The useless piece of career advice that everyone gives
It’s the worst piece of career advice I ever heard: Do what you love, find your passion, and the money will follow.
I hate this advice, not just because the word “passion” conjures up images of tawdry Harlequin bodice rippers, featuring Fabio on the cover and flame-haired heroines going through sexual awakenings (ick). But also because it’s a terrible life plan.
Reason No. 1: Not everyone has a passion.
I don’t have a “passion.” When I was younger I felt like there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t “passionate” about anything. I took dance, I played piano, I got straight “A”s, but I was basically bored all the time. I’d heard over and over again that I had to find my passion, and it seemed like everyone had one but me. I was sure I was living life wrong.
Well, it’s (mumble mumble) years later and I still don’t have a “passion.” I like what I do, a lot, but it’s a chicken or egg situation, since I never really set out to do it. I fell into it by accident. So, do I like what I do because I do it or do I do it because I like it? I don’t know. What I do know is that, if I were still looking for my “passion” I’d still be the directionless slacker I was in the 1990s.
Not everyone loves something to the point of wanting to devote all their energy to it.
Reason No. 2: It’s a total lie that you’re bound to make money if you love what you do, particularly if that thing is in the arts – which, let’s face it, it usually is.
More power to you if your passion is investment banking or criminal law. But more often people’s passions are writing, painting and other artsy things.
“I’m passionate about eating and watching TV,” jokes Amanda, a 35-year-old science student and lab tech. “But I can’t find anyone to pay me to do that.”
Amanda spent her 20s trying to make a living acting – her passion – and, while she’s glad she gave it a go, she definitely wishes she gave it up sooner. Then she might not have spent the last ten years struggling to make ends meet and never, ever, having enough money.
“But by then I had devoted all that time, it’s like, well we waited this long…”
She says now, “I don’t need to be passionate and love my job. It’s a bonus to enjoy what I do and to like the people I work with but it’s not essential. I think that it matters more for me to feel like I am contributing to society and being useful in that regard, rather than leaping out of bed to go work every day. I mean, it’s called work for a reason.”
And don’t all of us who are old enough know those people who spent their 20s trying to be rock stars? Those who spent years releasing independent albums, touring and playing to half empty clubs, only to wake up 25 years later and realize they had to go back to school – and take out loans – if they ever wanted to live in an aboveground apartment with windows.
Look, I’m not saying you shouldn’t pursue your passion if you have one. Of course you can make money doing what you love, if you’re lucky. I’m just saying you don’t have to. You can be passionate about writing and make your living working at the New York Customs House, like Herman Melville did, until maybe one day you have that bestseller – or not, like Herman Melville didn’t in his lifetime. Or you can be passionate about skiing and make your living as a teacher, passionate about cooking and make your living as a receptionist.
And I’m not saying you have to make a million dollars to be happy. If you’re happy scraping by at something you love, then that’s wonderful.
But if you don’t have a “passion,” don’t feel that you have to have one. It’s not a requirement for happiness or success. Find something that interests you, that you like, that you’re good at, that someone will pay you to do, and that you could stand doing for the rest of your life, or at least for several years.
If you keep looking for your passion, you might never find it.
The only piece of career advice I would offer my son
Career advice revisited: Instead of ‘following’ your passions – make them work for you