Why “Follow Your Passion” is Bad Career Advice

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

In his 2005 Stanford commencement address, Steve Jobs said, “You’ve got to find what you love…. [T]he only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle.”

Only thing is, Apple started as a way to make a quick buck, Jobs didn’t particularly care about computers or technology.

I don’t doubt that Jobs eventually grew passionate about his work: If you’ve watched one of his famous keynote addresses, you’ve seen a man who obviously loved what he did. But so what? All that tells us is that it’s good to enjoy what you do. This advice, though true, borders on the tautological and doesn’t help us with the pressing question that we actually care about: How do we find work that we’ll eventually love? Like Jobs, should we resist settling into one rigid career and instead try lots of small schemes, waiting for one to take off? Does it matter what general field we explore? How do we know when to stick with a project or when to move on? In other words, Jobs’s story generates more questions than it answers. Perhaps the only thing it does make clear is that, at least for Jobs, “follow your passion” was not particularly useful advice.

Agree or disagree? What bad career advice have you received?

HT: Seth Roberts

About Blowhard, Esq.

Amateur, dilettante, wannabe.
This entry was posted in Personal reflections, The Good Life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Why “Follow Your Passion” is Bad Career Advice

  1. Dnb says:

    I like when I discuss going back to school with people the first thing that is brought up is to get an MBA.


  2. epiminondas says:

    Well, I agree with some reservations. You must have enough skill, expertise, and interest in your chosen profession to be good at it and to remain positively engaged in life. But I think it is a romantic notion that the best jobs are the ones that we have a passion for, as though pursuing your favorite hobby will always result in a vocation with adequate income. It will not. Also, unless you are 100% dedicated to what you do and have mastered it, how will you know whether it is a “passion”? Many people abandon careers or jobs long before they reach that point. And many people get tunnel vision, never confident that their jobs will lead to anything better than a boring nine to five situation…even if they are good at what they do. For many people, “passion” is a superficial, giddy experience of a temporary nature. Sooner or later, the inertia of life exercises its powerful toll, and the passion wears thin because it was never stronger than that which is its opposite: dreary reality. Overcome that with your skill, expertise and knowldege, and you are at least in a position to have passion about your vocation. But that is a nebulous area, and sometimes it’s hard to know whether you’re there or not. Or how long the feeling will last.


  3. Julie says:

    My son is going through this right now. He has changed college majors 3 times. He is currently taking a year off to try to decide what he wants to do with his life. He has not found his “passion”. There are several things that he’s interested in and good at, but he can’t picture himself doing them for the rest of his life. I keep trying to explain that getting a degree in something in no way means he’ll be doing that for even a few years, let alone the rest of his life. I am realizing I (and others) have done him a disservice by reinforcing the idea of a lifelong passion. Some people do discover a passion that leads to a profession that might last a lifetime. Many don’t.


  4. Callowman says:

    “Follow your passion” is great advice unless you’re passionate about something stupid, which by definition is hard to know about yourself. All you know is that you’re passionate. So it takes a lot more discussion to weave it into a sensible plan. On its own, it’s not actionable.


  5. Sir Barken Hyena says:

    I think it can work out, in a way, to follow your passion. But you might not end up where you expect.

    For myself, I never seriously went to college so I ended up working in not terrible/not great jobs, so I could devote my evenings and weekends to music. Doing this developed several qualities in myself: had to be a self starter since nobody cared whether I did it or not; had to carry a project (writing and recording songs in this case) through to completion on my own; had to overcome obstacles on my own; had to solve technical problems on my own; had to have discipline. All of these qualities unwittingly prepared me to learn programming and web design totally on my own and made me a prefect candidate for the geek-oriented business practices of today, all of which revolve around independence.

    So without flailing around as a musician for a decade I wouldn’t have been able to get into my current career. Now, I wouldn’t say I have a passion for my job, but it’s more rewarding than most and I’m certainly happy for it.


  6. This reminds me of the pathetic hipster who was on the news bemoaning the fact that nobody wants to hire him. He followed his dream and got a Masters Degree in Puppeteering. I laughed for hours after seeing that.


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