Pursue your passion... or don't

Why advice about turning your passion into a career isn't always helpful.

Mar 14, 2016

At some point, when trying to figure out what you’re going to do after high school, you’ve probably been encouraged to “pursue your passion,” right? Maybe you’re familiar with the saying, “if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life.” Sounds pretty awesome, huh?

But what no one ever tells you is that following your passion to establish a career can be easier said than done. There are lots of reasons for this, and I’ll get into some of them below. You might be surprised to discover that I’m fairly critical of this mentality. I would argue that this obsession with turning one’s passion into a career can actually be a source of real inner struggle for some people. Allow me to explain.

There are Many Ways to Develop your Career Plan

You can think of this “pursue your passion” (PYP) way of thinking as a sort of philosophy guiding your career development. What’s important to recognize is that this is only one of many ways that you can approach your career development. That’s right, you have options!

Instead of following the “passion” train of thought, you might try finding a career that matches your interests and strengths instead. Of course, this approach is no fun if your strengths don’t match your interests and your interests don’t match your strengths… Alternatively, you might choose a career that eventually becomes your passion.

The bottom line is this: you have options when it comes to planning your career path. You don’t necessarily have to pursue your passion for work.

“But pursuing my passion sounds super fun,” you might be thinking. “Why wouldn’t I want to do that?”

What’s Wrong with Pursuing Your Passion?

The PYP camp encourages people to do what they love. While this approach seems rather harmless—kind of delightful, even—it can give rise to a few problems. Imagine you’re talking with a career coach who’s all gung-ho about pursuing your passion. Here are a few questions you might run into when trying to follow this approach, and some imagined responses from your coach:

You: What if my passion doesn’t have an obvious career choice?

PYP Coach: You just have to be creative and think outside the box! Make up a new job so that your passion becomes your career! Many of today’s most in-demand jobs didn’t even exist 5 years ago!

You: Okay, great! Maybe I can turn my passion into a career if I’m just creative enough.

[Now, if you’re unable to figure out how to turn your love of skateboarding into a career you may think it’s due to your own lack of creativity. The pressure’s on you to be able to create that opportunity for yourself, and that’s a pretty tall order.]

You: But, what if I don’t really have a passion?

PYP Coach: Sure you do, you just have to find it! Go on—find your passion! Find your life’s calling! It’s the most important step, and also the hardest… but you can do it!

You: If I can just find my passion, then maybe I’ll be able to get creative and turn that passion into a career…

[Of course, now you’re tasked with finding something you’re super passionate about, and if you’re unsuccessful then again, it’s your fault.]

You: What if I don’t have just one passion and instead love doing lots of different things?

PYP Coach: Look kid, you can only pick one.

At this point, you might be left wondering why you have to pick just one thing to be passionate about. Here’s the thing: along with this idea that pursuing your passion is the key to career success is the notion that you ought to master something by becoming an expert or a specialist. This is why the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” is considered a criticism, because the PYP camp believes you must focus on only one passion to go anywhere in life.

Jack of All Trades

Interestingly, the first part of this phrase, “jack of all trades” was originally used without the bit about being “master of none.” It was actually a positive statement—a compliment! Back in the day, a jack of all trades was someone who had a diverse skill set and many different interests.

These multi-talented people were also known as “Renaissance (wo)men,” people with many talents or areas of knowledge. Think Leonardo da Vinci; he was a painter, architect, inventor, and student of all things scientific. He did all sorts of cool stuff. Back in his day, being a jack of all trades was valued, but today’s PYP camp would rather you just choose one thing to focus on.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s all fine and dandy if you do have a passion that you plan to turn into a career. I’m not trying to talk you out of it. Rather, I’m trying to point out that this common career advice is merely one way of approaching the matter and not without its problems.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Those of you with multiple interests shouldn’t feel the need to deny some of them in order to pursue just one. Those of you struggling to figure out your passion really don’t need to put your lives on hold in hopes that you’ll one day find it. Those of you who know your passion, but don’t have a clue how to turn it into a career, can cut yourselves some slack!

If you identify with any of these, then perhaps it’s time to find another way to think about your career path.


University of Alberta

It’s ridiculous how much fun I’ve had through campus rec: rock climbing, volleyball, yoga, spin, pilates, dance, the list goes on!…

Check out Stefan's profile »»