Inkwell Editorial

Freelance Writing Insight: Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ Is the World’s Worst Career Advice

Published by Yuwanda Black, Site Editor


Written by Yuwanda Black

I get emails from wannabe freelancers all the time saying things like, “You’re so lucky. It must be nice to be able to do what you love for a living.” This, of course, is a statement that assumes that because I’m a freelance writer, I ‘followed my passion.’ And to be perfectly honest, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

I ran across a post online last week entitled, “Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ Is the World’s Worst Career Advice“. This part in particular resonated with me …

“There are plenty of people who are extremely successful doing things they’re not exactly passionate about. They just happen to be very good at what they do.”

This is me in a nutshell. I kind of fell into freelance writing, as I talk about in ““Living the Freelance Life,” the free ebook you get when you subscribe to Inkwell Editorial’s newsletter. The thing I love most about my career is NOT what I do (ie, writing), it’s the life it allows me to lead (eg, work from anywhere, travel and control my income).

What My Business Mentor Told Me About ‘Following a Passion’

I had a business mentor years ago who said this same thing, ie, following your passion may not be the wisest course of action. In fact, he said, following your passion can be detrimental to your success. … Have you awakened from passing out? Are you still in shock? I know; not exactly what you’re used to being told, right? There there sweetie, it’ll be fine, I promise.

Should you follow your passion?Now you may be wondering, how could following my passion hurt my chances of success? It’s simple really … because you run the danger of overlooking or bypassing opportunities that could be highly lucrative while you’re chasing a dream that is never going to come true.

My business mentor basically told me to find something that I liked doing well enough, that I was good at, that paid well — because being poor doing something you love can make you miserable as well. This assumes that financial success is important to you, of course. And while money is not the be all and end all, as I heard Cher say one time, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Being rich is definitely better.”

As an aside, my business mentor had a very successful staffing company, which he sold for something like $30 million dollars. He said he never really cared for staffing, but he didn’t hate it either – it was just a business; one that allowed him to provide really well for his family. He was the happiest retired person I ever met (besides one of my uncles). I think it was because he had financial freedom, and because he’d retired from a career he’d never been too emotionally invested in in the first place.

Why This Career Advice Resonated with Me – and Possibly Will With You Too

While I realize many may not agree with this advice/way of approaching a career, it resonated with me because the thing I was/am passionate about (acting) was not something I was willing to sacrifice for long enough to make a living at. I enjoy acting immensely, and it is the one thing I’d do for free — if/when my bills are paid.

So then, you may be thinking, “Are you really passionate about it if you’re not willing to sacrifice for it?” The answer is, “Yes, I am.” BUT, I also happen to be a realist and financial security was/is more important to me than chasing a dream like acting, which I did for several years while living in New York.

I realized that there were so many external factors that were so outside of my control though that my success as an actress depended on, that I didn’t want to chance that I’d be old and broke. I remember once I was told by a casting director that my earlobes were uneven. I was like, “What?!” in my head. Looking back, I think it was then that I realized, “This acting thing may not be the best career choice — too much is out of your control.”

Hence, my foray into freelance writing. I control how much I earn; when I work; how I work; with whom I work; etc. Yes, classic Type A personality control issues at work here. I like having control.

So while I hope to get back to acting one day — in a fun, community theater kind of way; not to make a living — I’ve never regretted my decision NOT to follow my “passion.”

Debunking the ‘Follow Your Passion’ Ethos

Apparently, lots of others are falling out of love with this advice too. Here are a few articles I ran into that debunk this advice.

Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ Is Awful, Flawed Advice

‘FOLLOW YOUR PASSION’ IS CRAPPY ADVICE: Love this part of this post …

You advocate cultivating your passion, instead of following your passion. What are the key differences?

“Follow” implies that you discover the passion in advance then go match it to a job. At which point, you’re done.

“Cultivate” implies that you work toward building passion for your job. This is a longer process but it’s way more likely to pay dividends. It requires you to approach your work like a craftsman. Honing your ability, and then leveraging your value, once good, to shape your working life toward the type of lifestyle that resonates with you.

Steve Jobs destroyed the ‘follow your passion’ myth just before he died

Your thoughts? Do you think this is good career advice? Is it advice you follow? Please share in the comments section below.

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Posted on November 9, 2015 
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