On Finding Your Passion

It’s back to school time, so there’s no better opportunity to address one of the most destructive pieces of advice high school and college kids are going to start hearing. Nope, it’s not, “Sure, Billy, you can do tons with an Medieval English degree.” And, you’d be wrong if you guessed, “Abstinence is the right choice for you!” No, I’m talking about something much more insidious: “Find your passion.”

For decades, this old saw has been trotted out as the height of insightful career advice. Guidance counselors, teachers, and parents promise that, if you can unlock that secret, you’ll never work a day in your life. Just think how many times you’ve had this conversation:

Max: Hi Sarah! How’s work going lately?

Sarah: Oh Max, don’t be silly. I don’t work. You see, I found my passion.

That’s right. Your number is identical to mine: zero.

“Finding your passion” is the absolute worst career advice, for myriad reasons.

First, lots of people, and I mean lots of people, don’t have a passion. And, guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m one of those people. I have lots of interests, lots of things I think are great and cool, but I wouldn’t rate any of them as a passion. It’s really sort of cruel. When everyone tells you to find something you don’t have, that’s probably the first step down the path to paranoia.

Second, some people have freaky passions. Sure, Belinda couldn’t live without her Thimbles of the World collection, but how’s the thimble market right now? Hey, Belinda, you just aced every Advanced Placement class you took, but how about you run down to Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts and see if they’re hiring.

Third, implicit in the career advice to “find your passion” is the idea that one’s passion must be one’s life work. Why? Work is certainly important, but why must one work at what they value most? It seems pretty rational to me to keep your passion away from performance reviews, annoying coworkers, and endless meetings.

Now, in fairness, we must admit that there are people that truly have a passion they’ve turned into a career. At times, just meeting these unicorns can be inspiring. Other times, we find ourselves cringing at their obsessive focus on “their passion” with no care or concern for anything else in the world.

It’s not about finding your passion. It’s about finding something that interests you to a degree that you can pursue excellence in all areas of your life, not just your job. Most people aren’t pursuing their passion, so why do we insist on passing on this awful piece of advice? It’s time for a more honest conversation about work, life, and pursuing interests while maintaining a healthy balance. Now that’s worth being passionate about.

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