I saw a FIRE blogger mocking the idea of following one’s passion. Instead, the standard FIRE plan is to find a lucrative job, save money, and then retire early to THEN focus on one’s passion. And granted, I’m a lawyer, and I’m on a mini-retirement so it would seem like I would agree with that path.
But I don’t. Here are several reasons why I think you should pursue your passion.
Why You Should Pursue Your Passion
When I was going to college, I was told to pursue a stable job – an English major at a great university and then law school. During the recession of 2008, the internet trolls seized on the idea that everyone should have majored in a scientific or engineering endeavor. And me, I had pursued the safe path and had somehow lost anyway. I wished I had instead been taught and encouraged to pursue my passion. I’m not entirely sure what it was at that time, but it has only recently come to mind that pursuing my passion gives my career a solid direction. I’ve missed years of introspective work in finding my passion.
I Respect Work
I read an article a few years ago where someone who hated their first job out of college, saved up for a year, and then quit, to travel the world and never work again. I don’t know for a fact if this was a joke article. I mean it wasn’t funny except in a dark humor kind of way.
I mean, if they had somehow managed to save enough for retirement in a year on an entry-level salary, I’m a little astounded. But I still felt a little sad for him. This person worked for such a short time and had such a negative opinion of work. He never tried a different career, job, location, etc. He thought, I hate this, I’ll always hate this, I’m out.
I quit my job, but I was happy for several years before then. I felt a sense of accomplishment as I learned new skills – both legal and in teamwork. I liked my coworkers, who still comprise part of my network. And I respected other people who worked. Working isn’t a bad thing- it’s admirable (with some caveats for some truly terrible jobs).
Isn’t Pursuing Your Passion a Terrible Idea?
I know my article seems to fly in the face of Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Newport argues that people shouldn’t chase careers measuring the “right job” by their passion for it. Instead, people should settle in and work hard at whatever job they’re in until they become so good at it that they get to mold their job around their abilities.
I don’t disagree with any of this, but I would posit that someone shouldn’t hunker down anywhere but should pick a general area that interests them.
Duh, Doesn’t Everyone Pick a Job In a Field They’re Passionate About?
I don’t think so. Generally, the career guidance is “go into STEM!” Career advice is usually based on what careers make the most money without any discussion of the individual’s abilities, temperament, or goals.
It’s true that college has gotten so expensive that it doesn’t make good sense to go unless a degree is required for a lucrative career. But then again, I believe that college isn’t your only option. Also, what I’ve learned from being a lawyer is that most people aren’t as motivated by money as one would think. If there’s a profession better known for people desperate to leave high-paying jobs for less lucrative careers, I don’t know it.
Money isn’t enough. Money and passion might be enough.
What’s a Passion?
If you’re going to hunker down and work on something, it might as well be something you’re really interested in.
The problem most people face when chasing their passions is confusing passion for the journey with passion for the rewards. Too often people think their passions are fame or wealth. But that’s just the potential reward for chasing your passion. Your true passion has to be the grunt work. If you can find something that you enjoy improving at, that’s a passion worth pursuing.
Some passions are more difficult to turn into money, but in this day and age, people are creating all sorts of professions that enable people to pursue what they love. People have created very lucrative careers from playing video games, taking selfies, and traveling. There are tons of jobs available for those fluent in social media. Blogs and podcasts have flourished over nothing more than consuming media. It’s not true that there are a limited number of jobs that can afford you a reasonable lifestyle.
The Perils of Avoiding the Worst Case Scenario
As I’m writing this, the 2020 Presidential Election Cycle is in full swing. My candidate was Andrew Yang (he has already suspended his campaign as I write this). When I told people that, the result was always the same – “I’d rather vote for someone with a chance of winning.” But in my mind, if we started to believe in him, then maybe he’d stand a chance.
Everyone I talked to liked Andrew Yang and most were unhappy with the other choices. So yes it was more likely that if they voted for Biden or Sanders that they would have picked the winner. So they win if their main objective is to pick the winning candidate – but lost if the objective was to get the best person elected.
Most people pick careers in the same way – they go after something that they’re likely to get. If they major in STEM, then it’s likely they can find a job as an engineer somewhere. If their main goal was to get a job, then they’ve won. If their main goal was to get a job they’re passionate about, then that’s still TBD.
It’s like focusing your life on avoiding the worst case scenario, but that’s not a great way to get at your best case scenario.
1. Someone’s Going to Have Your Dream Job – Why Not You?
You might be good at something and still hate doing it. Even if you get a great job with great perks because you’re so good at it, you won’t be excited.
And if you have a passion, you’ll always be jealous of people who are passionate about their jobs. You’ll always wonder what if I had tried?
2. There are Other Options Within Your Career Field
I’ve met people who chased musical careers. Though they’re not professional musicians, they teach, they play backup – they’re in the chosen field. They get to play their instrument all the time. It’s true that shooting for the moon might mean that even if you fail, you’re still among the stars.
Yeah maybe you’re a bit part, but you’re still in movies. Maybe you’re a studio musician, but you’re still making music. Maybe you’re a minor league player, but you’re still playing the game.
3. You Become Your Job
In terms of your profession, there are certain genetic or innate strengths that you have that predispose you toward one profession or another. I often hear that people choose law because they are great at arguing (ugh no wonder everyone hates lawyers). Then you go to law school and work as a lawyer, it changes you. How can it not? You spend AT LEAST 40 hours thinking like a lawyer every week for years.
And people start responding to your comments with “that’s what a lawyer would say.” And it WILL be things lawyers say. It’s thinking two steps ahead. It’s anticipating an adversary or making sure everything gets put in writing.
It becomes part of your identity.
As much as we can say, oh just pick the highest paying job and focus on making a living – it disregards that what you pick changes you. You just have to hope that you like what you are becoming.
4. You Lose Out on Time
Once you get older, you get more responsibilities and less time. Further, children often have a certain fearlessness and are encouraged to spend the time to master a new skill.
Too often, adults feel too harried and/or too self-conscious to devote the time to go from beginner to experienced. I’ve heard so many of my friends remark that they’ll get to their bucket list items when they’re retired. And sure, there may be time then, but will you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor? Especially when competing against people who were in your chosen profession this whole time?
5. Lucrative Jobs Are Tough
Everyone I know in a well-paying stable job, they don’t have enviable jobs. They work a lot, they’re under a lot of stress, they have a lot of responsibility.
The most lucrative jobs tend to be difficult and they tend to be male-dominated, which means there usually isn’t a lot of work life balance and they’re not usually welcoming to women. The push for women to go into these jobs – it’s an upward climb. The culture is one that is difficult for reasons that any environment is difficult for a minority. Things aren’t geared toward you. And when it’s already a difficult environment, even the smallest differences can set someone back.
And one might say it’s good for women to enter these fields to show to other women they can. But if women aren’t really that engaged or motivated to stay in the field, then it can send the wrong signal to younger women. If women are leaving the field, that’s going to threaten newer, younger women, even those who love the field.
The point I’m making here is that working in any high paying job these days can be very difficult. If your heart isn’t in it, it’s going to be a slog.
6. We Can’t Predict the Future
The stable jobs of yesteryear like doctors and lawyers, are unlikely to be the stable jobs of the future. Artificial intelligence is being created right now to replace many common jobs. We shouldn’t be so arrogant to think we know what jobs will be insulated.
If you’re in love with a job now, there’s something to be said about pursuing that kind of job now. It might not exist in the future. Or people who are working on that kind of career now will surpass you in a way that will be difficult to overcome later in life.
Conclusion – Why You Should Follow Your Passion
It’s easy to think that chasing the money is the easier and safer path. But when you chase money, you still lose time and identity.
They say if you pick a job you love, you never have to work a day in your life. And while that’s not necessarily true, if you pick a job you hate, you are limiting your potential for happiness. That job becomes part of you even if you don’t work there abhors.
If you don’t know what your passion is, sure, train yourself in marketable skills and work really hard to create a career you love. But if you know your passion, go ahead and try to follow it. Maybe we will all be watching you excel in a few years, and you won’t for a second think, I wish I had taken the conventional path.