Should you or shouldn’t you follow your passion?

Should you or shouldn’t you follow your passion?

If you keep up with the literature you now ‘know’ that following your passion is not only bad advice, but the ‘worst advice you could give anyone.’

Why?  Because your passion, if you have one, may be a financial dead-end, against the law, socially reprehensible, or you may suck at it.

Ask the average journalist, professional photographer, or triple x’ed singer on America’s Got Talent.   Cocaine addicts, and pedophiles are also pretty passionate about their pursuits.  Get the picture?

But there’s an even more compelling reason to not using your passion as the North star for career choice.  And that is because most of us don’t know what passion is and where it comes from.

What is passion anyway?

In the context of work, the appropriate definition is

“…an intense desire or enthusiasm for something.”

Like the Italians and French are passionate about food.  Americans are passionate about shopping.

When you think of it this way, it’s clear why for career choice, people want to find something they are passionate about.   Wouldn’t it be great to be so fired up about what you do at work every day that you can’t wait for Monday’s?

That would really be great.  But passion as guide to career choice has problems for a couple of reasons:

(1) it suggests that your passion exists already somewhere ‘out there’ waiting to be found.

(2) it assumes that the intense burning of passion can be sustained all the time.

 Passion exists out there

Hey they found the tiny sub-atomic Hicks Boson particle, and your passion is probably a lot bigger.  So don’t lose hope.

Hell, people fall in love at first sight all the time don’t they?  So you might find your passion the same way.

Maybe.  But I wouldn’t advise you to rely on love-at-first-sight for finding your life partner, and I wouldn’t rely on looking ‘out there’ to find your passion either.

Your passion for that something over the rainbow could lead you on a wild goose chase looking to find what that thing is.  That strategy may work, but the danger is that along the way you may discard many things that you could have become passionate about.

That’s because passion, like a lover, may need your time and attention before it emerges.  Your passion is not ‘out there’ waiting for you to find it, but will find you when you stick with something that affords you the opportunity to grow, fits into some bigger picture you find worthy, allows you to be with people who appreciate you, and gives you a great degree of control on how you engage with it.    If you are able to put these conditions in place (as opposed to hoping to find them pre-mixed), something boring and lifeless could become intensely interesting and rewarding for you.

Passion doesn’t last

Passion as that intense desire or enthusiasm for something  doesn’t last.  How can it?  Once experienced as a constant it can no longer be an extra-ordinary feeling. It becomes normal.   And more than likely, passion like most feelings, ebbs and flows.

Ask anybody who’s been fortunate enough to be in a long-term relationship.  That intense in-love feeling is replaced with a different type of love that goes through cycles and changes.

Following your passion as career guidance advice suggests that you’ll not only choose what gives you that feeling of passion, but that you’ll also give up on that thing when you stop feeling passionate about it.

Giving up on something simply because you’ve lost the passion is not a mature life strategy.

Everything goes through ups and downs and while feeling passionate might be a good indicator that things are going in a good direction not feeling that passion may simply be a sign that something (purpose, autonomy, learning, people, etc.,) needs to be put back in place.

Ignore passion at your peril

Overall I’m not convinced that following your passion is the worst career advice.  How you feel about things, situations and people should never be ignored.

The problem with the “follow your passion/do what you love” advice is that it’s simplistic and superficial.

You need to understand why you experience passion in some cases and not in others before you can wisely follow passion’s lead.

If you don’t take the time to understand the mechanics of passion, why it comes and why it goes, you are likely to walk right by careers or jobs that could work for you.  You’re also likely to give up on something e.g. your current job that simply needs some servicing (like your car) to give it that like-new feeling you had when you first joined.

In other words, maybe it’s not about finding your passion, but creating passion … and if that’s so, then maybe you don’t need to quit your job; you could create it right where you are now.

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.