of the definition of work, which is the purpose or result.
When we do something we’re passionate about, it’s ultimately the results we see from our work that excite and fulfill us, as the work itself can definitely have its fair share of ups and down. The results we get drive us to make the effort needed to complete the work, and they are what makes us want to keep coming back for more.
A Chef may not love every minute of prepping and cooking a difficult meal (that’s work after all!), but they are immensely fulfilled when the meal is successfully finished and it’s eaten very happily by a customer or guest. We do things we’re passionate about because we feel good after we’ve completed them and can see the results we’ve earned.
Now think about this for a minute… When you pursue your passions for just yourself, you do them to achieve the purpose or result that excites you and matters to you. The only one that can say what the purpose or result should be is you.
In a work situation though, the tables have turned. You may have a boss, and that boss is the one calling the shots of what the purpose and result need to be. They may even go as far as to influence the process required to complete the result. More times than not, you’ll find the purpose or result needed by the business is not the same purpose or result you would like to achieve, and this contrast causes a conflict and discontent in your heart. Even if you don’t have a boss, you have clients, and they call the shots.
To paint a better picture, imagine a Musician who loves composing his own music, and they try everything to find work composing music. They eventually land a job with a TV station creating ORIGINAL music for a new series. It seems like a dream come true. That is until they find out that all their music needs to use the same three instruments, each song has to be exactly one minute long, and all songs will be a genre the Musician absolutely detests.
Last but not least, all the music must be reviewed and approved by the owner of the TV station who knows nothing about music. They make ignorant suggestions based on their “deep” knowledge of music they learned from listening to the Top 40 Hits radio station every day. All of a sudden, the thing you used to be passionate about has turned into something you hate. Your goals that originally made you passionate about the task no longer align with the goals of the actual job, and this tends to be very common in these types of situations, no matter what job it may be.
It also doesn’t take much to find anecdotal stories on the Internet about folks going into fields they were passionate about, only for it to completely burn them out and ultimately turn their passion into nothing more than a chore. You can easily find stories about hobbyists who loved their craft only to find work in those areas and quickly begin to loathe doing their hobby, both on and off the clock. They will call it quits at the end of the workday and don’t even want to think about their “hobby” till the next morning when they drag themselves back to work to do it again. They lose the desire to pursue their passions for their own purposes or results because they feel so drained performing their passions for someone else’s purpose or results.
I’ve been there myself, having had the fortunate (yet unfortunate) opportunity to find work I was very passionate about earlier in my life. It had been my childhood dreams for years, and here I was, I made it. YAY! But wait, I think it only took me six months before the excitement for my passion was completely drained.
My work became a chore, too. My company was filled with the same horrible politics, bad co-workers, and terrible policies that you would find in any other job. It was difficult to be excited about the work when what I was required to make just really wasn’t what I wanted to make. Work is work. It was a job, with ups and downs, some good parts, just as many absolutely awful parts. In the end, the worst part was that it made me view my passion as nothing more than just another job, and something I no longer want to do outside of work either. That, my friends, is truly a shame.
Moving on… I’m not here to say this is how the experience of trying to make a career out of your passions will work for everyone. There truly are some people out there who find great happiness and success by following their passions. Likewise, someone that starts their own business pursuing their passion in the way they want to do it is also likely to be very happy, if they are successful in launching their business and just so happen to capture a niche segment or share of the market. (Which is no small pursuit by any means!)
But even for those that have been successful in following their passions as a career, I have no doubt in my mind that they had moments that involved dreadful work, tremendous challenges, or tough times when they have felt unhappy or sad. We’re all human after all. Work is work!
Wrapping up here, I truly am an optimistic believer of keeping your dreams alive and working towards them, but I’ve found it wise to blend your ambitions in with a bit of realism. I feel confident to say that for many of us, we may be happier keeping our passions outside of work, where we can pursue them exactly how we want to and whenever we want to. Don’t write it off completely, however, but keep in mind the potential downsides, and how the pursuit may backfire if things don’t work out as you imagined.
Life is often a crazy place when your plans often take unforeseen twists and turns. I feel that many people take the plunge into pursuing their passions for work thinking it’s going to be all rainbows and butterflies. Instead, they quickly find themselves burned out and now hating what they used to be passionate about. Like any smart decision in life, be introspective, consider the pros and cons, and most importantly, have a Plan B ready. With all things considered, make the choice that works best for you!
– Mr. Happy Work