Follow Your Passion: How It Differs From ‘Being Whatever You Want’
Follow your passion. You’ve heard it said countless times, no doubt, and not always in a positive light. Take this article from Vanaia, which calls it “the worst career advice ever.” From the piece:
“First of all, true pre-existing passions, to which one could connect their work, are extremely rare. Secondly, there is practically no evidence to support that matching one’s work to a potential pre-existing passion is actually good for one’s career. Furthermore, as Cal Newport, the author of the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You implies, it could actually spell trouble. That is because the passion mindset emphasizes the value your work is giving to you, which may or may not be aligned with the value you may offer to the world. Therefore it isn’t surprising that the passionate choice might quickly turn into a painful disillusionment.”
Semantically, we’re inclined to disagree with this, though not in principle. Let’s look at what that statement means.
“Semantics,” or the terminology you use in describing something can often be different from what the true meaning of the communication is. I attest that what Vanaia is talking about is this idea that you can “be whatever you want” to be in life. My parents filled my head with that kind of stuff when I was growing up, and while well-meaning, it was completely, undeniably false.
Oh sure, someone every now and then could get lucky and do exactly what they want to do in life, but that often isn’t how it happens. In fact, your chances of “being whatever you want” to be are about as good as becoming the sole winner of a nationwide Powerball lotto drawing. It happens so little that it really isn’t worth blowing all your time and money on picking up lottery tickets. A better course of action: find a feasible career path and pursue it to the extreme.
That said, you can still follow your passion. The key is in being passionate about HOW you work, not necessarily about WHAT you’re doing. If you can design the type of work life that brings out your best qualities and is compatible to your personality, you will find passion in some pretty unique places. Just as an example, let me share a bit about my story.
When I started getting serious about going to college, I envisioned picking a major I liked and having a job I chose waiting on me at the end of the line. Now, I know this isn’t very professional in a formal piece of writing, but indulge me with this next sentence.
What I wanted to do at the time was write movies for a living. Yep. Screenwriter extraordinaire, right here! I ate, slept, and breathed structure. I studied movies to the point that I can no longer be surprised by anything because I already know what’s going to happen at the end of a film by the midway point. It was my calling, and I’d probably have a seven-figure development deal by the time I was 25.
Needless to say, that didn’t happen.
It wasn’t that I was a bad writer. I knew how to tell a story. But becoming a successful screenwriter is about way more than that, and as much as I hate to admit it, there are plenty of people out there who are much better than me, who will probably have no more success than I did.
That’s because there are only a few hundred films made per year, while there are tens of thousands of screenplay submissions annually. The success rate is undeniably discouraging! If I were to have placed all my eggs in that basket, I would have ended up starving to death a long, long time ago.
That said, my career today is one filled with joy and passion and doing what I love. That’s because I figured out that passion wasn’t about a specific job title. It was about a specific psychology for work. My thing is working independently, being creative, and making money. After six years as a full-time writer, I think it’s safe to say I’m in this thing for better or worse for the rest of my life. Primarily I write about education and current events and marketing tips, and I love every minute of it.
Would I leave it all behind for a seven-figure studio development deal? Likely. But each workday, I continue to find things I can be passionate about, and if the chance never comes — it probably won’t since I’m no longer trying — I’ll be just fine with that.
So I’ve said all that to say this: don’t confuse the advice to “follow your passion” with the mistaken mantra that you can be whatever you want to be in life. They are very distinct pieces of advice and the latter can get you into a great deal more trouble than the former.
The “follow your passion” advice should come with the precursor that you should follow your passion based on you, not based on a specific career choice.
Passion can be hard to come by if you don’t put in the time that it takes to get to know yourself and what you like about work/school. There is literally a career for everyone that wants one, but one’s happiness with that career correlates directly with how happy they are with themselves. Seriously, my job didn’t even exist because the Internet wasn’t available to the public when I first started trying to answer the question of what I wanted to do with my life. Fast forward 20 years, and I’m perfectly content to be where I am. The dreams of yesteryear have subsided, but they’ve been replaced with a person, who knows himself and who knows how to find happiness wherever I’m working and with whomever I’m working for. I wish you that same level of fulfillment. Good luck!
[Image via Vanaia, linked above]