If You Tell Your Kids To Pursue Their Passions As Careers You Will Royally Screw Them Up, No Matter What Steve Jobs Says

shutterstock_131389763It seems the biggest advice recent graduates are getting these days is to find what you love and make it your life’s work. Some say this trend started with Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address to the graduates of Stanford University.

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.

It’s so romantic, right? Don’t settle! Demand more for your life! Who doesn’t want to believe Jobs’ words? Well, today, a writer for US News & World Report is calling bullshit on this theory. From my experience I agree, unless you want to completely avoid the work-life balance question by making your work into your entire life. Problem solved. You’re welcome.

Basically there are three main reasons why mixing passion and careers is a set-up for failure. First, passions and income don’t usually align. You might love watching cat videos on YouTube, but unless you scored a slot on the Bravo reality show “LOLwork,” it’s probably not going to pay the bills. Second, making it your job can destroy your love of said activity. Too much of a good thing, right? Third, your interests are a terrible indication of your strengths. People don’t generally pay you for things you suck at doing, so unless you have mad skills in the thing you love, it’s not a great career choice. For most people, the author suggests, this approach causes high anxiety and job dissatisfaction.

Despite graduating before Steve Jobs dispensed this life-changing advice, I thought I was following my passion when I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. From a very young age, I loved to argue. I was told I would make a great lawyer for the first time in kindergarten and then many times after that. Then later I discovered I loved – and was really good at – writing, researching, and crafting an argument. With a practical sense of what it took to succeed in law school, I decided for sure I wanted to be a lawyer. Boy, was I wrong. Turns out I valued some semblance of work-life balance more than I liked to research and argue, which made a career in the law a pretty awkward fit.

It might be too late for me, but the author includes practical suggestions for a more realistic approach.

[W]hat makes people happy at work isn’t that they’re passionate about what they’re doing, but rather that they have a sense of accomplishment or impact, or they enjoy the autonomy they’re given, or they feel respected or useful. So a better goal than “follow your passion” is probably to do something that you’re good at, that brings you a reasonable amount of satisfaction, and that earns you a living.

I never got the “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” advice as a kid, but maybe that’s because my mom was a waitress and my dad a cab driver and they were both content with having their jobs just be jobs and not their purpose in life. Which makes me really wonder where I went wrong. If I could go back and give my young self advice it would be this: ditch the career and just go get a job.

(photo: DeiMosz/Shutterstock)

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You can reach this post's author, Carinn Jade, on twitter.
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  • Kobe

    It is a weird alchemy of what we put on our own shoulders with this stuff right? We are so concerned with what is worthy of our time and efforts, how we should be rewarded mentally (and financially) from work, how we want others to perceive us, etc. You make a really good point that if you take all the expectation out of what a job should provide you with, a lot of the stress of what we do and are can melt away.

    • http://twitter.com/carinnjade Carinn Jade

      That’s right! Come to the dark side!!!!!

  • faifai

    Man… I freaking LOVE my job. And processing medical claims is nowhere near my passion in life, but it leaves me free to enjoy my passions without stress. And making a job of the things you love is a great way to kill your joy in those things; what I mean by this is, I really love baking. And people tell me all the time that I should start a bakery. But if I did, suddenly it wouldn’t be about the joy of matching flavors and colors, it would be about making a Product for a Consumer. Ugh! Too stressful and no love! I’d rather do my medical claims during the day and my cupcakes & cookies at night!

    • http://twitter.com/carinnjade Carinn Jade

      I agree — not every single thing we do has to be in the pursuit of happiness – sometimes a job is a job (though admittedly I find it much harder to implement the change this far down the road in my career).

  • TngldBlue

    If I followed my passion I would be a professional sleeper which would result in being well rested but bankrupt. I kid but really my job is just a means to an end, it is what allows me to go out & do the things I truly enjoy without the added pressure of having to make money at it. If you can (and want) to make a career out of something that you absolutely love then go for it but we should stop telling kids that’s the only way to be happy,

    • http://twitter.com/carinnjade Carinn Jade

      Ha! Professional sleeper – I’m surprised that wasn’t on my career goal list as a teenager. It’s true, at the very least we should stop telling them the key to happiness is making a career out of your passions.

  • LiteBrite

    I think the advice of following your passion in a job is overrated. If you can get paid for what you love doing, awesome, but I think for the majority of us, that isn’t a realistic option. I mean, I have a great passion for cats, but I can tell you that following that passion doesn’t pay all that great.

    Having said that, I’m not at all advocating that people stay in crappy work situations either simply for a paycheck. I like my job and the people I do it with, and I believe that’s important considering the amount of time I spend here, but I wouldn’t say I have a “passion” for it.

    • http://twitter.com/carinnjade Carinn Jade

      I agree – for the majority of us it’s bad advice, yet it is advice that has such power and fits with our romantic notions of life that it keeps going around. I don’t think people should stay in crappy work situations if it’s harming them, but it would do a lot of people a service to have the perspective that your job doesn’t need to fulfill the very fiber of your being. If you have a job that allows you to have free time and interests, that can be even more satisfying.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

    Thank you!
    My passion is zoology, in particular with herps. I interned at the Denver Zoo when I was 17 and 18, and I currently volunteer at the local zoo. I love that sort of work, and the internship I took in Denver was my planned entrance into the field…until I saw the pay.

    Holy crap. People with masters degrees and a full time job working nights bartending or living with their parents, because the field paid absolutely awful. I elected not to pursue it; I actually make more money in the social services sector (which is sad because it’s still not a lot). My current local zoo starts keepers out at 8/hour for gods sakes.

    • http://twitter.com/carinnjade Carinn Jade

      so smart that you got that internship early and realized you didn’t want to go down that path for yourself. that’s my ideal for my kids.

    • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

      Yep. If I was wealthy already I wouldn’t mind doing it but I don’t want to live on 8 bucks an hour. I still keep and work with animals as a hobby but I’m not living on 8 bucks an hour damnit.

    • Tea

      I almost took the same path with Entomology, then realized I’d be 45K in debt for a degree that is only valuable for researching ways to kill bugs. So now I just keep an assortment of critters in my free time.

    • Justme

      I read “herps” and thought….animals get herpes?!

  • Erica

    Years after college I’m confident in myself and know what I would have done differently. I picked the wrong degree, the wrong school. I should have spent more time looking at the jobs rather than what sounded good to study. I should have done some career counseling and made a better match to my personality. A job will always be a job to me. You should be content at work but most people will always look forward to their weekend.

  • Sara

    I think what you have to do is find the cross-section between:

    1) What you enjoy doing

    2) What you’re good at

    3) What people are willing to pay for

    If you love doing something and you’re good at it, but there’s no market for it, what you’re talking about is a hobby, not a job. If there’s a market for something and you love it, but you suck at it, then you won’t be able to make a living. And if there’s a market for something and you’re good at it but you don’t enjoy it, you’ll be able to make a living but you’re likely to burn out.

    I disagree with telling kids to “follow their dreams, no matter what”. At some point, you have to be realistic. You also have to recognize that your priorities are very likely to change between your teens and your 30s. When I was deciding where to go to college, I wanted to major in vocal performance and be an opera singer. My parents paid for my college education, but they put the stipulation on it that if they were going to sink $150,000, I needed to major in something that would qualify me to go out and get a full-time job the day I graduated. They said that if I wanted to get a master’s in vocal performance afterward, they would support me, but they weren’t going to pay for a bachelor’s in it.

    I thought they were being totally unreasonable, and a lot of their friends told them they were “crushing my dream”. Well, guess what? Now that I’m 31 and I have a child to support, I’m grateful beyond all measure that they had the wisdom and foresight not to let me major in performance. My priorities have changed, and where when I was 17 I thought that money didn’t matter, that was largely because I had never paid a bill on my own or been hungry in my life.

    I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t major in music, or that they shouldn’t take a stab at doing what they love. I do think it’s incredibly risky and foolish to put all your eggs in that one basket and put yourself in a position where if a career as a professional singer/poet/storyteller/basketball player doesn’t work out, you’re not qualified to do anything else. A lot of my colleagues in college double-majored in music and things like business or engineering, which strikes me as a very smart thing to do.

    • Erica

      Agree. If my kids want to major in dance, for example, that’s great but they need a backup plan. Because even if they become the most famous dancers in the world their bodies will wear out and they will retire from dance in their 30′s. Then what?

    • Harriet Meadow

      Then they teach dance. My grandpa still does it! (I realize you are using this example as a rhetorical one, but my point is that there are usually avenues to continue in one’s chosen field…)

    • http://twitter.com/carinnjade Carinn Jade

      That is something I’m concerned with as my kids get older – I’m worried they will think I am “crushing their dreams” – but it’s an important message to have a back-up plan. Priorities change, life gets in the way!

    • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

      I love eating cheesecake and drinking good whiskey but I somehow doubt there’s a lot of jobs there :( And I love sex, but those jobs are illegal/immoral.

    • once upon a time

      Yeah, my dad always used to say, “If you’re willing to work hard enough, you can do pretty much anything you want.” I remember thinking that it was sucky advice – wasn’t he supposed to tell me to shoot for the stars and follow my dreams? – but of course, now I realised that it was the best advice he could have given me. I’ve seen a lot of my friends struggle because they never got the ‘hard work’ part.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1367454013 W Scott Jenkin IV

    It seems you DID find what makes you happy… “Turns out I valued some semblance of work-life balance more than I liked to research and argue…”

  • Tea

    I totally did the follow my dream thing, and it has its ups and downs to be honest.

    My first passion was bugs, and then I realized, like Paul says, that zoology doesn’t pay for beans (especially entomology, unless you’re studying to kill bugs.) So I turned to passion number 2, art.

    Right now, I’m a professional illustrator and published author (Yes, I’m an illustrator and low vision, this confuses the hell out of people and I love it.). It does definitely make you hate things you love on some days, like when you’ve done nothing but paint holiday-card fluff. If you really love it, you have to learn to lower your standard of living and balance if it’s really worth it. We decided we were okay with less money but more rewarding careers, and not everyone can do that.

    If you do take that path, Side-hobbies that you love and will not profit from are a must. I do chainmaille and leather working, as well as luthiery on the side just to stay sane, since painting isn’t really a way to relax as much anymore. I don’t hate painting, but it does turn on the ” It’s work time now” part of my brain. The arrangement I have with my partner is that I’m allowed to sell my hobby projects after they’re done so that I can buy more materials, I’m not allowed to spend my life making hand-made dulcimers or bondage gear. You learn to deal with burnout and power through it, because clients will not sit back and wait patiently for a fickle muse. It’s hard work, I could have made more going into business, but I would probably also have a stroke at 35. I can’t afford really nice things, but I usually have enough money for a roof over our head, and food.

    It’s worth it for me. I have my “what if” days, and I have no delusions of becoming the next Andy Worhol. I know of a lot of people in my field who have a great portfolio, but do nothing to chase down job leads, and refuse to work with deadlines, and they’re the artists who still live with their parents and spent 80% of their time looking for inspiration, and 10% taking naps.

    My usual advice is “If you can, do what you love, just know that you’re not that special, you need to work your ass off for recognition and leads, and you might need to readjust your standard of living or do jobs for a while that you don’t like. You can do it and be happy, but it won’t come easy.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

      Yep. You found the balance that worked for you.
      I think a lot of people have no idea just how badly zoology pays, particularly relative to the requirements. Most zoos these days require a bachelors and prefer a masters for anyone working herps, birds, fish, etc. And pay what you’d make at McDonald’s.

    • once upon a time

      But that guy from Bones seems to be doing all right! :)

    • Tea

      The sciences in general can be horrible about that, unless it’s something that’s in very active demand (Like Medical research), the pay can be really horrible compared to the job requirements and hours involved. I know a clinical psychology major who made so little using her degree that she started to work retail and go for her computer certifications.

  • Justme

    I guess it depends on your definition of passion and fulfillment. My passion is helping others and mentoring teens to become great adults because I care about the future of this nation and world. So I’m a teacher and completely fulfilled. There are obviously things that I love (wine, decorating, swimming, Excel spreadsheets, blogging, etc.) but just because I love doing them doesn’t mean they’re my true passion and bring me fulfillment.

    • Sean Phillips

      this is exactly it. watching cat videos is not a passion, at least not in the “follow it” sense. helping, teaching, those are.

  • Outlaw Mama

    Wait. I can’t make any money watching cat videos on YouTube? What the what???

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

    I think there’s a line a lot of people miss; it is absolutely asinine to say money doesn’t matter, unless you’re OK living in shelters and eating at soup kitchens your whole life. But to argue that money isn’t the ONLY thing is 100% correct; you just have to find a line that works for you. But telling people not to worry about the money is just flat out BAD.

  • once upon a time

    But I think Jobs was saying, “Love what you do,” more than, “Do what you love.” That doesn’t have to mean, you know, become a graphic designer because you like art and computers; it could mean anything from working for an organisation that you love, working for a cause you support, sticking with employers that give you lots of support and training, or even just staying at an office because it’s got a good work culture and you like the people you work with.

    I think it’s a valid point – we usually spend more time working than anything else, so do whatever you can to make it not-miserable.

    That said, the happiest day of my life was the day I realised people would actually PAY ME to write!

  • http://twitter.com/witavorr AE Vorro

    I think it also has to do with disposition. Some people live to work. My dad was one of those people. His job and his hobbies (railroads) were entirely aligned. He landed a job at 22 (that had the potential to be and indeed resulted in his dream job) and did it for 37 years for the same organization. His hobbies were railroad-related; it was almost all he thought about. On the other hand, there are the “work to live” people who have less-than-dream jobs and follow their passion in their spare time. For this set, their jobs aren’t their hobbies and their hobbies aren’t their jobs; they leave their work behind when the work day is over to concentrate on other things. Either path is fine; some careers are more conducive for the “live to work” set and others seem to rely on the “work to live” attitude. I fall squarely into the latter. I like my job, but I don’t love it and it’s not the most important thing in my life. It does, however, allow me to pursue other interests, like travel,

  • Sean Phillips

    I don’t think you get it. You absolutely should pursue something you love and are passionate about, but it has to be something real, and it can be something non-specific — like being on your feet or outside, or working a desk, or even just making enough money and having enough free time for whatever. but it can also be writing, science, teaching, design, etcetera. it will still be work, but it will be work you are proud of and at least content to do, and possibly even make you excited to go to it each day. “just getting a job” for the sake of the balance you want counts as doing what you love.

  • allysamarquez

    rents themselves who never uncovered their passion or who did not pursue it because they didn’t think they could make a living pursuing their passion or purpose. And what are their Problems or Challenges?

  • Diana

    Ironic then that Steve Jobs was a brat who never did anything he didn’t want to do.

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