Is ‘follow your passion’ good career advice?

Is ‘follow your passion’ good career advice?

‘Follow your passion’: we’ve all heard this career advice before. Media mogul Oprah Winfrey, Olympian Donovan Bailey and singer Bob Dylan are amongst the many successful people who preach it. But in 2015, the idea of following your passion copped a lot of flak, with people saying it might not be such a good idea after all.

Passion doesn’t always bring fulfilment

The main argument against following your passion is that choosing something you love doesn’t mean it will lead to a satisfying career. Think about what you love the most… would you still love it as much if you had to do it every day?

Doing something you enjoy can make work better, but there are plenty of other factors to consider; the variety of your tasks, your schedule, your colleagues, the commute, your work environment, your salary, etc. In this segment on ABC radio, a woman explained that she quit studying medicine just before finishing her degree. She says she loved medicine, but she didn’t like the pressure that came with the profession and she wanted to have more time for hobbies and to have children.

Find your sweet spot

‘Do what you love’ is catchy and sounds simple. But you need more than passion to succeed; you need skills. Are you good at what you love? And is your skill something that people are ready to pay you for?

Ideally, that would be the sweet spot, like a Venn diagram where those three elements intersect:


See the bigger picture

Doing something valuable brings great satisfaction. It doesn’t mean necessarily working for a not-for-profit or saving the world. It might be solving problems in the business world, providing excellent customer service or building infrastructures. Basically, doing something that is needed.

Even Steve Jobs, who has long been seen as an advocate of ‘follow your passion’, ended up saying that we need more to be fulfilled.

‘Yeah, we’re always talking about following your passion,’ Jobs said to his biographer, ‘but we’re all part of the flow of history. You’ve got to put something back into the flow of history that’s going to help your community, help other people… so that 20, 30, 40 years from now… people will say, this person didn’t just have a passion, he cared about making something that other people could benefit from.’

Passions change

Another drawback about following your passion is that passions change and evolve. Most of us don’t have the same passions today as when we were 10, 20 or 25-years-old. If we did, we’d probably all be astronauts, veterinarians and ballerinas. Passions can also be cultivated.

Most people don’t even know what they’re passionate about yet when they pick a career. And not everybody has just one calling. It’s commonly accepted now that most people will have several different careers during their lifetime. You can find a passion for your work in many ways.

‘Follow your passion’ is not bad career advice, but it’s not enough to guarantee a satisfying career. Having the right skills, making an impact and being adaptable are just as important.

Want to know more? Watch this video from Benjamin Todd.

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Image: Desk (CC 0.1.0)