If you’re thinking of trying to make your passion into your career, OR you tried it and it didn’t work, OR are on the verge of trying it again because it’s all you know…let’s shine a light on why “follow your passion” doesn’t work.

Where the advice to “follow your passion” comes from.

You’ve probably heard, since childhood, cultural messages from parents and teachers like:

“Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.”

“Do what you love and the money will follow.”

Then you get older, and influential people like Oprah say things like:

“You know you are on the road to success if you would do your job and not be paid for it” and “If you don’t know what your passion is, realize that one reason for your existence on earth is to find it.”

This advice is genuinely meant to be encouraging and help people find something they connect to or care about.

TODAY, advice to follow your passion does not come from career coaches, counselors, and mentors who have spent years helping people successfully transition into meaningful, sustainable careers. It’s bumper sticker advice from people who have followed their passion, want to help you build a business around your passion, or parents/teachers still running this old encouragement script.

The advice is well-intentioned, but for most people, it’s not instructive or helpful. Let’s talk about why.

Why Follow Your Passion doesn’t work as a career discovery strategy

What if you:

  • Don’t have a passion
  • Have too many passions to choose between
  • Can’t monetize your passion
  • Don’t want to monetize your passion because that would take the joy out of it for you
  • Just aren’t that good enough at your passion to do it on a professional level
  • There’s no demand for your passion
  • You’re great at your passion, but not a good business person

Your passion is about your enjoyment of an activity. Enjoyment of activity is not enough to base a career choice around, either for YOUR needs OR to ensure there’s enough need or appetite from others for you to make it your livelihood.

Simply put: Follow your passion is not a reliable strategy that helps people choose sustainable, meaningful careers.

I can hear you now: But I know someone who succeeded by following their passion!

Yes. Me too. We have lots of examples of athletes and artists who followed their passion. It can work. It worked for me in my previous career. If it’s working for you, keep doing it.

But it’s not a reliable, repeatable career change strategy and it doesn’t work for most people.

Another (very niche) objection I hear is: But what about Elizabeth Gilbert! I read Big Magic!

Liz Gilbert spent years encouraging people to follow their passions until she had a conversation with a reader who didn’t have any passions to follow. And to her credit, with a lot of humility, she rethought her advice and changed to encourage people to follow their curiosity.

This is beautiful advice for living a creative life, but it is not a career change strategy. It’s not reliable, or repeatable, and leaves a lot of things that we need from our careers unanswered. Let Liz be your creative living coach, but not your career coach.

Laura Simms is an expert in meaningful work who challenges conventional wisdom by asking people to ditch their passions and start with purpose.

If you have too many passions, zero passions, or can't seem to combine your passions, try her purpose-first approach to find a career you love.  


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