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Why Following Your Passion is Misleading Advice

Jump on Your Pink Unicorn and Follow Your Passion

The words “follow your passion”, typically uttered with the best intention, never cease to annoy or at least, confuse me. In my view, it’s a sweeping statement, littered with clumsy assumptions that a) we all have one pre-existing passion and, b) if we pursue our passion, we are guaranteed to love our job.

The “follow your passion” slogan is attractive because it’s both simple and daring. It tells us that we all have a calling, and if we discover it and have the courage to follow it, our working life will be fantastic. One bold move, that changes everything; this is a powerful storyline. But like most fairytales it’s totally unrealistic.

Following Your Passion is Unsupported

The issue of career satisfaction is infinitely more complex than the equation “following your passion = career satisifaction”. Most people, myself included, don’t have a pre-existing passion. Some of us, have multiple passions whilst others, haven’t yet found one. Where does that leave us? Working multiple jobs? Going on a spiritual journey to India to figure out why we are so passionless? Thankfully, not. There is little evidence to support that following your passion leads you to eternal career satisfaction. Instead, the evidence shows that career happiness is supported by a combination of nuanced reasons, a “happiness checklist”, if you like. Something much more detailed than people just loving their job just because it matches some innate interest.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t follow your passion. Passion is important. Without passion, we would be no different to computers but, I just don’t see a lot of evidence that passion is something, existing naturally in everyone, waiting to be discovered. Perhaps a better, less misleading way to communicate the due consideration one should give to passion in career matters is “cultivate your passion”. “Cultivate”, implies that you approach your work like a craftsman. Honing your ability, and then leveraging your value, once experienced, to shape your career toward the type of lifestyle that resonates with you. By simply changing “follow” to “cultivate” we don’t ignore the hard work and planning required to develop our passion into a sustainable career.

How To Cultivate Your Passion

The core principle of passion cultivation is that there is no special passion waiting for you to uncover. Rather, you develop passion while doing work that you find enjoyable and meaningful. The key is to get good at something that helps other people.

An example of the “cultivation” process would be the writer who wishes to pursue their writing talent and have total career independence.

  • They would probably start out as a content writer for a corporate.
  • Then after a few years of hard work, they find their writing niche (where they can add value to others).
  • They offer their services as a freelance writer (within their particular niche), in the evenings, to build a client base.
  • Once they develop a sustainable client base, through earned respect in the field they can become fully self-employed.

The writer, after putting in the long hours, has leveraged their talent to add value to others and in turn gained respect in their field. This “cultivation of passion” affords the writer the freedom to control their occupational destiny. Passion is a by-product of our hard work and commitment to our lifestyle preferences – not something innately within us, waiting to be discovered.