“Follow Your Passion” Might Be Bad Advice: Here’s Why

Follow Your Passion Might Be Bad Advice: Here's Why
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On the Choose FI Facebook page, there’s a lively debate about whether or not following your passion is a good idea or not. Hint: It’s probably not.

“Follow your passion” is common advice when deciding what to do for your career. But is it always the best way? Maybe not.

Following your passion has many potential drawbacks. You may earn less money, you may burn out on the very thing that makes life fun, and it may not be the job that is best suited to your personality or goals.

Following Your Passion Doesn’t Always Pay Off

The best person to talk about this topic is Mike Rowe, host of the TV show Dirty Jobs. After all, he spends week after week meeting people who work the dirtiest jobs in the country. And he finds that most of them are incredibly happy doing their work, even though it definitely wasn’t their passion.

Below is a short video where he describes exactly why following your passion isn’t the best idea. Take a few moments to watch it and then read on for my thoughts.

Passion Doesn’t Mean Success

There’s a distinct possibility that your passion and what you’re best at won’t align. That’s why many people turn their passions into hobbies and make money doing a job they excel at.

Mike Rowe suggests that trying to pursue your passion might take you away from finding a job that you’re much better suited for, and one where you can earn more money.

In the video, he offers himself as an example. He states that that most men in his family are skilled tradesmen, and as a kid that’s exactly what he thought was his passion. Turns out, it wasn’t the job for him, and he wasted a lot of time and energy trying to excel at it.

Passions And Hobbies Are Not The Same Things

Many times, when people say their passion is X, what they really mean is that’s their favorite hobby. For example, I’m passionate about woodworking. However, I’ve decided to make it a hobby, since I definitely don’t have the skill, or the desire, to make it a full-time career.

It’s important to think seriously about whether or not you’re willing to turn your hobby into your life’s work. TopResume has an article that can help you determine whether your “passion” is really just a hobby and if you should make that your career.

The article suggests that you ask yourself these questions:

  • What would you give up in pursuit of your hobby full-time? For some, making money at a job that isn’t the most exciting is something they need to do. If you give it up to pursue your passion, how likely are you to make money? Ask yourself what’s worth giving up in order to follow your passion.
  • If you monetize your passion, will it compromise what you love about it? For example, say you love baking. Opening a bakery requires a lot more than just a love of baked goods. While you might earn more money, running a business may kill everything you love about your passion.

A Flooded Job Market

Most folks I know who are following their passions are artists, musicians, or aspiring actors. In other words, people who are competing with thousands of others for one job that probably doesn’t pay very well.

If what you’re passionate about is something in the arts, sports, music, film, or fashion industry know that all of these industries are difficult to get into. And that’s not even an exhaustive list.

Meanwhile, there’s a major need for workers in the trades. Most folks don’t believe that a career in the trades could lead you to FI.

Related: Why Skilled Trades Can Help You Become Financially Independent

Why You Should Follow Your Passion Anyway (Sometimes)

We’ve been really taking a swing at the idea of following your passion, but sometimes, when someone is truly good at their passion, it is worth following.

The Choose FI Facebook group thread differs greatly on whether or not you should follow your passion. But many state some great points explaining why following your passion is the right idea.

Happiness Is Worth More Than Money 

Careers should provide us with money, obviously, but working 40+ hours a week at a job we hate can quickly become mentally and physically draining. That’s why careers should also provide us joy. Yes, that’s a very 21st-century thought, but it’s a good one.

One commenter the Facebook thread makes a beautiful point: “In the US, fortunes can be won and lost in a day, but happiness is hard to come by…I vote [you] follow your heart and be happy.”

There’s a reason artists have willingly taken on the “starving artist” stereotype. Art is what they’re meant to do. It’s their greatest passion and they’ll stop at nothing to be successful. If you know your passion is the one thing that will make you happiest in the world, that’s what matters, even if you don’t make a huge income.

Don’t Blame The Artists…Blame The Culture 

We can’t always help what our passions are. Some us are meant to be writers, or mimes, or scuba divers…you get the point. No one deserves to be told they shouldn’t do something simply because it seems like an unstable career path.

Another commenter from the Facebook thread puts it this way:

“One of my current students is pursuing art history in college and had already held curator internships in high school. It took her months to be able to vocalize that she wanted to continue art history in college precisely because of the ways folks devalue those degrees. I think we have to do better by our young people.”

It’s not the liberal arts students’ fault that their degrees are seen as less-than. While some passions are difficult to make six-figure salaries, it doesn’t mean they aren’t worth pursuing.

We’re living in a time where YouTube stars make millions so clearly non-traditional paths are becoming more mainstream.

If You Have A Job You Love, It Really Doesn’t Feel Like Work 

It’s a cliche, but for some it’s true. For example, a Facebook thread commenter and a fine artist who followed her passion says:

“Yes, I 100% work harder for the same amount of money, but it doesn’t feel like work. My job is playtime and I am so grateful. As the years go by, the cumulative return on my work over the years continues to increase and my income climbs accordingly. If I stayed working for someone else, my intellectual investment would be earning someone else that interest, rather than myself. Not to mention having a job that didn’t spark joy. This is an asset that is difficult to describe to place a value on.”

I personally identify with this story. I was a double major in college and earned a degree in English Literature and Gender Studies. As you can probably guess, neither of those offer incredibly lucrative career paths. But I did it anyway.

And just like the above commenter found success (personally and monetarily), so have I. I’m a freelance writer. I get to work from home which gives me more freedom, and I’m steadily climbing the career ladder. Success can be measured in many different ways.

Yes, I’ve had to sacrifice the salary that say, my former roommate who’s an engineer makes, but I get more freedom to pursue other passions. And I never would have gotten to this point if I didn’t ignore all those people who constantly said “oh, but you’ll never make any money doing that…”

How Do You Follow Your Passion And Succeed?

Do Your Passion On The Side

Just because you don’t turn your passion into a career doesn’t mean you can’t still pursue it. Plenty of folks are much more than just their jobs. One  Choose FI Facebook group member makes a good point when she says, “it’s also possible to build a successful career alongside following a passion. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.”

This is very similar to a phrase Mike Rowe says in his video, “never follow your passion, but always bring it with you.”

What we’re passionate about is part of what makes us unique. It gives us something to strive for outside of our working lives. And who knows, if you reach FI sticking with a job you’re good at, it may be entirely possible that you could retire early and make your passion more full-time.

Find Something You’re Good At And Make It Your Passion

Part of what Mike Rowe is trying to convey is the fact that there are tons of things you can be passionate about. And by blindly pursuing a passion that may never pan out, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities.

He says, “your happiness on the job has nothing to do with the job itself”. He goes on to say that when you’re good at what you do, it can become your passion.

Final Thoughts

For most, I’m sorry to say, following your passion is probably a waste of time. Some talents are too specialized and the job market is limited while others don’t offer a stable career path. But, whether you follow your passion is ultimately up to you as long as you carefully consider the opportunities you could be giving up.

What do you think about pursuing your passions full time? Feel free to chime in on Facebook with your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

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Follow Your Passion Might Be Bad Advice: Here's Why

ChooseFI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. ChooseFI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.
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