One of the new memes that seems to be rapidly gaining traction within the business world is the notion that passion is an overrated aspect of picking one’s career path.
As unemployment rates remain historically high, and many Americans continue to feel the pain of not receiving a paycheck, a growing chorus of experts are starting to suggest that people need to think more pragmatically about their career options and how they can make a sustainable living — versus holding out for jobs directly in line with their personal interests.
Part of this may simply be a predictable backlash to the overutilization of the word “passion” itself. In fact, if you’re a fan of satire and/or British humor, I highly encourage you to watch the short video here from comedian David Mitchell. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a while and pokes fun at how the word passion has become a virtual caricature of itself.
In the first piece, published in U.S. News & World report, business expert Alison Green emphasizes that “young people, in particular, are often told that they should figure out what career to pursue by building their work around whatever they’re passionate about. The problem is, it’s terrible advice.” She goes on to provide an analysis of why she feels this is the case. If you press on to review some of the hundreds of comments her article inspired, you’ll see a highly polarized response, with many comments praising her bold straight talk on this issue — and others castigating her for providing “shallow advice” or for condemning us all to live in a “boring world” or expressing thoughts like “This article saddens me. It seems to encourage people to settle. I understand the practicality of making a living and support one’s self or a family, but wouldn’t it be nice to make that living doing something that inspires you?”
The second article above, while not quite as broad in scope, explores the theory that pursuing a career doing what you love could actually end up taking all the fun out of what was once an enjoyable activity. While I’m not sure such developments are inevitable in every situation, I’ve certainly heard many stories where this is the case. For example, I’ve worked with a number of clients in professions such as teaching, non-profits, counseling, healthcare, and the priesthood who have said that there’s nothing they enjoy more in life than helping other people, but that they’re now suffering from what they call “compassion fatigue” as a result of having to listen constantly to other peoples’ problems, day in and day out. A similar theme is explored within the best-selling book The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. In this classic business text, Mr. Gerber warns would-be entrepreneurs against launching business ventures that relate directly to their personal interests — since this (he argues) will prevent them from managing the business objectively, and wisely, and again could have the byproduct of turning a favorite hobby into a tiresome chore.
Where do I stand on the “passion” debate? As with most career issues, you’ll find me courageously straddling the fence. I definitely think there’s some truth on both sides of the argument, as I’ve written about in the past articles you’ll find here and here. While I think it’s overstating things to suggest that passion is an irrelevant consideration in picking a career path, or to assume everybody will struggle with boundary issues in this regard, I DO tend to agree this single element is played up way too much in conventional career literature. We don’t live in a perfect world. Unless you’re an unrepentent idealist, there are many more variables one should consider in picking a career direction than passion alone. And yes, some of these factors are of a pretty practical, uninspiring nature — such as income potential, job security, and the availability of health benefits.
Regardless, the above articles should give you a good grounding on this increasingly important career issue and where different camps, and experts, stand on it. As always, feel free to chime in and comment if you have any strong (dare I say passionate?) feelings on the matter!