“Find Your Passion” Is Really Bad Advice. Do This Instead….

Yep, He's Still Looking For His Passion....

"Do what you love."  "Follow your bliss."  "Find your passion."

We hear this advice all the time.  There's just one catch: if you already knew what your passion was, you wouldn't be reading this blog post.  So assuming you haven't found your passion and are groping your way forward like 99 percent of the rest of us, here's some advice:

Don’t Even Try To "Find Your Passion"

Don't even try to find your passion.  Instead, pick a path, develop expertise, choose a positive attitude, and watch the passion develop as your skills, connections, and confidence grow.

You see the trick here?  Passion comes from what you do, not before.  I eventually became a passionate diplomat, but before I represented the United States as a government official, I had no idea what the work entailed--or even if I would enjoy it.  The passion came from developing deep expertise, working extremely hard, getting good at the work (which took years, by the way), and enjoying the great friendships and contacts that I developed along the way.

This notion of not focusing on your passion has been touched in many different ways by other writers such as Cal Newport.  But the best elaboration of this concept that I have ever found was this brilliant, down-to-earth TED talk by Terri Trespicio.  I really really really suggest you watch this short video.  It is the ultimate antidote for the "Disney World thinking" that infuses so much of our culture in the age of abundance. 

Passion Comes From Building Skills

If there is a single piece of career advice that I wish I had been given as I graduated high school, this is it.  Don't try to find your passion.  Get to work on something that interests you and build skills.  The passion will follow.  Instead, I heard "follow your bliss," "do what you love," and other vague bits of unactionable advice.  The terrifying result of this advice is that we spend time contemplating our navel about which direction to go rather than building mad skills and then loving what we do as a result of building technical greatness. 

So, if you are reading this, stop worrying about "finding your passion." 

Pick a path (preferably one that gives you a degree of autonomy and pays well once you get deep into your career), and get to work.  Your passion will find you.

  • This is an interesting take. I find myself somewhere in the middle: I pursued a career path that I was fairly passionate about, but I wouldn’t say it was my “dream life”. Similar to what you recommend here, I chose a topic that I found interesting (genetics) and worked hard to build the knowledge base to give myself some options when it came to finding a job. What I wish someone had also pointed out to me at the time I was developing this passion/interest is to consider the long-term financial commitments of pursuing this specific career path. When I was studying in college, I thought that I *needed* to pick a career I was passionate about because I would have to work in that career until I was 65. For me, to pursue this particular passion, I had to go to another 2 years of grad school and drop $40,000. If only I had understood that I could find a high paying career straight out of college, work for ten years, retire, and THEN do something in genetics, I would definitely have taken that route instead. Alas, you live and you learn!


    • Yep. As I noted in response to a prior comment to this post, we all slip into that “if only” thinking. But we all make decisions with imperfect information. I can say that each decade my “if only” scenario has been different than the last, depending on my interests and knowledge at that time. So we always look back and think about how we could have optimized better. Learn, adapt, and focus on the now and future making the best decisions you can–rather than worrying about past decisions. Cheers!

  • Really love this! Building skills, gaining experience and seeing the bigger picture.

  • Papa says:

    I didn’t realize my passions in life until after a decade into my working career. If anything, working set me back further from realizing them. The upside is that I’m earning enough now that I can eventually retire early to focus on them. My passions don’t nearly pay enough of the bills to focus too much on them beforehand.

    • Papa, sounds like you are being highly pragmatic. Good stuff. Imagine if you sat around for those first ten years waiting for lighting to strike with inspiration. You’d be a lot further from your goals…..

      • Papa says:

        Very true! The one thing I wish I did was have a sense of FI back then. If I would have been so lucky back then, I would be 9 years closer to my goal, or maybe even already there. Can’t complain too much. Life lived while not accumulating debt was better than my average peer.

        • I totally get that. Good you avoided debt, that’s for sure. It’s just part of life that we always gain information as we go and wish we had had that info before. The key is to learn and stay focused on the present and future. Onward!

  • Steveark says:

    So well said. I killed it in my career. And I loved it, because I learned to be world class. Just pick an area that fits you, and if you have mad skills, life will be good!

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