Why You Shouldn’t Follow Your Passion

Individuals who make up Generations X and Y have repeatedly heard the mantra “Follow your passion.” In fact, this philosophy has become so commonplace that it’s hard to imagine going against the grain. That’s exactly what happened during a TED talk where “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe posited that to be successful in the working world has little to do with following your dreams and a lot to do with plain, old hard work.


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It’s a supposition that has fueled heated discussions, as it flies in the face of what many young people and job seekers have been taught. However, as Rowe expertly – and with his trademark wit – points out, following your passion can lead to financial ruin. As he notes, the motto should be: “Follow your dreams and go broke” – and it does nothing to help a struggling economy. Here’s why:

  • Opportunities for economic development are missed when people are always looking inward. Rowe speaks eloquently about the pig farmer with whom he worked on one episode. The farmer realized that all the foods that were thrown away from the Vegas Strip buffets were protein-rich and an ideal source of nutrition for his livestock. It wasn’t his dream to go into the business of collecting food scraps for livestock but years later he’s worth millions of dollars because he saw an untapped market and entered it.
  • We forget to imitate because we all want to innovate. We have this need to be the first to do something, rather than heralding those who piggyback on inventions. Ford didn’t invent the car, but he used the car as a springboard for other possibilities.
  • When everyone is walking in one direction – “Let’s all follow our passions!” – there’s a path less traveled that could be far more lucrative and satisfying in the end, even if it’s not glamorous or socially appreciated. Take a liberal arts degree, for example. There’s been a lot of talk about the large number of students studying liberal arts and the lack of positions in the field. Your passion may be in liberal arts, but it’s going to be extremely hard to leverage your degree as well as if you studied something with much better prospects.
  • We’ve been fed a line that implies working harder and working smarter are mutually exclusive. In fact, they can be two sides of the same coin – and they must be in order to produce an effective, self-sustaining society.

These facts lay out a clear picture that it’s time to rethink the way we view our career paths, as well as how we introduce the idea of engaging in the working world to those just starting to hold jobs.

Seek Out the Jobs That Are Already Available

You might be surprised to learn that there are actually many jobs available that simply aren’t being scooped up. Maybe it’s because they seem hum-drum or unromantic; in other words, they don’t strike anyone as being a dream assignment. So what? Someone smart is going to realize this and work his or her way to a great, satisfying future.

Start seeking out job fairs and listings and you’ll soon find out where the work is. But don’t stop there, once you know where the opportunities are, go hunting for more open positions. In the social age we live in, it’s no surprise that an effective way to do this is through social media. Just as social recruiting has become mainstream, so has the use of social media and personal websites for personal branding. Create a personal website to show off your skills and build your brand on social media. You could even try blogging as a job-search technique.

You don’t have to give up your passion entirely, but it might just make more sense to put it on the side rather than in the spotlight.

Make Your Passion a Sideline Hobby

You don’t have to give up your passion entirely, but it might just make more sense to put it on the side rather than in the spotlight. Sometimes, you just aren’t good at it, and that’s the bottom line. You can’t make a living from it, and in the end, you’ll only be miserable. Instead, get a position working in a field where you have the chance to earn a decent living, help your community and feel good about what you’ve done at the end of the day. Pursue your hobby during your off hours.

Be Happy to Work Hard

By all accounts, we’ve become a nation of people who want perks. We want to work from home, we want flexibility in our jobs, we want early retirement, and we want lots of vacation. However, this may not be what the country needs to generate economic recovery and expansion. Sometimes, hard work and sacrifice is the only path. Fortunately, as Rowe is fond of mentioning, working hard tends to go hand-in-hand with personal happiness. That’s because we gain satisfaction from working to reach a goal, even more so than from actually reaching the goal.

So did we get it all wrong when we learned we were supposed to follow our passions? Maybe. In our collective eagerness to put bliss above getting the job done, we may have actually fostered a sense of societal complacency. The good news is that we have the power to change. It’s never too late to broaden our horizons, get our hands a little dirty and celebrate the work that needs to get done.


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Sarah Landrum graduated from Penn State with degrees in Marketing and PR. Now, she is a freelance writer and the founder of P​unched Clocks,​a site for young professionals to find happiness and success in their careers. Visit Punched Clocks and s​ubscribe to her newsletter,​and follow her on Twitter ​@SarahLandrum​for more great advice.

  • John Bennett

    Wow …. Where to begin in this piece on half truths (at least to me)!!!

    1. “Follow your passion.” Yes know what you’re passionate about. Yes know whether you have the talent and education to pursue it. Yes, work at it if there are opportunities to SUPPORT YOURSELF AND FAMILY (IF APPROPRIATE).

    2. “Work hard.” Yes, of course, if there is to be any value in what you do, you need to work hard – with regard to your passion or not.

    3. “Look outward.” Of course, be alert to opportunities everywhere – outward AND inward. Don’t be blinded by your current situation – with regard to your passion or not.

    4. “We forget to imitate…” Imitation MIGHT work at some point and should not be avoided automatically – in regard to your passion or not. BUT sooner than later, imitation will only cause your and/or your organization’s demise. Quoting Einstein: “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome.” Creativity / innovation is the key – with regard to your passion or not.

    5. “… working harder and working smarter…” No they are not exclusive. They are both extremely important, regardless of your work – with regard to your passion or not.

    6. “Take a liberal arts degree …” The main goal of education at any level is or should be to learn how to learn and solve problems effectively. There are companies that seek out graduates with such capabilities, knowing they can pick up the required core knowledge quite quickly. They can be very productive for themselves and the companies – with regard to their passion or not.

    7. “Seek out jobs …” Of course, if anyone is seeking employment, they obviously should consider the jobs that are available. BUT they should interview the employers to understand if creativity or innovation will be expected or not. If yes, the job has attractive facets. If not, the job might be in the short term, but we owe it to ourselves to seek a position where we’re expected to make a difference – with regard to our passion or not.

    8. “… working hard tends to go hand-in-hand with personal happiness.” Absolutely correct as long as we have opportunities to change and to make a didderence – with regard to our passion or not.

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