The Myth of “Follow Your Passion”

After picking the brains of people in real life, studying plenty of successful people, and watching a ton of TED Talks on following your passion, I’ve realized it’s more complicated than you think.

There are people who will tell you it’s as simple as following your passion and the money will come. It turns out this isn’t always the case. You haven’t to acknowledge the reality of the market. I mean, the successful people who tell you this are in job titles where it works (entrepreneur, actor, singer) rather than those that don’t (janitor, factory worker)

In this TED Talk, a man shows statistics that reveal that most university students want to make a living in the arts or in sports. But there just isn’t enough jobs out there to let tens of thousands of university students rap, play basketball, or paint and make a healthy living.

The market reality is that most jobs out there are more boring in nature on the surface: scientific analyst, international tax trade researcher, or supply chain manager. But you can learn to love parts of it at the least if you give it more of a chance.

Many people who have found a fulfilling, exciting career went into a job that on the surface a bit bored of it, but they had an open-mind and saw how it could be interesting — and got more and more interested in the work. 

I’m not saying to completely convince yourself you can love something you hate. From experience, that doesn’t work. I’m saying that you need to discover, consider, and try out all sorts of jobs you don’t know exist. You shouldn’t let your attitude or expectation of a “perfect job” prevent you from looking under the hood to see what a seemingly boring job may actually be like.

In one of my favorite TED Talks, Dr. Shane Lopez analyzes thousands of employees across the country. He reveals that only a small percent are passionate about their jobs. But what’s more surprising is that most of those who are didn’t land a dream job. Instead, they gradually turned their job into one they were passionate about.

A job you’re passionate about isn’t something you’re entitled to. And just because you never get one doesn’t mean you can’t live a normal life. Most people never get there. Moreover, it’s not about finding, applying, and receiving a perfect job, it’s about crafting one.

The younger generations are becoming more and more picky. Being too naive or picky with your first or second job can lead to paralysis or stalling your momentum. As I have mentioned before, there’s the trifecta: passion, potential, and market. People often forget at least one of three. Some, like Gary Vaynerchuk and Derral Eves, claim that everyone can spin anything into a full-time career that pays well. They say it’s a new world. But is this true?

Napping or eating potato chips on a coach have no market demand. Even if you find a way to get paid (like reviewing movies on YouTube while eating chips and monetizing the views), you have to respect competition. There will be others who will notice and come to compete with your skill, if there’s money to be made and it’s more fun.

The entrepreneur, Jon Morrow, has a different theory. After coaching hundreds of students on starting an online business around a hobby, he has concluded that your topic of choice has to be around a moderately large market where there’s already people making money. He says there’s a reason why certain businesses don’t exist in certain industries: because there’s no market there. No one wants its.

The road to your final destination or dream job is almost never straightforward. It has ups and downs like a mountain, and, as Steve Jobs says, it’s only clear looking back retroactively. In the book Winning, Jack Welch illustrates this with the background of the CEO of Ebay.

She went from the toy industry to the manufacturing industry and other seemingly unrelated industries. But after the Internet showed up, it made perfect sense for her to work for Ebay. Her diverse background was perfect.

People assume that if they haven’t picked and started honing one skill as a little kid, it’s over. We see plenty of young geniuses follow this format, like Mozart, Michael Jackson, Beethoven, Leonardo Da Vinci, Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio  or most Olympic athletes. But is this really the only way to achieve your dreams? If it is, then almost all of you reading this have “missed the boat” and there’s nothing you can do about it.

When you get a more comprehensive analysis of successful people, you’ll realize it is not too late at all. You’re just getting started.

Another common belief that cripples people is that “you are doomed to a career trajectory once you commit for most or the rest of your life.” If you switch professions, people believe you’re starting too far behind others. They’ve already got years of experience and you’re starting from scratch, right? These ideas are especially pronounced because people point to careers that require years of investment, like a doctor or lawyer.

A successful career in the modern world isn’t some one-shot opportunity. You don’t need millions of dollars to be happy, nor do you need to choose a profession hyper-focused on investing your life before you get good. The masses would be fine making a couple hundred thousand a year.

And when you examine real people, you’ll find that it’s common for many to transition careers quite often before finding their footing. John Lee Dumas went from law school to real estate to entrepreneur. And now he makes a couple million a year net.

What may have been true in the past may not be true anymore. If you don’t test, you’ll never know for sure. Worst that can happen is you’re back where you started. Then, just try something else. Some people have made the decision of dropping out of medical or law school because they were pushed there by their parents rather than their own passion. If you’re younger, you have more freedom and less responsibilities.

Others realize that their belief that they’re too old and it’s too late is just an excuse. They apply to med school in their 40’s or 50’s and get in. They begin their next adventure.

The final common issue some young people face is paralysis from options. They major in computer science for two years, switch to pre-med for one year, switch to math, delay graduation, and the cycle continues. You can do all the research in the world and it won’t give you 100% certainty. Sometimes, you must make decisions with incomplete data.

Fear of missing out often drives them to keep flip-flopping. But the truth is that none of the options are usually ever going to be perfect or that amazing. If it was, you’d feel it immediately. It’ll light you up. As Jeff Bezos says, your deepest passions choose you (through genetics and upbringing). You don’t choose them. Your goal is to find them. Test, taste, and search for that excitement, joy, and spark.

How are you sure you’re too inexperienced or behind the ball to get into a field? People assume that there’s no way they could get into finance, consumer tech, or marketing because their background is completely in something different, like Law. Sometimes, like with investment banking, this may be true — you may have to go back to school to gain the experience. But other times, like with marketing, it’s not.

If it’s just an assumption, it’s worth going out and talking to at least 5 to 10 real people in the industry in-person or on the phone. With the power of LinkedIn, you can find people who had a previous background in what you have that transitioned to what you want to do now.

Especially with younger graduates or people who have had zero or few real full-time jobs, they assume they will not like most jobs. Don’t let your inexperience bring false assumptions. Get out there.

Three well-known authors on the topic, Dan Gilbert, Ramit Sethi, and Cal Newport, believe that passion does not work. Developing a level of mastery at a skill is what will create passion. From experience, that doesn’t work if you 100% hate doing something. Getting good won’t save you. But if you’re neutral or at least slightly enjoy it, you may just see that increase of enjoyment over time as you get better, like they say.


In conclusion, don’t stop learning or developing your passion. As the world expands, I have seen crazy cases where people have turned their passion of video games, word art, or tarot card reading into a full-time financially rewarding career.

However, it’s important to realize that some of the folk who stumble into their passion early on enjoy something that might be abnormal to most: finance, accounting, sales, programming, or chemistry. For us more normal folk, it might take several more years for us to figure things out. Make sure to keep hustling.

Don’t be so picky or deluded by the “follow your passion” concept that you have narrowed your focus to nothing outside of your interests of acting and singing. It can really prevent you from reaching your potential in areas you might not have thought of.

I will not be surprised if in the coming decades, it becomes a problem for individuals who have ruled out too many options before giving them a chance because of their narrow focus. For example, let’s say you were set on being a social media personality but things didn’t work out. You have potential for different roles. You should at least consider different roles in international tax, systems analytics, or paid PPC marketing. These things can be self-taught.

People naturally over-limit themselves, especially when they are young and just out of school. Or they have the opposite extreme of paralysis by too many options and indecision from fear of missing out.

You never know what might occur. A great technique is to take people out for coffee who have interesting jobs. When you finally apply or get a new job in a new field, you tell yourself “6 months and I’ll go back to my old employment.” It can allow you try new things out. And don’t be too surprised if you actually start liking it.

Don’t let yourself be stuck in the sand pursuing a skillset in the arts that’s just close to impossible to turn into something stable or with upward trajectory. At least have other options.

Some say you shouldn’t have a Plan B so you can put 100% into Plan A since there’s no back-up’s. Once, I saw the billionaire Dan Gilbert say this live. The billionaire Reid Hoffman  and Michael Dell disagree. Reid advocates a Plan B in his book to pivot to that might sometimes be better than Plan A. Michael Dell was able to go back to college (similar to Bill Gates and other billionaire Facebook founders) and had a marketable skill in the job market if his company didn’t work out.

I think you can do both. Put 100% into Plan A and have faith that you have other options if things don’t work out so all your bases are covered so that you know you’re always going to come out alright.

In the case of a career, I guess the point is to acknowledge a certain level of practicality, which many Arts majors completely forget about.

As Richard Branson would say, seek adventure, work hard, believe in your wildest dreams, and remember that failure is an inevitable part of the journey to success. The best is yet to come. Oh, the places you will go. 

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By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.

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