Series: The 5 Things No One Tells You About Work That Are Critical to Success.
Stop wasting time finding your passion
I grew up hearing that I should find my passion and pursue a career that I loved. I’m sure many of you received similar advice. When you love what you do, it never feels like work. Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life! Sound familiar?
For me, finding my passion was easier said than done. At 18, I had no idea what I wanted to do.
I read books, I searched online, I talked to people in different fields. I took tests such as the popular “What Color is Your Parachute?” test.
None of these pursuits brought me any closer to understanding what it was I actually wanted to do.
I decided to kick off freshman year of college by taking pre-med classes. I knew I wanted to be successful and doctors were successful. Plus, the T.V. show House was very popular when I was entering college and it made being a doctor look pretty cool.
That quickly changed however when I worked at a hospital one summer and didn’t love it like I hoped I would.
I then started taking political science classes which I seemed to enjoy much more than the pre-med classes. I made the leap and switched my major from biology to political science. It was fun learning about the world and other cultures. I learned different languages and studied abroad.
One summer I landed an internship in Washington, D.C.. Working around Capitol Hill was exciting but I quickly learned that politics weren’t my passion either. I was bummed but still had time to figure things out. College was only half way through at that point.
I kept my major as political science but started to take more law courses. Maybe I could use my political science degree to go to law school. I interned at a non-profit and worked as a paralegal.
Some of the lawyers I worked with strongly encouraged me not to go to law school. They confessed that they were in massive amounts of debt and they didn’t seem happy. I met other lawyers who also strongly dissuaded me from pursuing the profession. I eventually abandoned the law school plan too.
By the time I graduated college, I was depressed and felt disappointed in myself. I had tried out three different careers by that point and none made me feel like I thought I was supposed to feel about a career. I hadn’t found my passion!
I kept thinking that someday I would find my passion and everyone around me kept encouraging me to keep looking for it. I was lost.
You don’t need to work in your passion to be successful
Fast forward five years later and I still don’t work in my passion – and I’m OK with that.
In fact, I’m thrilled. I work with cool people on interesting projects and feel financially secure.
I paid off $90,000 of debt and am now building my freedom fund to pursue my passions of travel, fitness, and the outdoors.
I did all of this by coming to the realization that work is work.
Once I got over the romantic notion that everyone should work in their passion, I picked a solid career and focused on moving up quickly.
I’ve accepted that my work doesn’t always light me up and excite me. Work sometimes means spreadsheets, it means learning everything about topics that don’t really interest me so that I can become an expert, it means occasional late nights, status meetings, and performance reviews. It means putting extra effort into the exact right places so that I can get ahead.
In hindsight, I wasted years of valuable time trying to find my passion when I could have been been building a strong resume and skill set that would have helped me move up more quickly in my field.
Instead, I have a resume of disconnected experiences that I’ve had to explain to recruiters and hiring managers.
I’ve learned to sell my unique background but it wasn’t the easiest path I could have taken.
Overall, I don’t regret not working in my passion at all. My happiness comes from family, friends, and new experiences.
Why “Follow Your Passion” is Overrated
In the book Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss, three influential and success people share why “follow your passion” is generally bad advice.
The first person to share this sentiment is human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
“I have seen so many former students in their late 30s and 40s struggling to make ends meet. They spent their time in college doing good rather than building their careers and futures. I warn students today to be careful how they use their precious time and to think carefully about when is the right time to help. Its a well-worn cliché, but you have to help yourself before you help others. This is too often lost on idealistic students.”
The second person is the Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired magazine:
“Don’t try to find your passion. Instead master some skill, interest, or knowledge that others find valuable. It almost doesn’t matter what it is at the start. You don’t have to love it, you just have to be the best at it. Once your master it, you’ll be rewarded with new opportunities that will allow you to move away from tasks you dislike and toward those that you enjoy. If you continue to optimize your mastery, you’ll eventually arrive at your passion.“
And the third person to share that passion is overrated is Chris Anderson, the CEO of 3D Robotics:
“Many of us have bought into the cliché ‘pursue your passion.’ For many, that is terrible advice. In your 20s, you may not really know what your best skills and opportunities are. It’s much better to pursue learning, personal discipline, and growth. And to seek out connections with people across the planet. For a while, it’s just fine to follow and support someone else’s dream. In so doing, you will be building valuable relationships, valuable knowledge. And at some point your passion will come and whisper in your ear, ‘I’m ready.'”
To “pursue your passion” is not always a great idea. Instead, it’s better to pursue experience, opportunities, and money. As you gain more of each, you’ll step closer and closer to actually finding work you’re passionate about.
Readers, what do you think about working in your passion? Is it overrated or something that should be pursued?
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Claudia @ Two Cup House says
I’ve had similar experiences with work. Job shadowing in high school to see if medicine was for me (nope). Changed majors and never quite figured out what I wanted to do before graduating. Failed to make it to law school. I would say that having a job, not a passion, isn’t a bad place to be. I like to think of those times as “the space” I need to figure out what’s next.
Looks like we had similar (very windy) paths to get to where we are today! Completely agree that just having a job is great.
Nicole @Audaciously So says
I have a post like this saved in my drafts, so obviously I agree. I don’t know if it’s always been like this, but at least now days, it’s ingrained in us to “find our best lives” and only work in a job we absolutely love. It’s a great goal but it’s also unrealistic. Not everyone is going to be able to make a stable (or even livable) income doing what they love, simple as that. For most of us, we have to choose between the quality of life we want to live (e.g., where we live, what house we buy, how often we go out, etc.) and loving our job. I’m like you… I definitely chose the quality of life I’m living over a career I’m passionate about. It’s a tough balance though because I think there’s a point where more money isn’t going to be worth it if you are miserable at your job. I don’t know if I would be happy with my decision if I didn’t at least sort of like what I’m doing. I guess it’s up to each person to decide what that balance is for themselves though!
Totally! For some people, working in their passion might be a great option. It’s just not for me right now.
Millennial Moola says
If you stumble into your passion, then awesome keep working and love life. However, if you don’t suck it up for a few years and max the heck out of your savings so you can retire and begin the long process of finding why you were created to live on this earth. It definitely has nothing to do with your 9-5 most likely
Dominic @ Gen Y Finance Guy says
I am a strong believer in follow the money and use the cash flow to fund your passio(s).
One day your passions might make you money, but if they don’t that’s okay too.
Also, people fail to realize that even if what you do to earn an income is not your “passion” that you can still be passionate about your work product.
I think my advice (to not follow your passions in work) holds as long as you’re planning to be out of the game before standard retirement age. For those who are holding out until 65, it may make sense to pursue their passions earlier or risk never pursuing their passions.
Matt @ The Resume Gap says
I’ve never discovered my single “life’s passion,” and I’m fine with that. I have many interests, but never just one thing that struck me as my “must do.” I’ve found that working hard on something — even if it wasn’t a total passion at first — can be rewarding in its own right and inspire passion for the topic.
I’m also skeptical of the idea that working in one’s field of passion is as satisfying as pursuing one’s passion without the need for money. Is someone with a passion for art, for example, going to be fulfilled doing graphic design for large corporate clients, sitting in meetings with marketing and branding professionals who constantly want to change the end product? In most fields, it seems like the purity of the pursuit is likely to be lost.
I see it the same way. I feel passionate about many things and not one particular thing. I also agree that sometimes the passion gets lost when the work gets brought into it. Even people working in their passions have things they don’t like about work.
Finance Solver says
I agree with everything in this post. When I looked for internships and jobs, I didn’t really think about what excited me and what my passion was, my first criteria were just that it paid more than minimum wage. Then as time passed, my second criteria became that it was related to finance. I’ve never considered my passion to be *that* important (I also don’t want to make money being a teller for all my life) but just that it was a learning experience. I do have passions in my hobby, however 🙂
Even now, I don’t think I accepted a job that I am 100% completely passionate about, but I am at the very least, satisfied with it. Finding one’s passion is an exceptionally difficult task that not everyone gets to realize!
It’s a very difficult task! And even when some find their passion, they find out that working in it sucks some of the fun out of it!
Stefan - The Millennial Budget says
Great post Julie I could not agree more. This is how it was for me and swimming. I hated the sport but I knew I had a university scholarship to swim so I had to do it strictly for the money to progress my career. Working with what you are passionate about is awesome but money rules the world, whether people agree or not. If you want to make a good living and achieve a certain level of success you just got to get down and work until you can pursue whatever you want. I would also say that passions change over time which makes it harder as well!
Good for you for toughing it out. Definitely made sense financially. I didn’t make it all 4 years with my college sport (which I used to love) but wasn’t on scholarship.
Biglaw Investor says
Work is definitely work. I’m sometimes reminded that it’s a place you wouldn’t go unless they were PAYING you to go, because that’s exactly what it is.
But I’m also reminded of the difference between a career and a job. Chris Rock has a great skit on the difference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnlNUZqFzgY
I think you definitely want to fall into the “it’s a career but it’s still work” category at first but I’m also a believer that you can find things you are passionate in, they just may not pay a lot of money (or as GYFG says above, maybe you’ll get lucky and find out that they are).
I’m still hopeful!! Maybe someday there is work+passion+money out there for me! Thanks for sharing the Chris Rock skit. Will have to check it out!
Colin | rebelwithaplan says
I came to this realization when I started interacting more with older adults. Plenty of them were working jobs people would consider “soul-sucking” or “stuck in the cubicle” but they were happy with the work, even though it wasn’t their passion.
The regular paycheck and hours helped take the pressure off them when it came to pursuing their passions. The biggest way to kill your enthusiasm for a passion project is to place strict deadlines and expectations on it, which is what you often have to do when pursuing your passion as a living.
Completely agree. Sometimes boring stability and a paycheck isn’t so bad! We all have bad days at work, even those working in their passions.
Julie, nice post and I couldn’t agree more. I would go so far as to say that, “do what you love” is some of the worst (although best-intentioned) advice that anyone could give or receive. The focus should be on finding something that you can be good at that people will pay you for!
In my experience, people will end up enjoying and getting satisfaction from doing something that people respect them for and that they are well-compensated for.
NZ Muse says
Depends on the person. I’m lucky to not have had to compromise much on either money or love; I know for some people money matters way more while for others the mission is everything.
I’ve written about this a few times (nzmuse.com/2015/06/post-jobs-settling/) and personally I hate most everything about DWYL. But I feel hypocritical saying that, because I basically did and yet am telling people not to do the same, yknow?
Loved your article!! Glad you DWYL too. Maybe there are some unicorns out there!
Dividends Down Under says
I love investing, so if I ever end up in a job about investing, there’s a job related to passion and money 🙂
But nice post Julie. There’s a quote about not following your passion, but bring your passion with you (Mike Rowe), it’s very apt.
Great quote and so true. Thanks for sharing.
Stefanie O'Connell says
To me, passion isn’t something you find, it’s something you cultivate. Like falling in love, you can’t just search, you have to go out and meet people and get to know them and DO. And like you said, it’s not necessarily about being passionate about the singular thing you’re doing, but the lifestyle whatever you’re doing affords you.
So true! Passion can’t be found, only made! I think I just found a new favorite quote! 🙂
Financial Slacker says
Use hobbies to pursue your passion. Use work to make money.
I went through the same thing. Although it took me longer to figure it out. The other day my teenage son said, the best paying jobs tend to be the least fun. I think that nails it.
I have a good friend who makes millions owning an office supply business. He’s far from passionate about the industry, but he is passionate about running the business.
Although you may not be passionate, it does help to develop an interest in what you do for work.
I agree. You can develop passion for what you do even if it’s something mundane. Passion for me is being successful and achieving results in something,not necessarily my favorite past time.
Thias @It Pays Dividends says
I’m not doing my life’s passion right now and that’s okay. I work a good job that provides me the resources to do my passions in my spare time and in the future.
It is hard to work your life passion because sometimes that passion isn’t a sustainable, reliable job. I think it is smart to find something that you enjoy to some extent and pursue your passion on the side until you build it to something that can support you.
That’s my plan at least!
Counterpoint! I definitely think there is a damaging myth that your purpose in life has to be fulfilled through your work/career. This is patently not true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you WON’T find a career in your passion, or that it is a mistake to take the time to figure out if your purpose can be fulfilled through your job.
I have a similar story (a windy path as a background) but it DID lead me to a career in my passion-subject. I happened to take a class as a part of my very broad major in college that pointed me to it. I’ve been working in it ever since, with a few bumps along the way while I refined my exact interests. I’m now working towards a PhD which will qualify me to do what I want to do WHERE I want to do it–which will hopefully help me fulfill my other, secondary passions in life.
I think it is worth taking some time (in college, afterward, in your 20’s/early 30’s…) to explore what you think you might love. I didn’t find my ideal career pathway/passion until I was 30, though I knew which field I wanted to work in when the seeds were planted very early on, at about 22. Sometimes it happens! And when it does–it’s f*cking magical. 🙂 So no, I wouldn’t say it is overrated at all. I can’t say that I love all of my coworkers to bits or every second of every task, but the overall mission, the driving motivation, the feeling that I have found my forever place in life and am fulfilling my purpose–it is an utterly indescribable feeling. Those bad bits do nothing to tarnish the shine…even a non-career/job passion will have its niggly, annoying bits. In any case, I would happily pay money to do what I do! The rest of my life could be chaos, but this knowledge and feeling grounds me and gets me through all of the hard stuff.
I know I’m lucky and it can’t happen for everyone, but it is worth fighting for, at least early on while you can recover from any dead ends. (I am kind of a Pollyanna about this and don’t actually believe they are dead ends, just learning experiences.) In any case, to anyone reading this and questioning their decisions, please don’t ever regret taking the time to figure out what you were meant to do in life! Everyone has to walk their own path.
Julie, I am happy you found your own path. It sounds like it is all working out for you!
I love that you found your passion and I am jealous! I think you have a great story and perspective to bring to the table because you’re an example of someone who actually found their passion! I still hope to find mine some day but in the mean time I’m hustling to give myself the free time to explore new things!
Teresa DeFabrizio says
While I agree that you need to pay bills, I cannot agree completely with the concept of just go to work, put in the daily grind, and do what you have to do. Life is more than dragging yourself through your days and paying off debt.
I am an artist, art educator, and therapeutic creative arts instructor. I have always been and will always be a creative entity and knew that from a young age. I also knew that it would take many, many years of hard work, education, and some sacrifices to be in the fields that I wanted to be in. The jobs I’ve worked have always been in creative fields, and while the economy has shifted greatly, I still teach, make art and hustle . Is it easy- no, not at all. We live in a society that doesn’t value art, culture, nor education, but I can say that in spite of the challenges, I get up, go to my jobs, and I am truly connected to the people and communities that I serve. Of course I wish I made “More Money”, but I feel that I am actually living my purpose and being the best human that I can be- most days!
We all have responsibilities and bills to pay, but can you trim out some of the nonsensical stuff, go off the grid a bit and spend more of your time and energy living and not just working? If the answer is yes, get to hustling on wards to something that will use your talents/abilities better. If the answer is not at this time, continue to strive towards your other aspect in a lesser degree. Unless you have a trust fund or independent wealth, sometimes you do have to do a day job or find multiple and creative ways to pay to bills, but it can be done. You don’t have to be either a magical, freedom-found pixie, nor a work slave- there are always combinations, choices, and different solutions. Figure what you want and need to do out, get a support system and move forth.
We live in a chaotic world where our time on this planet is short. So, let me ask you- at the end of your days do you really want to reflect on how many hours you logged into a soul-sucking job that maybe gave you some creature comforts, or do want something that provides both sustenance and purpose? That path is different for everyone. Dig deep, get creative, cut out what you really may not need fiscally, and live with purpose. I’m wishing the best of luck to everyone out there!
Millennial Boss says
This is the comment that I needed (and all readers needed) on this post! Thank you for providing the opposing view point. I go back and forth on this in my head all of the time.