Why would you consider 'follow your passion' bad advice? After all, don’t all the gurus say that “if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life”? What if you don’t have a passion to follow? Or what if you have one, and by following it nay-sayers call you crazy, tell you to get a “real” job, or (the shame of it all) your bank account is down to its last $35?
The case against following your passion
Recently I hit what could be considered a new low in my decision to pursue my passion (which is to have fun adventures as well as to guide others on their path to shifting to an adventure mindset)…I went and interviewed at a temp agency to see if they could find work for me until my house sells. My account isn’t at $35, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know others who are there…so I know it could happen to me too.
For many people, the risk of not having any money, or even any “emergency” money, or their savings for retirement, is too great for them in exchange for following their dreams. I have found that these people are the ones who think, or sometimes outright tell me, I'm crazy for being on this journey.
Dr. Cal Newton, author of “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” has done a lot of research, and in his states that the career philosophy of following your passion is bad advice. Having a passion first and pursuing it as a career will lead to unhappiness. He states that it’s better to gain a skill (and like a musician, work steadily at improving your craft by going through the tough times/failures).
As you gain skill, you will be applauded, and then this will become part of how you see yourself, and you will strive to become better at the skill and then it becomes your passion. Dr. Newport said. “You actually have to deliberately practice the skill, which means you have to stretch yourself beyond where you’re comfortable, if you’re going to actually improve.” I do not agree with his approach, but I don’t completely disagree.
Dr. Cal Newton, explaining his theory on why following your passion is bad advice
Like many people, for a long time I didn’t know what I was passionate about in life. As Newton says, I didn’t have the ‘pre-existing condition.”
I love photography, and that helped me sell advertising for a professional photo magazine. I love my kids (hello! They’re awesome), and that helped me sell advertising for parenting magazines. But that wasn’t my life’s purpose. Maybe, as Newton says, I was building my “skill” that would be my “rare and valuable” talent that would advance my career while finding joy in it. Maybe. But, at the time, the closest I understood my passion was that I enjoyed working for companies (like Weight Watchers, Parents magazine, Health magazine/website, etc) that helped other people live better lives.
While I don’t regret all the years working for those companies, being in sales was not my passion. While I was building skill, I was not stretching myself beyond where I was comfortable to improve my inner self.
After rock bottom
It wasn’t until I hit a rock bottom in my life (about 10 years ago) that I was finally open to becoming 'comfortable with the discomfort' that comes with true change. That’s when I stretched my self by going on adventures on Wednesdays – to face the fears that made my life uncomfortable, to uncover what I found fun, to discover what might be my passion that would make life interesting.
As Dr. Newton describes, I was one of those people who did not have the pre-existing condition of having a passion to follow. One adventure after another, one step at a time, I climbed my way up to living a life I love (and not just a career). While my experience coincides with his notion of not having the "passion" first, my experience makes me believe his view of you can't be in your passion as you build skill — to be invalid.
Love what you do – Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs is one of my heroes. His view on life, as I’ve learned it, helped me in many ways. One important way was by helping me see that not everyone is meant to fit in the “box” of a corporately run world. Not everyone is meant to be “perfect” in the strict code of schools, then colleges, then high-paying careers. For some, they have their own path for learning. Or as I like to say "everyone's journey is his/her own." Steve Jobs dropped out of college and took courses he was interested in — and that resulted in helping the world have so much more in the digital space.
Steve Job's college address
Steve’s address to Stanford University’s graduating class in 2005 is still inspiring. Here are my favorite excerpts. And even in their parsed parts, they make sense:
“And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.”
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. 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.”
Find what you love
…You’ve got to find what you love. To me, that’s following your passion. Or taking the time to discover what it is in life that makes you feel alive. No need to worry about whether or not you have a pre-existing passion, or a skill to build upon, you just – keep following your curiosity and intuition and your passion will show up.
What are you willing to do to follow your passions?
Have you ever heard the phrase “what sh*t sandwich are you willing to eat”? When following your passion in the hopes of it becoming a career, sometimes that passion becomes misery. Sometimes the really crappy part of following your dreams, going against the people who say you’re crazy, fighting the “imposter syndrome,” or the over-saturation of too much of a good thing, can make following your passion…bad advice.
But pursuing your passions can make you feel good. A study shows that following your dreams can both lower your stress and make you feel less sad. To get these benefits, you can create hobbies which you truly enjoy. Even a few hours per week has great benefits.
Doing things that are creative and outside your work scope can help you think differently about issues that arise during the work day. You stretch your limits, and you grow. Dr. Newton did note in one of his case studies that as you practice your career-building skills, you “shift with what resonates.” In other words, you follow your intuition which helps you discover your passions.
Following my passions
Following my “skill building” of trying new adventures, I discovered I am passionate about connecting with people, learning new things, and sharing inspirations with others. Outside of my corporate life I followed my curiosity about Burning Man, which led to even more adventures in connecting with people with wider, more varied backgrounds and to higher challenges with creativity.
This week I realized how far I am willing to go to follow my passions. When I started learning how to turn Adventure Wednesdays into a business, I started the journey of shifting my attitude about the traditional definition of success. I have been able to let go of a high-paying sales career. I am selling my home, and much of the material goods inside it. I feel no shame in applying for minimum wage jobs to fill the gaps until my business produces enough. I fully understand what my “sh*t sandwich” is to eat, and I still love what I do.
Heart centered passions
What is missing from Dr. Newton’s theory is the underlying desire many people have in wanting to find their purpose through their passions is they want to serve others.
The beginnings of following a passion can start as a hobby. Take Lisa, for example. She is still discovering what her joys are, and the search makes her and her family happier. Her hobby of photography help her deal with uncomfortable crowds. Her hobby of gardening makes her feel grounded in uncertain times.
It can start as a way to cope with trauma. Kate and Suzanne, both breast cancer survivors, discovered they want to give back to others by sharing their love of yoga. Suzanne does it as a side gig, offering classes at her “day job” as well as local classes. Kate is stepping it up and adding in other holistic healing methods to be a full-time wellness coach.
Earlier talents to build on
It can start from talents learned in earlier years. Kara has taken her skills from past jobs and applied them in a new way, that fulfills her even more than before – combining her talents as a speaker with her social media savvy to create a podcast aimed to help women in high-stress careers find mental health solutions.
My college roommate, Nancy, along with her sister Amy, interviews and promotes women from around the country who are following (and living) their passions (and her podcast/business is called “The Passionistas Project”!)
Is it bad advice to follow your passion?
Is following your passion bad advice? No. It may not always be easy advice, but it’s good advice. As Steve Jobs says “the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
Stacey Newman Weldon is the founder of the company Adventure Wednesdays. Stacey started taking herself on adventures to get out of a rut. This set her on a path that included little adventures like trying a new food to big ones like attending Burning Man at the age of 50. Now she shares what she’s learned through her company. She's currently inviting women to discover how freeing and joyful bringing play back into their lives can be through new her program, Find Your Fun, which starts TODAY will help women find that inner child who desperately wants to jump in with arms open to the fun that’s available to all of us. Find Your Fun is a 20-day journey filled with opportunities to learn new tools that will point you, one step at a time, back on the path to letting your true self come out and play. Sign up now so you don't miss out on the fun.
Listen to Stacey's interview on The Passionistas Project here.
Follow Stacey on social media at:
Facebook — @adventurewednesdays
Twitter — @advntrwdnsdys
Instagram — @adventurewednesdays