We’ve all heard it before. You should “follow your passion” if you want to be happy and successful in life.
But what if you don’t know what your passion is? What if you have multiple passions? What if your passion doesn’t seem attainable or if there’s no money in it?
Within the Fizzle team, we believe “follow your passion” is essential advice, but it can also lead to plenty of frustration, dead ends and wheel-spinning existentialism.
This is the subject of this week’s podcast episode, where Chase, Steph and Corbett explore why follow your passion is essential advice, when it can be terrible advice, and what you should do instead.
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“Why “follow your passion” is essential (but terrible) advice”
Why “Follow Your Passion” is Essential Advice
Follow your passion is such common advice, and it’s so often espoused by wise and extraordinarily successful people, there must be something to it.
Take Steve Jobs, CEO/Founder of Apple and Pixar for instance. Here’s what Steve had to say about following your passion:
“I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
“Don’t settle” is as emphatic as it gets. Steve believed that finding your passion was the key to doing great work, and therefore the key to being truly satisfied in life. That’s a tall order.
On the other hand, Jim Carrey makes an excellent point about seemingly conservative choices:
“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it…
My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job and our family had to do whatever we could to survive.
I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
Then, there’s the matter of the competitive edge you gain from working on something you’re passionate about. In a world where you’ll face competition in anything you pursue, your passion for that which you pursue can often be the X factor you need to succeed.
The person who gives 110% to something has an edge. The person who shows up day after day, month after month, year after year because she’s passionate about something has an edge.
If following your passion is the key to success, happiness and fulfillment, if following your passion creates a strong competitive advantage, and if you can fail at something you’re not even interested in, why wouldn’t you follow your passion?
Why “Follow Your Passion” is Terrible Advice
Unfortunately, it isn’t so simple.
What if you don’t know what your passion is? What if you have multiple passions? What if your passion doesn’t seem attainable or if there’s no money in it?
This is what Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic) has to say about it:
“You spend a lot of your life having people tell you to follow your passion. It’s nice advice, it’s heart-warming advice, it’s great advice — if you happen to have one that is very clear and obvious.”
“We are constantly being told to pursue our passions in life, but there are times when passion is a TALL ORDER, and really hard to reach. In seasons of confusion, of loss, of boredom, of insecurity, of distraction, the idea of "passion" can feel completely inaccessible and impossible. In such times, you are lucky to be able to get your laundry done.”
“Sometimes it feels cruel and all it does is make you feel even worse and more left out, because you’re like, ‘I would if I knew what it was!’ If you’re in that position right now… forget about passion.”
When you don’t know what your passion is, hearing that following your passion is the key to fulfillment and all that’s good in life can be debilitating.
There’s also a big “one passion” fallacy that can be read into the follow your passion advice.
Most people will be passionate about lots of things over the course of a life well lived. It’s normal to care about many different things. It’s less common to have one solitary, blinding passion for your entire life.
Perhaps “follow a passion” is a better way to put it.
Think of all the things you’ve been passionate about over the years. How quickly did these passions come on? How quickly did they fade? For me personally, over the past 10 years my “passions” would include a long list of things like sailing, surfing, acting, running, living abroad, software development, entrepreneurship, startups, growth hacking, coffee, chocolate, Sonos, bitcoin, home automation…
Any of these could have been a passion, but could they have been the passion? Who knows, but probably not, not in the way Steve Jobs or Jim Carrey explains it.
By choosing one passion (entrepreneurship) and following it, while not expecting it to be my everything, I’ve been happy and successful instead of frustratingly waiting for my One True Passion to come along.
“Passion” can mean many things. Being passionate about an outcome can trump being passionate about a topic. Fulfillment and passion aren’t necessarily the same thing. Making a difference can matter more, seeing change can be the thing you’re passionate about.
If your goal is fulfillment and success, passion alone isn’t enough. Other things matter too.
You also need to provide something of incredible value to the world to become successful. To be happy, you need to love not only your chosen field, but also the environment, people, and collective reality of working within that world. You also need to be capable of becoming great at that thing, given the personality, physicality, temperament and intellect you walk the earth with.
Simple advice is attractive, but life is more complicated than three words can convey.
Following your passion may be a key to happiness and fulfillment in life, but only when you’ve considered all the other necessary ingredients. In other words, it’s “a” key, not “the” key.
What to Do Instead
If you don’t know what your passion is
Elizabeth Gilbert has excellent advice if you don’t know what your passion is: “follow your curiosity” she says:
“If you've lost your life's true passion (or if you're struggling desperately to find passion in the first place), don't sweat it. Back off for a while. But don't go idle, either. Just try something different, something you don't care about so much. Why not try following mere curiosity, with its humble, roundabout magic? At the very least, it will keep you pleasantly distracted while life sorts itself out. At the very most, your curiosity may surprise you. Before you even realize what's happening, it may have led you safely all the way home.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
The more time you spend working on something, the closer you’ll become to it. Any interest can likely turn into a passion. Sometimes you have to pursue something before you know how deep your interest runs. When in doubt, follow your curiosity and see where it takes you.
If you have multiple passions
You can be passionate about many things in your life. It’s OK, and completely normal. There is likely no “one true passion” for you, except in hindsight as you look back and construct the story of your life.
If you have multiple passions, don’t force one into being “the” passion. That’s too much to expect from any one interest in the hands of a jack of all trades.
Instead, evaluate your passions along with the other ingredients we talked about. Consider how passionate you are about each topic, but also consider how good you are at it, what the market is for earning a living, how much competition there is and whether you like the “lifestyle” involved in pursuing it.
Our Choosing a Topic course inside Fizzle may be just the thing you need to decide between different ideas or passions. Take the choosing a topic course as part of your free trial of Fizzle today »
If you have one passion, but also have reservations about pursuing it
Finally, if you’re lucky enough to feel like you do have one true passion, congratulations, you’re a rare individual.
It’s natural to have reservations about pursuing something, especially if it’s potentially difficult and competitive, and if you’re not sure if you have what it takes to truly succeed.
But remember, the journey is the substance of life, not success (whatever that even means). If you look back several decades from now, will you wish you had taken a chance on something that meant so much to you?
As Jim Carrey said, “you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” The trick is in figuring out what you love. To do that, follow your curiosity and let it lead you to a passion.
Don’t hold out for the passion because you might not realize something was your life’s passion until after you’ve spent your life pursuing it.