The Peril of Following Your Passion

I used to believe that if a person pursued their passion and did well, the opportunities would jump out and the money would follow.

I don’t believe that anymore.

It’s not that I’ve become more negative or pessimistic. It’s just the cold reality that exists. This isn’t designed to be a downer post either. It’s actually just the opposite and should motivate you even more if you want to follow your passion.

First though, why I don’t believe it anymore. Here’s what I’ve observed:

  • Too many failed businesses where a person is passionate about something and very good at it, but nobody else sees value in it.
  • Too many young people encouraged to follow their passion and get degrees in liberal arts, women’s studies, sociology, or similar then graduate without a job, get a job in hospitality and as a fallback, and move back in with their parents.
  • Too many job seekers taking their severance packages and putting together ill-prepared home-based businesses and projects without getting (or just simply ignoring) good advice on how to do it correctly and then fold shortly after with nothing to show for it.
  • Too many entrepreneurs who are simply craftsmen or specialists or consultants but don’t know the first thing about how to build a business and thus burn out after a few years.

In all these cases, pursuing passion was foremost. Common sense and sound business skills were second (or absent).

Now I’m all for a career where you do what you love. It’s rewarding. It’s what I do now. I gutted out 15 very unsatisfying years as a dental assistant in the Navy followed by a few years in some boring jobs before breaking out and launching on my own. While it was tough, the payoff was that I founded my business on some good lessons learned and the wise counsel of experienced professionals I surrounded myself with. Had I started this out of high school, after getting my MA, or even directly after leaving the Navy, I know I wouldn’t have been ready.

What SHOULD you do?

  • For young people: I love that you’re passionate and want to save the world. Good. Get a career that has viable job opportunities (anything in the STEM fields is a good start) and make some money and get some experience first. Then think about how to save the world when you’re a bit more seasoned.
  • For parents of young people: Do NOT let your kids get degrees in fields that are dead or dying. Unless they want to go into teaching as a profession, keep them away from non-STEM degrees. If they’re not “math or science people” then get them a tutor. It’s much cheaper than feeding and housing them until they turn 30.
  • For school counselors: Get away from your desk and start networking with professionals and find out where the careers of tomorrow are. The advice you gave last semester might be outdated by now. Enlist the help of parent volunteers who can give you and the students a reality check on what careers are viable and which aren’t.
  • For wannabe entrepreneurs: Bottle the passion for now and get some good sound business and professional advice from a mentor before launching a business. There are tons of opportunities but you have to be careful.
  • For job seekers: Find a job first that has the pay and benefits you need, then think of this job as a stepping stone to pursuing your passion. Job satisfaction won’t be much comfort if you can’t pay the rent or put food on the table.

We live in a country with unlimited opportunity, and technology enables us to be creative in how we build and promote businesses. It simply won’t replace the difficult and sometimes common sense information you need to be successful though.

That said, I wish all of us much success in following the sometimes-difficult path to personal and professional success. I never said it wasn’t doable — it just takes planning and patience.

Malcolm Munro is president of Total Career Mastery LLC and is an experienced speaker, consultant, and coach who has worked with executive and management teams in companies of all types, sizes, and industries. He is the author of  The New Rules of Engagement: How to Keep Your Superstars Loyal to You.

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  • Janice Caillet

    Yes, many people focus on the passion part and not the value part. For the past 10 years we have helped people discover their ‘Passion Statement’ which consists of three parts:

    1) What people love to do (typically described as ‘your passions’)
    2) for Whom or What
    3) The value they receive

    Once someone’s passion statement is articulated — great things happen. Here are some examples:

    My passion is to engage and lead others in optimizing resources to increase the likelihood of significant positive outcomes for all.
    ~ Executive at helicopter transportation services organization

    My passion is to bring to others in my life (family, organization) an increase in respect and effective use of our most precious resources (people, time and materials/natural resources).
    ~ Executive at Fortune 500 consumer goods organization

    My passion is to create safe places for people to work and live in my community.
    ~ 20+ years ex-homeless person in UK

    My passion is to create experiences to increase the feeling of aliveness utilizing the five senses, especially smell.
    ~ An amazing American woman living in Paris

    My passion is to revitalize people and things to renew their potential.
    ~ Fine arts major now part of personal/professional development program in the UK

    PLEASE do not lose the passion — add the value.

    • Malcolm Munro

      I agree. Don’t lose the passion. The key is to lay the groundwork so following the passion can be a success. When the passion fails to materialize, it’s very discouraging. Passion + Process = Success!