Follow your passion – good or bad advice?

What? It's bad advice to follow your passion?

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

There was a point where I hit what could be considered a new low in my decision to pursue my passion (which is to enjoy adventures as well as being an Adventure Mindset Mentor guiding others to have fun in life)…I went and interviewed at a temp agency. Being an entrepreneur is a challenge, so admitting I needed to work for someone else was a tough decision.   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.

The Research

Dr. Cal Newton, author of “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” has done a lot of research, and in it he 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, I understood my passion was I enjoyed working for wellness companies (like Weight Watchers, Parents magazine, Health magazine/website, etc) which 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 myself by going on adventures on Wednesdays – to face the fears that made my life uncomfortable, to uncover what I found fun, and ultimately to discover my passion for an interesting life. 

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.

By applying for temporary jobs, 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.  Shifting from needing “stuff,” I sold my house, and much of the material goods inside it.  Knowing my own personal worth, 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 for wanting to find their purpose through their passions. Their desire is to serve others. 

The beginnings of following a passion can start as a hobby.  Take Lisa, for example.  Her hobby of photography help her deal with uncomfortable crowds. Her hobby of gardening makes her feel grounded in uncertain times. She is still discovering what brings her joy. As she expands her hobbies, she becomes more passionate about her life. Her internal happiness spills over into enjoying her family, and her family enjoying adventures with her.

two women in yoga poses as a way to follow their passion

Discovering a heart-centered passion can start as a way to cope with trauma. Kate and Suzanne, both breast cancer survivors, uncovered their desire 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. She continued on to get her certification (requiring 200 hours of teaching time). Suzanne is considering  Kate is stepping it up and adding in other holistic healing methods to be a full-time wellness coach. 

Earlier talents to build on

A heart-centered career 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, had been searching for something to do together, and discovered their idea during a Women’s March. They started out in different industries – Nancy trained in graphic arts and Amy in film production. They took their combined skills and decided to start a podcast which interviews and promotes women from around the country who are following (and living) their passions. Their 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.”

Steve Jobs quote related to following your passion "The only way to do great work is to love what you do.  If you haven't found it yet, keep looking."

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  1. Anonymous

    Great topic, great inspiration and very supportive, too!

  2. Gwen Gottlieb

    Such an inspiring read! Really well written. Thoroughly enjoyed this.

  3. Karen

    Excellent post, Stacey! Thank you for sharing. I’m reminded of a Liz Gilbert video where she explains the difference between a job, career and vocation. It’s excellent as well.

    • Stacey Newman Weldon

      Thank you. And I do like what Liz Gilbert has to say – I’ll go check out this video

  4. beth rasmussen

    Absolutely Fabulous and thought provoking ?


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