Don’t “Follow Your Passion” – An Alternative Framework For Creating Your Work

Here’s a secret: I’m not following my passion.

*gasp*

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. I don’t buy the “follow your passion” mantra. Here’s why (and what you should do instead).

There’s Too Much Pressure

In the “follow your passion” mantra, “passion” is singular – we’re talking about one passion.

One.

All you have to do is find that one passion and then everything else will take care of itself.

Here’s the problem: I have more than one passion. I have a million passions. And so do you.

You don’t need the pressure of “finding your passion” because your “passion” will change as you grow and do new things.

You Already Know What You Like To Do

You probably don’t need any help “finding your passion”.

I know what I like doing. Chances are that you do too. You don’t need to “find your passion”. Just do more of the things you like doing. If you’re not sure what you like to do, find more things to say yes to, and see how much you enjoy them.

What About The Money?

Most “follow your passion” advice dismisses the need for a job. But it forgets about a really important benefit of having a job: getting money.

Now, money isn’t the most important thing in the world – in fact it’s not as important as most people would like you to think – but it does help you do one thing very well.

It lets you keep going.

Spoiler alert: You need money to live.

You might not need a lot of it, but you do need it.

Money is an indicator of value. Most “find your passion” advice ignores this. You should totally do what you love, but you also need whatever you’re doing to be sustainable in order for it to be effective in the long term. If it’s not, you’ll flame out quickly.

It’s way too common to see someone quit their job to travel the world and “do what they love”, only to realize they have no plan for sustainability, and to come crashing down a few months later – back to that same old job – once their money runs out.

“Follow Your Passion” Is You-Centric

This is really interesting. Nobody cares about you. The problem with “follow your passion” is that it convinces you that you just need to find out what you like and that you’ll make money once you’ve done that.

That’s not how things work.

No one will pay you to just do things you like.

If you like ice cream, no one will pay you to eat ice cream unless you actually create something valuable or fix a problem.

Unless you provide some sort of value back to people, you can’t ask for something from them.

Things don’t work like that.

People pay you to be useful, to solve a problem, or to help them with a pain point.

Instead of trying to find your passion, find a problem that you can solve.

No one talks about that.

Interestingly enough, from a sales perspective, the people selling you the “live your passion” advice know this. They know that you care about you, so they tell you how to do the things that make you happy. It’s a smart business decision – it’s much easier to sell someone something they’re looking for than to sell someone something they need. However, in the end, you have to wonder what exactly is being built.

Big sigh.

Example time:

Say you like ice cream – “it’s your passion”. If you just go and eat ice cream, you’re going to end up screwed and, most likely, fat.

No one is going to pay you to go to your local ice cream parlor and eat ice cream for days.

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However, you could make money using ice cream in the following ways:

  • Become a trusted ice cream connoisseur who breaks down the subtleties of the ice cream flavors at parlors around the world.
  • Lose twenty pounds only eating ice cream, and become the spokesman for a major ice cream chain (Jared from Subway-style).
  • Volunteer for a scientific study of the effect of daily ice cream consumption.

If you just eat ice cream and do nothing else, you’re screwed. You have to provide something useful to other people:

  • As a connoisseur, you’re helping people understand ice cream complexity (if that’s even a thing).
  • As a spokesperson, you’re providing your story as a testimonial for a major chain.
  • In the study, you’re offering yourself as a human guinea pig, so scientists can collect data on you.

While it’s debatable how much money you could make in each of those scenarios, you’re still much more likely to make money in those scenarios than if you just followed your passion to the ice cream parlor and ate ice cream. The same is true for whatever you choose to do.

Instead of focusing on what you want to do, focus on what other people need and on how you can help them.

The Process Is Where The Fun Is

The biggest problem with “finding your passion” is that you focus on the initial feelings that come with working on your “passion”, and miss out on the process. You feel like you’re supposed to be amped all the time when, in reality, that “passion” is probably going to fade and turn into “work”. In most “passion” frameworks that constitutes hell! You were just trying to get away from work, so when things get tough you walk away, jaded and disappointed that your “passion” ended up feeling just like work.

If you think like this, you’re approaching your career in the same way that a teenage girl approaches her high school boyfriends.

You get all excited about the initial feelings of “passion” but the extra step of “effort” sounds too hard.

You’re missing the point: It’s supposed to be hard.

There are times when work is hard. There are times when runs are tough. The are times when the workouts suck.

But those times are when you find yourself. Dig deeper. And see what you’re made of.

When you dig deeper, you find that the process is where the fun is – ups and downs included. So instead of getting pumped about the passion, get pumped about the process.

It’s a slight difference, but it makes all the difference.

My New Framework

As I mentioned before, I’m not following the “live your passion” framework.

Instead, for everything I do from now on, I’ll be using a three-tiered approach –  my new framework for approaching projects and business. It’s not complicated – you don’t need an e-book or program to figure it out – but it’s been tremendously helpful for me over the past months.

From now on, I’m not interested in “following my passion”. I’m simply focused on doing things that:

  1. Make money
  2. Are fun
  3. Help people

Here’s what I mean:

Can I Make Money Doing This?

If the business makes money, it’s worth continuing. If it doesn’t, I better have a dang good reason for continuing with it. There are exceptions but this is the main metric for business projects.

It’s not that money is the end goal – money is just fuel – but that it allows you to get to where you want to go.

If it doesn’t make money, it’s most likely not a business.

Is It Fun?

This is pretty simple.

Do I enjoy doing it?

It’s worth noting here that something not being “fun” isn’t a complete deal breaker. Sometimes work isn’t fun and sometimes it’s hard but the end results should always be fun.

Not everything is 100% fun but if I can get excited about the process and what I’m building, I’m in.

Does It Help People?

Does it do any good?

We’ve done some cool things over the years. Last year we raised $26,000 to build a school in Guatemala. Over the past two years we’ve lent over $23,0000 on Kiva.

I think you can make a lot of money and do a lot of good at the same time, and that, quite often, doing good can actually help you make more money. In fact, I have a whole model on entrepreneurial giving which I’m going to outline later this year.

Note: I list making money in front of doing good because making money means your project is sustainable. If you’re making money, you’re providing value. If you’re consistently solving people’s problems for them as a business, you’re going to be helping or being useful to people. Typically, the most obvious way to measure how useful you’re being is to look at the money you’re generating.

A Few Things To Note

I’m hardly the first to point out this change in thought or to say that the “follow your passion” thing is B.S. Cal Newport’s entire blog is essentially focused on this. It’s worth reading. You can also watch his World Domination Summit talk which basically tears apart the typical “do what you love” advice.

Also: If you want to be your own boss, the fastest way to do this isn’t to build a niche site, start a blog, or even become a life coach. The fastest way to quit your job and transition to career independence is by building a series of skills that are valuable to people and selling them directly through consulting. But I’ll talk about that in a future post.

Photo Credit: Rev Stan

Comments

  1. Kaye says

    Joel, Sounds a bit like the old school Earl Nightingale “Lead the Field” series. Solid principles that are worth a listen. Basically he says, have a good attitude, provide value, study, think of problems and solutions everyday- if you even have five ideas a day, five days a week you’re likely to hit on a good one… Keep up the good posts.

  2. says

    Joel,

    Insightful post.

    When I first started my site, which is still in its very early stages, I was foolishly subscribing to the belief that I had to follow my passion and that it had to be focused on one specific topic and not reflect the several other “passions” in my life. But it just didn’t feel right.

    I can identify with this post because following one sole passion is entirely limiting, and it does not allow for the creativity and spontaneity of life, and can ultimately lead to burn out and the transformation of a passion into something resented.

    Your trio of make money, help people, and have fun is a great guide to being productive and contributing something of meaning to the world. If we aren’t helping someone in some way, we are just serving ourselves, and if we aren’t having fun, why the hell are we doing it anyway?

    We have to create value, and that is accomplished by being multi-faceted, not static and fixed on one thing.

    Too much of one thing is never a good thing. So true.

    Thanks for all that you do at the I-HQ! Have enjoyed the recent reads, and I am looking forward to more this year!

    Take care!

    Jeremy
    @CYLeadership

  3. says

    Great write up. Love your emails. In an unrelated note, I started Cold Shower Therapy on Jan. 1st. Instead of 30 days I am going to call it a lifestyle change until all my business goals are met.

    Thanks for the good work.

  4. says

    Great post Joel.

    I completely agree. We been sold the idea that we can all be rock stars just by buying a secret magic pill that cost $97 by someone promising to have all the answers. “Follow your passion” advice sells courses, but it doesn’t really help anyone discover their highest calling.

    We become passionate about what we are good at. It’s not some insight we magically discover and then work towards.

    Perhaps one more argument against passion is that anything done to an extreme gets tiring. Someone might like eating ice cream every day, but try eating it every meal and see how much passion they have for it.

    I love to play guitar, but I couldn’t play the 8 to 10 hours a day that the true geniuses do. I have an ‘interest’ in guitar. If it were my passion, I wouldn’t be doing anything else. :-)

    The reality is that most of us aren’t willing to make the sacrifices and get the skills to be that rock star. We want the fame and fortune, not the touring around in an old van with 5 sweaty bandmates working for free until we make it big, or not.

    Sometimes it’s better to keep the job and keep our hobbies for our own personal pleasure.

  5. says

    Hi Joel,

    I’ve only just discovered your blog and this is one of the first articles I’m reading (I also just read the “find more things to say yes to” article. I am a Career Coach (please reserve judgement for now) and I really like that you’re challenging the traditional advice given in the personal development sphere.

    With my clients I encourage them to “reignite” their passion for their career and life. Life can get boring, especially if you’ve been doing the same thing for years and it’s all you do, with no other hobbies or interests.

    I’ve found that most people hate their jobs because it doesn’t allow them the time or freedom to do things they enjoy or spend time with people they like. I always encourage people to try lots of different things – reserving judgement until they’ve at least given it a go. I think it’s absurd to think that everyone can find one thing they’re absolutely passionate about, can do 24/7 for the rest of their lives and maintain the same level of enthusiasm throughout until they take their last breath!

    I also agree with the money part. Ultimately people want to have the freedom to choose to do more of what they like and money facilitates that.

    Finally I also agree with helping people. In all honesty I’m not “passionate” about the CV writing and interview aspects of careers, however I do believe that with a few small, simple changes to habits, people can do more of what they find enjoyable – and that’s what I help people with. Often I find that by the end of a coaching programme, people actually discover that their job was never the issue, it’s just that it prevented them from having enough fun or enjoyment which left them feeling unfulfilled.

  6. says

    This is a hugely important idea to spread! Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore is a great expanded look at/argument for this idea. It’s fighting against a narcissistic set of expectations and looking at the reality that you pointed out – people pay for something that helps them. And this other idea… that money means nothing.
    Thank you sir!

  7. James says

    Great post Joel, I totally agree. Too many people get caught up in this idea that you can get paid to do anything. It simply isn’t true.

  8. says

    Great article Joel. This is a common trait among generation Y yuppies, of which I am one! I think there is a sense of entitlement that we should be able to do what we love and get paid handsomely for it, often without putting in the necessary work. We’re blessed with so many opportunities and career options that making a choice can be paralysing. You recommend a simple approach which I think we could all benefit from.

  9. says

    Very insightful post Joel.

    What’s interesting about people who are “following their passion” is that in reality they’re doing so much more than that. Maybe someone’s passion is writing or blogging about a given topic, but in reality, they’re not making any money simply doing that.

    They’re making money by becoming experts at driving traffic to their sites and blogs, selling products and offering consulting services like you mentioned and maximizing their time so that most of it is done doing something profitable.

    No one made a living simply by jotting down their passions and sharing them with the world.

    I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on career independence through consulting.

  10. says

    Love this post, it’s surprising how rarely it’s recognized. I think “follow your passion” is feel-good, buttery self-affirmation. And it can give you the balls to quit your job and find something better to do with your life. But most people will “follow their passion” into debt, frustration, poverty, and become a dependent of someone more stable. I work with authors and artists, trying to help them with their business, and most of what I say is blasphemous to creatives. They want to listen to their inspiration, “The Muse” or whatever, and create their “Art” without an external influences so it will be Pure. But the people making money with art or writing are following formulas, responding to popular needs and trends, or selling services.

  11. Wendi says

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    I just felt some chains drop off.

    I’ve been putting off leaving a stagnant job because I don’t know what my “passion” is. I kept poking at ideas thinking one of them would flare into an all-encompassing obsession. Nope.

    However, there is one thing I like doing in my job–I actually lose track of time on occasion and might even work past my quitting time!

    I wouldn’t call it a PASSION. When I go home I forget about it. But I absolutely would like to do more of it at work.

    And I don’t have to do it forever.

    Problem solved–at least as soon as I tweak and bolster a few skills.

    Now I have to go find that consulting post.

  12. says

    Thanks so much for this Joel! I was truly considering putting an end to my blog today for the exact reasons you discussed- I figured it writing was my passion, I should be psyched about every blogging aspect, at all times, and that is not the case. This was such a perfect reframe. This post + some cold showers and I will be back in the blogging zone.

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