“Follow Your Passion” SUCKS as Career Advice

EinsteinAt the risk of alienating every “live your dream!” angel out there… it is official:

“Follow your passion!” sucks as career advice.

Do you know how many people who follow this mantra are unemployed or under-employed? Do you know how many passion-or-nothing disciples spend their days playing Call of Duty, watching reality television and banging on social media using hashtags like #FML?

Too many. Way too many.

Rather than “follow your passion” …here’s what working with deserving careerists who successfully find meaningful work has taught me:

  1. We should absolutely enjoy our work… we do much better work when we do
  2. Rather than insist on our dream job… we should constantly work toward our dream job
  3. Some jobs suck… yet the better we do them, the happier we are
  4. Those with a positive attitude about work, regardless of their current situation, win… every time
  5. Those who hustle and have a positive attitude kick ass… every time

Here’s what else I believe:

“Follow Your Passion” is Passive

Passion is huge. I get that. And there are many who work 16-hour days, believing in their passion-fueled dream. Like many others who make a real dent in their crazy worlds, however, they don’t spend much time following anything.

Why? Because the word ‘follow’ – by definition – means to “move or trail behind”. In other words, as long as you are following you’re never catching up to that magical dream in your head.

Granted, not all of us are Type A-holes who jump into everything in “all in” fashion. Still, being passive does not typically equate with success.

“Follow Your Passion” Often Means “No Mission”

In the last week alone, many careerists – of varying ages and backgrounds – have told me their goal in life is to be “successful” or “financially independent”. One passionate gentleman, who met me wearing a brilliant 3-piece suit and a 9-inch smile, told me in the first 90 seconds of knowing him that his dream was to be a “multi-millionaire”.

I asked these potential successful-financially-independent-multi-millionaires:  “How are you going to get there… what is the passion-driven mission that will catapult you toward your dream?”

Crickets. They had nothing.

Emphatically, eventually, like they were channeling Tony Robbins, they all said some version of this: “Well, I haven’t found my passion yet… but nothing will stop me!”

Please, shoot me now.

Barriers to SuccessThis is where “follow your passion” becomes an excuse for “I haven’t accomplished anything yet” and “I have no plan”. Yet they have those viral smiles and straight out of affirmation-heaven false-positive attitudes. This isn’t success… these are big-ass barriers to success.

Executing passion starts with a personal mission.

Who are you going to help? What problem are you going to solve? What difference are you making in the world… right now, and 5 years from now?

“Follow Your Passion” Often Means Missed Opportunity

My biggest issue with those stuck in “I must find and follow my passion” purgatory? They miss the opportunities to see and feel real passion. And they miss opportunities to execute their dreams.

When I speak to college students and those seeking work, I appeal them to find passion in whatever they’re doing today… no matter how menial the task seems. When it has become impossible to find passion in their current activities, I encourage them to help others. Tutoring, volunteering, mentoring, writing and side gigs enable us to make a difference. Even just an hour or two at a time, thinking of someone other than ourselves, makes a huge difference in us.

Here are some real-world examples of those who see passion in what they’re doing today:

  • A 17 year-old works at McDonald’s, dropping baskets of frozen potatoes into the fryer – a nasty job, for sure. One day in the PlayPlace, he sincerely asked how my son’s happy meal was. I was impressed, partly because of his infectious attitude and also because no one, through five kids and thousands of Happy Meals, had ever asked before. I asked him – considering his job also included cleaning tables, floors and bathrooms – how he stayed positive. His answer: “I come in here (the PlayPlace) to see kids enjoying the food I cooked and having fun… this keeps me going!”
  • A 50 year-old man delivers bottled water to my wife’s office. He doesn’t have the most glamorous job; he may not be a successful-multi-millionaire type. However, he thoroughly enjoys his work and makes everyone in that office laugh… every single visit. Without a doubt, five gallons at a time, he is one of the most passionate guys I know.
  • Carleen MacKay, for several decades, has been on every stump, stool and stage she could find talking about the necessity of finding passion in our current work… no matter what the work that day entails. A keynote speaker and prolific author, Carleen’s energy and passion rivals most 24 year olds. At 74 years old, she is an inspiration.

Besides amazing work ethic and being creators of motivational personal environments, what do these individuals – representing four generations – have in common?

Their positive nature isn’t manufactured… their purpose and attitude are genuine. They didn’t wait for the perfect job at the company with the highest profile… they each created their own opportunity for passion.

Most important, they are not “follow your passion” dreamers, always one step behind. They are builders of dreams who live their passions. They’ve earned it. They own it.

Don’t “follow your passion”. That theory has been proven a failure. Instead, live a passion-driven life.

There’s a big, passionate difference.





Mark_AuthorAbout the Author: CEO and Founder of YouTern, Mark Babbitt is a serial mentor who has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Forbes and Under30CEO.com regarding job search, career development, internships and higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce. A keynote speaker and blogger, Mark’s contributions include Huffington Post, Switch and Shift, The Daily Muse and Under30CEO.

Mark has been honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors” and was recently featured on HR Examiner’s “Top 25 Trendspotters in HR” and several top blogger lists, including JobMob’s “Top Career Bloggers of 2012”. Contact Mark via email or on Twitter!



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  • Great post. It reminds me of a friend a late uncle-in-law used to talk about. He’d retired from a high-powered job in finance, and then come out of retirement to become a UPS driver. He always said how much happier he was, driving around, without stress, and seeing people’s faces light up when they received their packages. I know how happy *my* UPS delivery guy makes me!

  • Mark, this should be required reading for anyone who believes they are a career expert, work in a university career center or who run HR — and believe they know how to build a performance-focused work culture.

    Can’t remember who wrote this but: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

    Including those who tell you to follow your passion to the bitter end…

    • Unfortunately, we live in a world where many people stand for nothing and fall for everything.

  • Tom Bolt

    In my experience, so-called “passions” are fickle. Following them to the exclusion of reason is like following a wisp of smoke. Very few people have a passion that is “do or die” built inside of them. Instead, most people reach out for a dream and find out that it is not reality when they wake up. The truly passionate people I have met have not stoked their fire by following their passion but by discovering their passion in what they do and acting on it. It is ultimately the person that makes that activity passionate, not their belief that they have found passion.

  • Oh, now I get it! The title was misleading. I agree 100% with what you’ve said.

    From my own experience, I don’t think I could have answered these questions upon graduation. In fact, I am still trying to answer them. They are Kinda like a moving target:

    Who are you going to help?
    What problem are you going to solve?
    What difference are you making in the world… right now, and 5 years from now?

    But in our quest to find these answers we have to work…and work is a four letter word. No one said you had to love it. Work pays bills.

    I love the bulleted examples of the types of work people do and can enjoy. That is the secret sauce…find the good in whatever crappy job you have to take and hold onto to pay the bills. This is where people often learn life lessons.

    Awesome post Mark!

  • Two cents from a Millennial perspective…nothing new, per se, but perhaps a new way of expressing the thoughts.

    Whenever I’m working, whether it be editing the photos from my latest shoot, writing and article for UGSuccess, or giving a presentation in my design course, I’m reminded of a Mark Cuban quote. Paraphrased, “Don’t follow your passion. Follow your effort.” It is our effort that turns dreams into realities. I don’t say this to minimize the shear amount of work that must be done…we can’t just say, “Oh, Make an effort!” and expect overnight results.

    The thing I liked most about this article was the section on execution. While we can certainly argue about the public sector, most everything in the private sector is results driven…at least in companies that want to succeed and accept nothing less. Do you execute? What are you going to execute? It’s all focused on results. Are you delivering them? No? Get out.

    I think that many of my generational peers and those older than me find themselves in a situation where they may want something, but they don’t desire it. My best mentors are those that have desired an outcome and they’ve gone and gotten it. They haven’t been passive. They haven’t followed anyone. They’ve led. They’ve produced results. They have relentlessly executed.

    So, what I say to myself and my fellow peers (and any person older than me who is willing to listen), is that if you have a dream, go get it. Going after your dream doesn’t exclude you from personal responsibility. If going after your dream means you work a side-job to support yourself, then you sure as hell better do it. Follow your effort, execute, produce valuable results.

  • Living a passion-driven life is indeed what it’s all about. I love the quote, which puts me in mind of the McDonalds worker above:

    “If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like
    Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed
    music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan
    Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so
    well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say:
    Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t
    be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the
    best little shrub on the side of the hill.

    Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a
    trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you
    win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”

    My mantra? Dream.Decide.Do. And do it passionately. Cheers! Kaarina

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  • jackiem

    party pooper

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  • T.j.

    This junk is exactly what is wrong with corporate America…

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