Should you follow your passion at work?

It’s one of the most researched and debated questions out there – should we base our career on what we’re passionate about?

On one hand, many strongly advocate that if you follow your passion, the rest (e.g., fulfillment, money and success) will follow.

Whereas others place their feet firmly in the notion that following your passion really is terrible advice.

Side A: passion is the key to success

We spend so much of our lives at work, no one can deny that it is crucial that we enjoy it.

Those on this side of the debate firmly believe that if we follow our passion, whether it be for baking, sports, dancing, mathematics or literacy, our work will not feel forced upon us. We will look forward to Mondays and be happy at work, ultimately leading to a fulfilling and successful career.

On top of this, money cannot motivate us forever – no matter how much money we make, if we hate our jobs the we will never feel motivated to perform. Yet, if we feel genuine passion for what we are doing, we are likely to feel motivated and fulfilled.

Following our passion also makes us feel good. Due to this, working those extra hours or putting in that extra 10% effort doesn’t feel like a burden. Similarly, many argue that no obstacle will stop us from achieving success and fulfillment when we’re following our passion.

This is why many believe that the success will always follow after the passion: you’re more willing to put in the work, and you will reap what you sow.

Side B: following our passion is not the way to be happy and fulfilled at work

Indeed, it is a catching and inspiring message… follow your passion and you’ll always love your job and be successful, happy and fulfilled.

However, many are starting to advocate that “follow your passion” is misleading advice.

They propose that it can suggest that passion is all you need… when it’s not. You need skill, hard work and dedication. On top of this, a lot of us don’t actually have a passion that can be turned into a successful and budding career. And, if people were to follow only their passion, they will needlessly limit their career options.

What about contribution?

So, what should we do?

Well, the guys at 80,000 hours propose that we need to do what contributes. 

Find something that you’re good at and something that other’s value, as this gives you lots of career opportunities. Explore, develop, solve big problems and build skills.

But ultimately, those on this side of the debate argue that the key to a happy, successful and fulfilling life is to do what contributes positively to the word. This side of the debate also argues that this will make you more successful as if your work helps others, they will want you to succeed.

Or… bring your passion with you?

Here at The Career Project, we’re big fans of Mike Rowe – former host of the “Dirty Jobs” TV show and all around advocate for the working class.  Mike is fond of saying “don’t follow you passion, but bring it with you“.  Implied in this idea is that many people simply haven’t done enough to know what all they are passionate about.  And on top of that, often what you can be passionate about is helping people, or creating things, or finding solutions to tough problems.  Those are more broad and abstract ideas and can be accomplished through a range of careers.

So the “bring your passion with you” approach suggests that you can become more interested in a given topic or set of tasks as you do them and gain experience and competency, and in so doing you can recognize the benefits your work produces independent of the actual task itself.  Does a plumber fit together pipes or does he help a family have clean drinking water?

Your perspective on your work is indeed an important component of your overall career satisfaction – perhaps more so than the actual work product itself.  And this builds nicely off of the “do what contributes” approach mentioned above.  After all, in a job we get paid for value not time (even if it takes time to deliver value), and value is a way of measuring contribution.

My stance?

I’ve spent a lot of my time reading up on the topic – I’ve spent hours reading academic literature, blog posts, websites and books.

I can see both sides of the debate: following our passion may only lead to disappointment when we realize that 1) we’re the only person who is passionate about it and see’s value in it; 2) we’re not very good at our passion; and/or 3) our passion is not particularly meaningful.  And that’s assuming we know what we’re passionate about!

However, we spend a LOT of time at work – shouldn’t we do something that ignites a fire within us and gets us excited for Monday morning?

Sometimes, I feel that people have jumped on the “following your passion is the worst advice in the ENTIRE world” bandwagon because, like all novel and controversial ideas, it sells. It’s refreshing, it’s convincing, it’s something new to talk about, and that is exactly why people like it. But how can we expect to enjoy work if we’re not enthused or interested in what we do?

My (reasonably well educated) opinion is this: follow your deepest passion. BUT only if you’re good at it, you’re willing to put in the graft to make it work and only if other people are willing to pay for it.

If you really really love hockey and there’s a demand for hockey coaches, become one – but only if you’re a good teacher.

We should all do work that is valuable – but what exactly defines ‘valuable’?. To me, providing high quality blog posts is valuable. I am very aware that my posts aren’t going to change the world on their own, but I believe I can make a valuable contribution to the lives of others.

However, others might think my writing is a complete waste of time. Even if they were the world’s best writer, would they ever feel fulfilled in a career or blog post writing? Probably not, they’re not passionate about it.

On top of the ‘ do valuable work’ argument, the chances are that you will see your passion, whatever it is, as valuable or find a way to make it valuable. And, all work is valuable and contributes in someway, thats why we get paid to do it. Sometimes, we also won’t see each individual task as valuable, but we see the whole picture as valuable. For example, a janitor might not enjoy mopping the floors, but he see’s great value in the outcome: preventing sick people from getting more ill.

However, if your passion is not one that’ll make you money – don’t stress. And, perhaps you need to spend a bit more time on self-discovery and figure out some other things you could be passionate about. I think we all assume we only have one or two passions, when in reality, we haven’t actually explored the wide range of possibilities out there that we could be passionate about.

Like everything human related, there will never be a ‘one size fits all’. For some, our budding passion is something we can make a career from. For others, it is not.

Personally, I think that perhaps we should take a new, combined perspective. “Follow your passion” can work for some of us, but for others it can, indeed, be misleading advice.

We can be passionate about a lot of career-related things that all make positive impact: the environment, employee relations, exercise, construction, marketing, teaching, interior design, animal welfare, (just to name a very small few). Pick one that you’ve got the skill set for, and then go from there.

Wrapping up

So there you have, both sides of the long debate as to wether we should follow our lifelong passion or whether its bad advice.

You’ve heard my stance: follow your passion if you can, if not do something that you are passionate about.

However, I am interested to hear your stance. Did you follow your passion and turn if into a career? If yes, has it paid off? What advice would you give to others who want to do the same? Let me know in the comments section below!

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