Is “Follow your passion” Good Advice? Probably not.

The problem isn’t that we’re all aimlessly trying to find our passion, it’s the misguided expectations that:

  1. we know what we want (or think will make us happy)
  2. that there’s an easy, quick way to get it (or that the road to acquiring it will be nothing but fun)

Or put it another way — how often have you known in advance, before trying a type of food you’ve never had before, whether or not you’d like it? You can’t know what you don’t know. How can you know what work you will enjoy doing before you’re doing it? How do you stumble onto that work? How do you get enough expertise to have the opportunity to do that sorta work?

Check this article: Solving Gen Y’s Passion Problem

I also can’t help but think this also applies to commitments to friends and significant others. Working hard at making a relationship function over the long haul isn’t easy and it takes commitment, a willingness to learn and grow as a person, and a number of other things. But doing it can lead to … more passion. But you gotta have realistic expectations and goals.

Let’s stop romanticizing reality. Life is not romantic.


It’s this final implication that causes damage. When I studied people who love what they do for a living, I found that in most cases their passion developed slowly, often over unexpected and complicated paths. It’s rare, for example, to find someone who loves their career before they’ve become very good at it — expertise generates many different engaging traits, such as respect, impact, autonomy — and the process of becoming good can be frustrating and take years.

The early stages of a fantastic career might not feel fantastic at all, a reality that clashes with the fantasy world implied by the advice to “follow your passion” — an alternate universe where there’s a perfect job waiting for you, one that you’ll love right away once you discover it. It shouldn’t be surprising that members of Generation Y demand a lot from their working life right away and are frequently disappointed about what they experience instead.

The good news is that this explanation yields a clear solution: we need a more nuanced conversation surrounding the quest for a compelling career. We currently lack, for example, a good phrase for describing those tough first years on a job where you grind away at building up skills while being shoveled less-than-inspiring entry-level work. This tough skill-building phase can provide the foundation for a wonderful career, but in this common scenario the “follow your passion” dogma would tell you that this work is not immediately enjoyable and therefore is not your passion. We need a deeper way to discuss the value of this early period in a long working life.

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