The advice I hear most often repeated is ‘you’ll find success by following your passion.’ I believe this advice is crap. This advice stops more people from moving forward than it helps. People say ‘I don’t know what my passion is.’ Or I hear ‘There are lots of things I’m passionate about, what should I choose?’ I felt the same way when I was trying to figure out my passion. It seems like such simple and powerful advice. And it seems so well intentioned that it couldn’t be wrong.
Now let’s add in the bigger picture of what the world needs. Let’s imagine that everyone started with their passion. It seems obvious that we’d have an excess of video game designers and astronauts, and a severe lack of plumbers and electricians, and garbage men. And this second part is exactly the trend that we’re seeing in the world now. We have fewer electricians, plumbers, and mechanics than we did last year. Few people start off with the passion focused on keeping the world running.
But a weird thing can happen when we dive into something that needs to be done and where we make a difference. We find something deeper than passion. We find meaning. We find satisfaction. Sometimes we even find Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. There may or may not be passion for most people in plumbing, but there seems to be a large amount of satisfaction in being able to help make a difference in people’s lives and support ourselves while doing it.
If I followed the first thing I was passionate about, I’d still be figuring out how to make a living drinking beer and floating on a river. I can think of lots of ways I could make a living at that now. Thankfully my younger self wasn’t quite so clever. I would have missed out on a tremendous opportunity to help the world in other ways. The coaching I’m doing now takes a lot more work. But it engages a lot more of me, and I believe that has allowed me to contribute more to the world than just providing some fun times for other summer suds seekers.
I just saw a presentation from a wildly successful neuroscientist this weekend. She was talking about her life’s work, but for the past decade she was working on it because of a sense of obligation to her parents. It was only after 10 years of working in neuroscience that she started seeing the ability to impact areas like social justice that she felt passionate about. Now she’s incredibly passionate about what she does. She wouldn’t have this opportunity unless she persevered through that challenging decade. Moreover, the world would have missed all the tremendous ideas she has contributed. She was leaning into what was hard and found her meaning along the way.
It’s possible to learn about yourself by doing. You might uncover a new passion. You might also find something that you hate. It’s OK either way. Lean into the most difficult thing you can find. Don’t just pick anything, though. Pick something that has a good chance of being useful to other people. Do the hard work. It won’t kill you. It will make you stronger.
So my advice is not to ignore your passion. Far from it. Knowing what you like to do is awesome. Wanting more of your passion in your life is worth striving for. My point is that using passion to avoid hard work is a huge mistake for you and for the world. Do the hard work. The world will reward you for it.