facebookWhy 'Just Follow Your Passion' is Bad Career Advice
30102021 careers sg following your passion

Why 'Just Follow Your Passion' is Bad Career Advice

profileJoel Koh

In an ideal world, we would all be doing jobs that we love and be handsomely rewarded for what we are doing.

But unfortunately, that is the stuff of dreams as the reality for most is more like this

Source: Meme Generator

This is also why I think telling people to ‘just follow your passion’ is terrible career advice.

Here’s why.

TL;DR: Careers in SG — Why Just Following Your Passion Is Bad Career Advice

  • Prioritising passion in your career over everything is problematic as not everyone has a passion and our passion would change over time.
  • Your passion may not pay well as it may not align with what the market needs.
  • Turning your passion into a job might also dampen your enjoyment of your passion.
  • Alternatively, you can consider choosing a job that pays well. If you manage your finances well, it can eventually give you the financial freedom to pursue your passions and interests just for your enjoyment.
  • Finding your Ikigai is also helpful:


Why You Should Not Just Follow Your Passion

A 2018 paper published in the journal Psychological Science by Standford researchers and a Yale-NUS college researcher suggests that finding your passion and just following it may be problematic.

Often, people are given the advice to find their passion. This notion assumes that passions and interests are fixed and not fluid and will not change as we grow older, gain more life experience, and become wiser.

The researchers suggest that those with a fixed mindset about their passions and interests are more likely to give up when the going gets tough.

As the researchers pointed out in their study:

Moreover, when engaging in a new interest became difficult, interest flagged significantly more for people induced to hold a fixed than a growth theory of interest.

Urging people to find their passion may lead them to put all their eggs in one basket but then to drop that basket when it becomes difficult to carry.

This advice may also be problematic as it assumes that everyone has a passion that just needs to be discovered. But this might not be the case for most.

So when you tell people to follow their passion blindly, it can lead to frustration and feelings of inadequacy as they are looking for something that might not be there.

Your Passion Might Be Detached From the Realities of the Market

Another problem with just following your passion is that it ignores the realities of the market.

People pay for values and solutions, but your passion may not be able to provide these.

And unless you are a Crazy Rich Asian, you will still need to eat and feed your family.

Source: Giphy

Although you can survive on Cai Png (Economic Rice), that will still cost you.

This is also why New York University marketing professor Scott Galloway has said that:

And I have found that the majority of people who tell you to follow your passion are already rich.

The problem with thinking you’re supposed to pursue your passion is that when work gets hard — and it always does — you might fall into the trap of thinking, well, this is hard, which means it must not be my passion and I should find something else.

Thus, by putting your passions and interests on a pedestal and pursuing it regardless of what the market demands, it is likely that you will have to live very frugally to survive. 

Your Passion May Fade After It Becomes a Job

Here’s another thing to consider.

When you follow your passion and turn it into a job, you might enjoy it less.

After all, work and fun are worlds apart.

Work is all about putting in the blood, sweat and tears in exchange for food and the ability to pay the bills.

Whereas your passion is something you do for fun and really enjoy.

If you are blessed to be able to integrate this fun and enjoyment in your day job, good for you.

This does not mean your whole career will be smooth sailing as you will still face job stress, pressures and have to contend with salary expectations.

When you do things for fun, it’s something that you want to do. But work is essential.

As such, it is likely that you might not love your passion as much when you follow your passion and turn it into a job.

So what’s the alternative?

Here are some frameworks to consider.

Pick a Career That May Not Be Your Passion But Pays Well

So if you don’t have a burning passion that you are willing to sacrifice everything for, or maybe your passion may not pay well.

The better alternative would be to pick a career that you might not be passionate about but pays well.

Making this choice is less about the paycheck and more about the freedom money will give you.

Granted, working at a job that does not pay well but is something that you are passionate about might give you something more than money can offer.

But, you have to be aware that it might lead to resentment as you start a family and take on more responsibilities with age

How so?

Well, the resulting pressures of large bills and debt obligations like home loans might dampen your enjoyment of working at a job you are passionate about.

Instead, working at a job you do not hate and pays you well can really work for you if you live below your means and save and invest.

If you do the above well, you can achieve a level of financial stability that will give you to means to pursue your passions and interests simply for your enjoyment.

Find Your Ikigai

Another framework that might work for you is to consider finding your Ikigai:

We have previously covered the concept of Ikigai (生き甲斐).

This idea originates from Okinawa, which is home to one of the highest percentages of centurions in the world.

Iki means life, and gai means value or worth.

The following Venn diagram encapsulates the meaning of ikigai.

Once you’ve reached that tiny sweet spot at the middle, you’d have attained ikigai, or found fulfilment in whatever you’re doing in your life.

The beauty of ikigai is that it does not depend on what your job is – you could be a cleaner in a school or a CEO at a big company, as long as you can find pleasure and satisfaction in what you do, you’re good at it and can make a living out of it, you will achieve fulfilment in life.

You can read more about Ikigai here.

About Joel Koh
History student turned writer at Seedly. Before you ask, not a teacher. I hope to help people make better financial decisions and not let money control them.
You can contribute your thoughts like Joel Koh here.

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