In the last 15 years, the prevailing message we hear about work has changed drastically. The new message is that to live a happy life you must find a career that captures your passion.
This is terrible advice!
Let me tell you why.
A Short History of Work
One thing that’s so impressive about the ‘follow your passion’ movement is how prevalent it has become in such little time
Before 1970, you would see very little reference to following a passion in literature or media. What may feel so true, so normal, and so widespread is actually a very recent change in thinking. The first generation to really grow up feeling this was a widespread belief were probably those born in 1980, which means the first guinea pig group to really evaluate is only 35 years old at this point.
They aren’t even halfway through their careers
We’re all making major life decisions based on a strategy that hasn’t even had one complete cohort display results.
Follow Your Passion is also silent on the complex other factors that careers provide us.
Think about all the different needs and objectives a career serves.
- It provides us money to take care of our personal needs, and you want that compensation to be high.
- It provides social interactions and relationships which presumably we want to be positive ones.
- We want to be good at that work to achieve a sense of accomplishment.
- We want to be recognized for that work, which means we need an environment of people who actively foster recognition.
- We want it to be a geographical fit for our wants and needs (close to family, or maybe a city environment, or maybe a small town where we’d like to raise kids).
When we make a job decision, we look at all of these things on a spectrum, and we give a little in one category to get a little more in another category.
Do What You Love, by contrast, is a take no prisoners approach.
You must be passionate about something or else it’s not even on the table as a career option. There is no spectrum. There is no compromise.
As any Money Habiter intent on FIRE knows, life is full of compromises. In fact, that’s the beauty of life! Each decision helps you uncover your priorities and values. So are you really willing to place passion in a specific place (career) as the top priority in your life?
Data would suggest you would be happier putting other things in that top spot when it comes to career.
In a 2015 survey conducted by Mercer, 42 percent of those who say the essentially love their jobs are looking to leave. That figure actually happens to be slightly higher than the percentage of unsatisfied workers – 37% – who say they are looking to leave.
That means there are real factors that matter more in a career than doing something you love.
At the end of the day, unless you are independently wealthy or have a spouse supporting you, work is first about earning the money you need to sustain yourself.
Passion In Your Hobbies
I do believe your life should be filled with passion, but I think there is a much better place to nurture it than a career. Grow your passions in your hobbies!
If you think about the total waking hours in a week, you’ll realize there are more unpaid hours than paid hours in anyone’s life. If you’re awake 8am to 11pm every day, you have 105 waking hours a week. Even if you subtract 3 hours a day for get ready for the day and to commute, and 8 hours a day during the weekdays to go to a full time job, that still leaves you 44 hours a week of leisure time.
44 hours of leisure time per week: that’s more time to work on your passion than you’d get at a full-time job!
Clearly there are other things you want to do with that time besides work on side projects, but the truth is that for those of us who are pining away for a passion to make us whole, there is probably some amount of that extra 44 hours that can go towards the activities you love.
And until you find yourself maxing out all your leisure time working on your passion, and you need an extra hour to work on being excellent at it where paid work is interfering with that, I think that the idea that full-time work should be where all passion should live is just holding you back from getting started.
So where does all this leave us?
Despite how widespread it seems to us today , Follow Your Passion is only a 45 year-old movement, just a baby when it comes to universal advice. And its first big cohort of adherents aren’t even halfway through their careers for us to judge the success of the approach.
This advice seems to be universally applied, but there are very few others pieces of advice we force onto people without ever learning about their individual wants, needs, and financial situation, and that suggests that this is probably advice that fits a much smaller audience than it is being broadcasted to.
Historically, the approach that has led to millions of happy, whole human beings has not been Follow Your Passion, which suggests that there are plenty of additional ways to live your life and be a happy, whole human being if ‘Follow Your Passion’ doesn’t float your boat. You can find inspiration in other cultures and other times to craft something that works better for you.
Finally, there are plenty of hours in the week outside of work to test out new passions and interests and determine which really do bring something to our lives. In fact, more than a full time jobs’ worth of hours are ours to spend on activities that fulfill our passions. Our full time job doesn’t have to be the only place where our passions can live.
I had a job for 6 ½ years which was enjoyable but not a passion of mine. But it provided so much more than that. It helped me buy the ultimate freedom, and I got to hang out with smart, interesting, cool people along the way. I couldn’t be happier with that decision, and I hope you can achieve that for yourself, too.