why you shouldn’t follow your passion

featured-on-usnIf you’ve ever asked anyone for career advice, you’ve probably heard some version of “follow your passion.” Young people, in particular, are often told that they should figure out what career to pursue by building their work around whatever they’re passionate about.

The problem is, it’s terrible advice. Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about why. You can read it here.

{ 200 comments… read them below }

  1. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

    Thank you! No one ever writes about this – but it’s so true. I followed my passion in selecting my undergraduate major – teapot craftsmanship – but gave up on pursuing the field when I figured out there were few positions, I would have to relocate if I found a job in the field, and the compensation would be low.
    I went on to graduate school in a completely different field, and my career path is fulfilling. While I do care about the issue I work on, I find that the most important factors in job satisfaction are a collegial work environment, challenging projects, opportunities for growth, and, yes, compensation.
    I think a lot of people start with content – they want to work on teapot conservation. But I’ve found that the skills at work is what matters. Your dream is to work at Teapot Conservation International – but doing what? Someone might not enjoy teapot sales, but love teapot accounting. Especially early on, your skills get you the job. The content’s easy to pick up along the way.
    I have a number of friends who pursued content instead of skills, and I see them struggling to find meaningful work.

    1. Josh S

      This article needs to be printed and posted in high school counselor’s offices and on college campuses across the country. And maybe tattooed on some foreheads as well.

      Well said, Alison!

      1. Anonymous Accountant

        And distributed to each and every high school and college student as required reading material.

    2. EngineerGirl

      Another subtle thing that wasn’t mentioned in the article is that students (for the most part) have extremely limited life experiences. So their passion choices will be correspondingly limited. Pity the poor student that spends thousands on their education. Then they go on a trip/conference/class and find something they are *more* passionate about!

      1. Chinook

        You are so right about a lack of experience leading to lack of knowing the possibilities. Growing up, I though engineers drove trains (cuz they do and, technically, Scott worked the engine of the Enterprise). I thought computer programming was good only for writing messages and physically designing things required glue and scissors. I didn’t know there were places out there where research skills were valued or that you could have more than one career in a lifetime. I never even dreamed of living where I have, meeting the people I have or working in the industries I have. As a result, my current passions would have been unbelievable to my university self.

  2. Coelura

    This is so true! I’m always telling folks to develop a passion for what they do – not try to turn their passions into what they do to earn money. There is almost always SOMETHING about a person’s job that they enjoy & can focus on.

    On the other hand, I have turned some of my passions into side businesses. I’ve quickly learned that none of them can actually earn me a living, but I’m enjoying the little that they do bring in (farming, dogs, etc). But they are side businesses that enable me to fund my passions, not actually live off of them!

    1. Piper

      Yes! I keep my passions to part-time side businesses where I have much more control than if they were my sole livelihood. I like what I do as a day job, I’m good at it, and it pays me enough that I can enjoy life outside of work. I think that’s just fine.

      But, it did take me a while to get to that point – to stop whining and fussing that I wasn’t working in a job I was passionate about. Had I come to the above (first paragraph) realization earlier, I could have avoided a world of heartache. But, then, I guess that’s all part of the learning process. I did, however, have the sense in undergrad to change my major from teapot performance to teapot marketing, which allowed me to get a much better job in the long run.

    2. Anonymous_J

      Me, three. I by no means see my business as a hobby; however, in keeping it part time, I am ensuring I won’t burn out on these activities, which I thoroughly enjoy! :)

  3. Rob Bird

    It’s horrible advice when your a kid, especially if you’re like me and didn’t have anything you were truely pationate about other then graduating High School.

    I had to find my way; go through several job until I found what I love doing and what I am really good at; posting to blogs! lol

    1. Rana

      Yep. It’s like when you meet those students who’ve wanted to be “an X” since they were tiny children, and you’re still trying to figure out what your major should be.

      1. Meg

        I always wanted to be an acrobat in the circus. Two broken wrists later, I realized I wasn’t quite cut out for it. Thank god I didn’t go to Clown College.

  4. Rachel in Minneapolis

    I especially agree with your advice that even following your passion can lead to burn out. I am fortunate enough to work in my area of passion, after many years of college and graduate school. And I love it.

    BUT, even a passion-filled, “dream job” still includes lots of WORK. I have to do administrative things I don’t love, physical work, repetitive work, detailed reports, etc to get the actual thing I am passionate about to work.

  5. Jamie

    Yes! Much better advice is to find something that pays well that you won’t hate doing for 9 hours a day.

    But then again, I’m passionate about bring pragmatic.

    The other side of this is even if you are one of the rare and lucky few who can follow their passion and make a living know that work will still be frustrating and kind of suck a percentage of the time. That’s just how it works.

    My mom was a nurse and it was truly her calling and her passion – she totally felt it was what she was meant to do. And sometimes she’d come home and her feet hurt.

    I truly, honestly love what I do…in that if I were unemployed I’d be messing around with computers and spending most of my time behind a bank of monitors solving puzzles and pulling order from chaos. I am extremely lucky in that I make a decent living at my absolutely first choice of career. Alison used the word privileged in the article, and I’m not sure if this was her meaning – but I truly do feel privileged that people pay me to do what I do and they even appreciate it. Yet a good portion of the time I spend wondering why I don’t move to the arctic circle into a little shack where no one can find me. Even your passion can frustrate the hell out of you on a regular basis …or maybe I’m just high strung.

    So basically there is no job where you will go to work each day like a unicorn riding a rainbow while eating a cupcake…I just tell my kids to find something you’re good at that won’t make you want to bang your head into the wall more than 4 x a week.

      1. Jamie

        I’m going through a phase where I’m trying to be a real grown-up. I miss her though – so we’ll see how long it lasts.

        1. Chinook

          Don’t say it is so, Jamie. I thought you were grown up with a sense of humor. Maybe you just need a HK with a briefcase instead?

          1. Jamie

            I love you guys. No briefcase, but she does have a keyboard.

            On topic – thinking about my passions just now…

            My family (2 and 4 legged)
            Rescue animals
            Cleaning my house (only my house. Other people’s dirt skeeves me out)
            Searching for the perfect mascara
            Reading mysteries
            Watching TV

            Damn – good thing I can do something with computers because aside from this…I have no skills or marketable interests whatsoever. (Unless I can get my husband to pay me to stay home and clean the house, play with the pets, and read…but he seems to think being able to pay the mortgage is more important.)

        2. Elizabeth

          Even professional grown-ups need to have a sense of humor & whimsy.

          Which reminds me… I need to upload something to Gravatar at some point.

          1. Jamie

            There is an upside to the gravatar things – besides being amusing…they do help differentiate various posters – especially for those of us who don’t have unique names.

            1. khilde

              Yes! When the Hello Kittys went away I had to stop and think for a moment if this is “our” Jamie or if this is another one.

              This past week I thought about changing my screen name to just my first name. Then wasn’t sure if that would throw everyone’s mind out of whack. Like I think of fposte – if she started using her first name with fposte still in parenthesis for a while, I think it would hurt my brain. She’s fposte for pete’s sake!! Not Francine…or whatever. :)

                1. khilde

                  Ha! I can’t even tell you guys how incredibly curious and fascinated I am by the real identies of all of us. But you know, people are my thing so I spend a lot of time thinking about humans.

                  I do think fposte is a female based on…..well…….you know I have no hard evidence for that so now I’m second guessing myself.

                2. fposte

                  I’m female, but since I’m in the Midwest I do answer to “you guys.”

                  (“fposte” is actually from a literary character, Flora Poste of Cold Comfort Farm. She’s got a few fans on the internet–every now and then I run into another “fposte” or “floraposte” and I get confused :-).)

                3. khilde

                  “You guys” — I had no idea that was such a regional thing until I had others pointing it out to me. I’m in South Dakota so I never really know if we classify as midwest. I prefer “northern plains.” But I’m glad you know what I meant :)

                4. Liz in a Library

                  Fposte!! The other day I was creating some fake users for a training session, and I made one for Flora. As I did, I went “Huh, I wonder if it is possible that’s how fposte got her name…” I thought it was too unlikely, but had planned to ask you on the next open thread!

                  /nerd. That’s my very favorite novel!

              1. Jen in RO

                I thought I was the only one who wondered if this is the Jamie or just another Jamie. And who is really excited to learn some personal details about regular posters. *not a stalker, really*

                1. Jamie

                  This is personal, but it’s also a good workplace tip for observant managers. A lot of employees have a tell for when they are less than optimally happy at work.

                  Now I don’t overdo on the personal stuff at work – it’s a practice of mine to never have more than I can toss in my purse if I decide to storm off…but I usually have some form of Kitty on my desk. Small toy, coffee cup, KISS Kitty doll, whatever.

                  When the joy has gone out of it for me my office is a Kitty-free zone. The only personal item on my desk would be my water.

                  It doesn’t mean I’m looking – it means that if someone knocked on the door to my house offering me something else I’d listen.

                  It’s subtle – but since I do that I’ve noticed other people’s tells as well. It’s an interesting little sociological experiment.

                2. Dana

                  I love this too! I’m in the ‘I thought Fposte was a guy’ camp, so my whole persepctive has changed. I love that the name has a literary reference. I was going to use the literay name I usually go by Betsy Bobbins, but for some reason I felt silly doing that here, but now maybe I’ll change it up.

                  Jamie, I agree with the office space thing. I totally cleared out anything personal at my last job when I got unhappy, my last day I had nothing to carry out. My sociological experiement is to have a candy jar in my office. Sometimes I keep it filled, sometimes it’s empty, but I learn a lot about people by observing their habits around this one innocuous jar.

                3. khilde

                  “And who is really excited to learn some personal details about regular posters. *not a stalker, really*”

                  Was this to me?! haha oops -Point taken. :) I self disclose when I’m feeling safe and comfortable – I’ve been doing more of that lately because I enjoy this community so much. I’ve been accused of being too snoopy before – I’m just really curious about people!

        3. anon...

          um.. just came on here to find you to share something I just saw – hello kitty sneakers! Hope you still enjoy your HK stuff even if not on AaM! Here’s the link: www dot vans.com

          :)

  6. Lora

    Thank you for mentioning socioeconomic privilege.

    Sadly, I STILL run into this after 13 years of work experience, in Corporate Development Plans and the like: “you should be doing what you love! why are you in this job if you have hobbies?!?” Just…really? “Um, because I like eating?” is apparently wholly unsatisfactory to such people.

    It also elides the instances of truly crummy aspects of workplaces that can, and should be improved: I’ve seen workplaces that have less than excellent management, less than excellent cultures, poor safety records, etc. but folks were supposed to be happy to work there because they were Following Their Passion. All the responsibility for work being a decent place to be, was on the worker bees who were supposed to cultivate their passion, but management themselves took no responsibility for providing a workplace worthy of that passion. And that can wreck your passion for a field too–I know many, many people who thoroughly enjoyed their field in college and in internships, but when they found their first job in a company with poor culture or poor management, they promptly switched fields. Which is a shame.

    1. Chinook

      Ditto about mentioning socioeconomic privilege. Luckily, I wasn’t taught to follow my passion but to, instead of, find a job that allows me to pay for my passion. It allowed me to find a balance that allowed me to do whatever it takes to eat and sleep somewhere warm while at the same time enjoy life. At times, I have been lucky enough to do both, but I also understood that it was luck.

      1. S.L. Albert

        This. Whenever my sister and I came at our parents with our exotic occupation of the week, they would start listing off things we like to do and ask how we would pay for them.

    2. HAnon

      When I graduated from college, I couldn’t find a “career” job immediately, so I took a position as a seamstress in a factory that manufactured tents and military equipment. I woke up every morning at 4 am and drove an hour through the mountains in the snow to get work before 6am (that’s a story for the grandkids!). Most of my coworkers were first generation immigrants from Moldova, between 18 – 22 years old, who had no degree, spoke little English, and were very excited to have health benefits and dental insurance and a decent paying job (paid above minimum wage). They knew that this was their future, and they were going to work in the factory for the rest of their lives. And they were HAPPY. That blew my mind. It completely changed my perspective of work, and it actually angers me now when I hear people (older than me!) tell me I should be pursuing a career that fulfills my passions — I feel like it’s a sneaky way of saying I should feel dissatisfied in life if my career isn’t my end-all be-all.

      I am searching for a new position right now (I’ve honed in on what I really want to do in my career and I feel good about that) but while I enjoy the particular thing I’m hoping to do (it’s in a creative field), my passion is my life, my religion, my family, my friends, my significant other, volunteer work, art, cooking, etc. Thank you for validating that!

    3. AnotherAlison

      But corporate development is awesome.

      To me, the thing with “passions” is that you would never be exposed to something like corporate development (or a myriad of other business functions) outside of work. You can’t develop a passion for it until you’re doing it, and until you’ve done it awhile and have enough expertise to not feel lost in the weeds every day.

      1. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

        I agree with this too – there’s so much that you don’t know about the working world when you’re young. In high school, everyone I knew wanted to be a doctor. We were all good students, and figured that were were good people, medical school seemed like the obvious choice for everyone. No one says, “I want to be a marketing research analyst when I grow up.” It takes time to find your professional passion.

      2. fposte

        Absolutely. And they don’t have to be grand passions–there can often be considerable satisfactions in unexpected aspects of the job that aren’t its main point.

        1. AMG

          Exactly! My ‘passions’ are learning, being challenged, organizing, putting things in order, making things better and being able to contribute, communicating, writing, and teaching. Being a PM allows me to do these. In my free time, I have the freedom to enjoy being outside, have pets, read, play with my kids, discuss politics and watch movies. Until someone pays me to lay in bed and watch Criminal Minds, my job is satisfying and enjoyable. And it pays the bills!

    4. AnotherEngineer

      The music industry is a classic example of what you have described. Unfortunately, there are always more starry-eyed kids willing to put up with crappy workplaces than there are jobs in the industry, so business owners have no incentive to improve their workplaces.

    5. Jane Doe

      What makes annoyed about the “why don’t you just get a job doing your hobbies/what you love?” is that if you end up doing something you love that doesn’t pay a lot/make you famous, people ask when you’re getting a “real job.” So, you should be an actor/musician/artist, but only if you are one of those rich and famous ones, otherwise you’re irresponsible and perpetually stuck in adolescence.

    6. Rana

      folks were supposed to be happy to work there because they were Following Their Passion.

      Yep, that’s the dark side of being in so-called “vocational” professions like teaching. The joy you get from your work is supposed to be compensation for the long hours, shitty pay, and lack of respect. Funny how that never comes up for other professional jobs, though, like being a doctor or an inside trader or a professional athlete…

  7. Christine

    Where was this advice when I was in college??? Heck, even when I started grad school, this could’ve been useful!

    I think Kay (very first post) makes a really interesting point: That many people build their careers on content; i.e. specific topic, product, or issue. I think this is a mistake that I have definitely been making. I’ve been so focused on wanting to build my career around a specific issue, that I’ve been ignoring how my skills and temperament (sp?) fit into the jobs/roles I’ve had and have been exploring. Hence why I’ve been so lost these past few years.

    What about advice such as “follow your heart” or “what does your heart tell you?” This is in reference to deciding between two separate roles in one industry, e.g. direct teapot sales vs. evaluating training programs in the teapot professional development department.

  8. KayDay

    This is an important point that no one ever talks about, so I’m really happy that you wrote this. Every job is going to have some aspects that are very interesting and some aspects that suck, and all jobs are work. I also like your final paragraph about finding satisfaction at work, (and not just telling people that the only acceptable majors/careers are STEM or Business). My parents gave me really good (and similar) advice about finding balance when picking a career: “Focus on finding something you like that you are good at and that pays the bills, even if you don’t love it, sometimes struggle, and don’t get rich.”

  9. Corporate Cowgirl

    Yes! Thank you for this article! I found that being at a job I “like” (not love) is good enough for me. The things I love to do are my hobbies.

  10. Yup

    #2 is so true in nonprofit work. Some folks assume you’ll spend every day having aMAZing meaningful moments of transcendent change. The reality that you might spend a lot of time filling out grant applications or progress reports, performing really dry due diligence, or trying to figure out how to quantitatively measure the invisible. The great stuff is in there, of course, but it’s not always front and center.

    1. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

      I’m in the non-profit sector, and I can confirm that this bias is strong for people starting out in my field. One, entry level people idealize the sector. Two, they get frustrated in the job search because they don’t have a specific skill set. The non-profit sector needs development folks, database managers, accountants, project managers and all the other specialists who make businesses run. There are very few positions around for entry level program folks – and they’re being chased by every recent grad idealist.

      1. Caffeine Queen

        I’m in the non-profit sector as well, with an eye toward international development and it’s amazing how people idealize the sector. It doesn’t help that people see celebrities looking glamorous while holding babies as they travel through developing nations and think that’s what people in international development actually do. They’re so willing to talk about how “amazing” and “life-changing” that work must be (never having done it themselves). However, mention that a lot of the work is actually admin, research, grant writing, consulting, etc., and that it involves a lot of politics and suddenly, they don’t want to hear about it anymore.

        Of course, those same people are so willing to cut salaries of people in the sector (whether in “the field” or in admin, HR, IT, etc) because it’s somehow immoral that we want to make a living……..

    2. Jamie

      I have actually thought of that – believe it or not. Sometimes I think if I worked as an IT or whatever else I do at a rescue non-profit I would feel like even the same work had more meaning.

      But it would probably be the same old grind and I wouldn’t have the same resources to donate or take care of my own rescued babies in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed.

      It is something that’s crossed my mind, though, more often when I’m a little burnt out and struggling to find meaning.

      1. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

        I think that animal rescue doesn’t get a lot of funding, so I suspect their IT people do work fewer resources. Other fields within the non-profit sector (education and health off the top of my head) get a bit more funding.

      2. Elizabeth

        One of the most meaningful moments I’ve had in my job had almost nothing to do with my job.

        The first time was right after 9/11/01. One of the web comics I read at the time posted a link to a TechTV segment about the American Red Cross and their need for technical help at the WTC site. For work, I was also on a business continuity & disaster recovery email list, and all of the BC/DR professionals were asking “what can we do to help?” So, I posted the link, explaining where I had gotten it.

        About 3 hours later, I got a phone call from the head of BC/DR in the European market for a major multi-national company in the technology industry. He thanked me for giving them the information, because it had allowed them to contact the right people in NYC, both in their company & at the ARC, and they were going to be providing all of the assistance that the ARC needed. He wanted to know what he could do for me as thanks for making the connection.

        I was floored. I couldn’t have been the only person who saw the plea from the ARC. But I was the only person who put together the plea with the people who have the right skills to be able to assist them.

        The company has paid for what is effectively a lifetime subscription for me to the journal of the BC/DR society. I’ve learned a lot about the process and about other industries besides healthcare reading it. (The Coast Guard BC/DR planning process is amazing, by the way.)

        I don’t get a lot of opportunities to make a difference to people, even in healthcare. But sometimes, being able to put together just the right pieces of disparate information can make a huge difference, even if you’re not right on the scene.

      3. Sydney Bristow

        I thought about trying to work in animal law but I realized that I couldn’t do a job where I would likely wind up crying every day. I am eternally grateful to the people who do that work but I’m just not strong enough to do it even though I would consider myself to be passionate about animals.

  11. Bryan

    I got a degree with the intent of making my passion a career. But taking it from a hobby to career sucked the joy out of it and right now I’m on hiatus from doing it at all. Meanwhile I have a carrer doing something else that I love and find meaningful. One doesn’t have to give up enjoyment to have a more practical career.

  12. Anonymous

    I studied Romance Languages which I enjoyed immensely BUT, halfway through my program I quickly added Economics to the mix, with an eye on being employable after graduation.

    The rich, trust-funded students can well afford to follow their passions in school, and some do, and to the benefit of society. They can afford to pursue advanced degrees in archaic subjects in the arts and sciences, contributing to general knowledge, knowing quite well those jobs pay little or nothing at all. I used to work with children of multi millionaires and billionaires from around the globe–children so wealthy, some even had their own McDonald’s, yachts, estates with legions of staff at their beck and call— who are required to attain higher education. Are they ever going to work? Some, but most will not.

    This is particularly true of the women who want a PhD in Medieval Art, not to work, but to find a husband from a ‘good family’ and be able to educate her children as they see fit. Some here by be horrified by this view but I personally know of quite a few of these Ivy-League educated women with multiple advanced degrees in non-marketable areas that view marriage and children as they primary, if not, sole goal in life; and that’s their right.

    In any event, the rest of us must keep an eye on employability. Nothing stops us from becoming versed in African Art as a hobby. But those extremely expensive years in college should be devoted to landing a job.

  13. Elizabeth

    Thanks for this article. I frequently feel embarrassed to tell people that I am not passionate about my work. I don’t mind it and I’m good at it, but I don’t wake up jazzed to go to the office.

    I appreciate the reminder that it’s okay to “work to live” rather than “live to work.” I count myself lucky that I don’t hate my job, and that it pays me enough to pursue the things I really am passionate about.

    1. Sascha

      I know what you mean, and I’m glad Alison brought up the guilt some of us experience for not being “in love” with our jobs. Who is??? Even the best jobs have downsides. If I could be a professional hoopdancer I would, but the downsides to that are: extensive travel, 90% night and weekend work, dealing with tons of people when you book shows, etc. None of those things seem conducive to my preferred lifestyle, which is sitting around the house with my dogs.

    2. Jean

      Another “thanks for this article.” Hopefully one of the benefits of our currently hard-to-survive-in economy (I speak as someone currently seeking employment) is that people will start to view the workplace with less grandiosity. I don’t mean that everybody needs to study only STEM or accounting or auto mechanics–I’ve always been grateful that I was able to major in English and History in college–but I would love to see less glorification of the idea that everyone can start a business and make a fortune.

      As many others have commented here, a key challenge for grown-up employees is making one’s peace with imperfect job prospects–and figuring out which aspects of work life, other than the subject matter involved, are and are _not_ a good match for one’s basic temperament, interpersonal skills, and overall ambitions and preferences.

      I’d like to see a follow-up article on another compromise demanded from most grownups. Not only is it impossible for everybody to end up being the CEO, but we _really_ need skilled people at the middle levels of all kinds of organizations: efficient admins and exec assistants for the CEOs, capable copy editors for the chief editors or Web content developers, pleasant and compassionate orderlies to transport the patients to and from the surgeons in the operating rooms, polite ticket-takers and luggage handlers with the airlines, conscientious and reliable waste and recycling collectors, etc., etc.

      Too often our culture seems to glorify only the people on top of the pyriamid–without thinking about all of the ordinary but essential folks who put in an honest day of work and then go home to coach Little League, serve as election officials, run the volunteer fire department, nurture foster children so they can grow up to be happy & productive citizens, etc. Also, sometimes it’s the people who worked to live who make it possible for their kids or nieces or nephews to earn impressive graduate degrees and build the connections that allow them to live to work. We need both kinds of people in our world.

      (And, yes, Alison, I am seriously thinking about starting my own blog instead of taking up space posting long, long comments on the blogs of other people.)

      1. khilde

        “but I would love to see less glorification of the idea that everyone can start a business and make a fortune.”

        I totally agree with this. Actually, as someone that supports capitalism and all the awesomeness that small businesses can be, I want to make clear that I think people can and should be entrepreneurs (Jean, I don’t believe that was your insinuation, but I feel the need to point it out for myself – just to reinforce it for myself in writing, I guess).

        Anyway, what I definitely agree with from your piece of the comment is that it’s ok if someone is just content to do their job and not climb the ladder. I am really, really happy to be a trainer, get really damn good at what I do so that I can be credible and impactful. I think I can be just as influential in my “low man on the totem pole” job as I could be as a manager. I think it’s a good message for people to have that it’s ok if you are just really content to be at your chosen level and giving it your all.

        When I want to dwell and have a bit of a pity party for myself, I look around at some of my good friends from college. They’re all working their way up the chains, putting in these long hours, and super important people in their organizations. I don’t aspire to that for myself, but sometimes I doubt and think “Is this what I *should* be wanting for myself? Is there something wrong with me that I’m a young person not interested in promotions?” Luckily I have enough self esteem to keep on my current path….but the glorification, as you said Jean, is definitely distracting.

        1. Christine

          I think it’s a good message for people to have that it’s ok if you are just really content to be at your chosen level and giving it your all.

          This, a thousand times this! I think climbing the ladder is emphasized to the point that one feels embarrassed about being in lower-level jobs, especially for those with undergraduate and maybe even graduate degrees. Thus, the wrong people become managers and executives. (just to be clear, I’m sure there are plenty of excellent managers–AAM included ;)–but there are just as many out there not as suited for the role simply because of the pressure to “move up” in the ranks.)

          1. khilde

            Yes!! We are totally on the same page. I’m a school nerd and had the major fortune to obtain two Master’s Degrees via my time in the service. I mostly did it because I had the funds to do it, didn’t want to waste it, and wanted to information for my own sake. I honestly wasn’t expecting to obtain a high level of employment just because of those degrees. So when I interviewed for my current position, my {now} supervisors asked me several times, “Are you sure you’re not interested in applying for the Human Resource Manager position?” that was also open at the time. I assured her that I most definitely was NOT.

            Your comment, “…one feels embarrassed about being in lower-level jobs, especially for those with undergraduate and maybe even graduate degrees..” is so true. I sort of got to feeling embarassed that maybe I’m shortchanging myself by not actually going for higher paying positions based on my education. But I always come back to the theme of Alison’s article and many of the comments: I’m better at what I’m doing now and happy to be doing it at this level.

            1. Jamie

              The thing to remember, too, is that it’s all relative.

              You guys are talking about “lover level jobs” but to some people I know who are in jobs which are truly entry level factory work just working in the office is a high level job.

              And it never ends, either. I am by nature a ladder climber and have done okay title wise…but I still get “CIO – but it’s a smallish company right? Only one location, couple hundred people? When are you going to jump to a bigger company and make real money. Or are you just content to stay where you are?” With the tone that staying where I am is akin to sitting in a damp cave full of spiders.

              There will always be people who will give some variation on the above comment and momentarily make me feel like I lack ambition, am lazy, etc. Then my F You gene kicks in and those feelings vanish…but the point is there will always be someone who has a more awesome job (and sure as heck will always be people who make more money) and there will always be people who have jobs I am so grateful I don’t have to do.

              Everyone just has to find their niche and when something fits like a pair of favorite Hello Kitty Vans (and we can support ourselves) then we should stay as long as we like.

              1. khilde

                True, it’s all about perspective. Thanks for the reminder. There’s always a qualifier to add in these conversations!

                But on a somewhat related note – “a LOVER level job?” What’s that job description like? :)

                1. Jamie

                  That’s it – that’s the last post I type sans glasses!

                  FTR – I did not mean to imply that either of you were in the love industry – I just can’t type. :)

                2. Christine

                  LOL it’s okay Jamie – I actually didn’t even notice the typo until khilde pointed it out.

            2. Christine

              Exactly. I have a Masters in Social Work but have been trying for a long time to find something that doesn’t entail a lot of direct client contact. However, other than purely clinical positions, many of the non-direct contact jobs are supervisory, which I have zero interest in. I sometimes wonder if the Masters was such a good idea after all, though I loved it and got a lot of praise for my written academic work.

              1. Jax

                My husband is a LCP and he’s working as a clinical auditor for a health insurance company. It got him out of direct care and pays more, but comes with it’s own headaches. If you don’t want to be a supervisor or work directly with clients, you might want to look into working on the business end of mental health.

                1. Anonymous Accountant

                  100% agreed. These “career changes” from direct client work to the business end of things is more common than many realize!

                  Some just get burned out or just need a change.

        2. Windchime

          I don’t aspire to that for myself, but sometimes I doubt and think “Is this what I *should* be wanting for myself? Is there something wrong with me that I’m a young person not interested in promotions?”

          Exactly! I’ve been lurking for months (but only posting recently), and in all those months, I’ve had this little thought going off in the back of my head! It seems that the “career-pathy” thing to do is to strive to eventually manage people, which is really not something I’m wild about. I’m a developer on a data warehouse team, and now that I’m a “Senior Lead”, there really doesn’t seem to be anyplace left to go, except for Project Manager (please just kill me if that ever happens) or Manager (of people). What I really want to do is just keep getting more and more advanced skills, doing more fun and tricky and complicated stuff, and making a lot of money doing it. Managing people (or projects) just seems like it would take me further away from the technical work that I really enjoy.

          So am I a career loser?

          1. khilde

            Well, *I* don’t think so since we’re in the same boat!! I totally hear what you’re saying. I’d love to have some more experienced persons weigh in on this. Those that either chose to climb or stay put.

            I guess for me, I’m going home at the end of the day being satisfied with what I’m doing, my contribution, and my stress level doing it. For now that has to be enough for me.

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            Honestly, I am thrilled and relieved when I meet/manage people like you, because not everyone is cut out for managing, it’s much harder than people who want to do it normally realize, and it’s a pleasure and delight to manage someone who just wants to be increasingly awesome at what they’re already doing.

            1. Windchime

              I think several of the posters in this part of the thread are a good bit younger than I am. Alison, do you still feel the same way about middle-aged people who don’t want to advance to management? I always feel somewhat self-conscious that I’m not trying to work myself up the management ladder, even though it’s really not something that I want!

            2. darsenfeld

              Everybody holds different competences, granted.

              But people IMO misunderstand the ideal of climbing the corporate ladder. It’s not based on some contemporary PC ideal. I’d rather the notion that anybody can work hard and reach a high position be promoted, rather than only a few hold a “right” to advance.

              And frankly, I find many career experts tell others that “being content in one’s role is enough” when they often are or were managers. If managerial tasks are good for them, why not for others? It just seems a bit hypocritical IMO.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                What? We’re talking about people who are specifically saying they’re not interested in managing and don’t appreciate feeling pressured to want to.

                1. darsenfeld

                  I apologise if my comments were offensive, but I’ve read numerous career advisers online who cite that “management is not for everybody and one should accept their place/be happy where they are” when they often claimed to be CEO, VPs, or even middle managers. If management is not for all, then how come they sought it and have attained it? That reeks of hypocrisy to me.

                  Again, I’m sorry if what I stated was out of line.

          3. Rachel

            PREACH.

            No, seriously. PREACH.

            I am in the *exact* same boat as well. I work in the grocery industry and I absolutely love it (however, my passion is yoga, and luckily job A in grocery which I love allows me to pursue job B, yoga teaching, on the side). I have been told by Job A that management is mine if I should ever want it. I consistently thank them for their strong faith in my abilities, but pass.

            The idea of managing makes me cringe inside. No, seriously. It does. The idea of disciplining, having “hard” conversations, writing people up, navigating coworker conflicts, hearing constant complaints, firing people…I would rather chew sand. I actually really do wonder sometimes what draws people to management and why one would want to take all that on, but alas, whatever floats their boat! For me, however, the pay does not outweigh the added burdens that would make me miserable. Plus, at the risk of sounding insecure, I am very bad at knowing that people hate and resent me for being in charge, especially when I used to work WITH them. Management gets gossiped about a lot where I am, and it would really hurt my feelings to know that I was surely one of the ones getting slammed behind my back.

            I am very, very good at my job and am an extremely valued member of our team, but I want to follow, not lead. I will follow well, and I want added smaller responsibilities which I do get, and it’s the type of place where I can take initiative and get more put on my plate if I choose, but I have zero desire to “move up the ranks.” I am quite content, right where I am, and I find it a shame that there aren’t more managers (like Alison!) who are okay with that. It’s totally ok to not want to grow your career somewhere beyond a certain point, but for some reason, that’s seen as taboo. There’s this idea that just because you’re CAPABLE of something means that you should WANT it, and if you don’t want it, something must be wrong or you lack ambition or something. When reality is, no, sometimes, there are just other things in my life that matter more.

            Yeah for mid-level folks! :)

          4. darsenfeld

            Well, to me at the least, the entire point of a career rests on two premises. One is life support (so to speak) by means of compensation/remuneration, and the other is self-actualisation. To people living now, there is no other means to achieve one’s potential.

            Not everybody IS cut out to be a manager, determine strategy for an entire firm, coach/counsel employees, resolve/manage conflict, etc. however this does not mean it’s somehow “bad” to pursue such a thing, or that society is somehow “too PC” to promote such a thing.

            1. Windchime

              Yeah, your comments are confusing me. Nobody is saying that it’s bad to climb the ladder. Could I move into management? Probably; I’m fortunate that my employer rewards hard work and tends to promote from within whenever possible. Does that mean that I want to manage people? Nope, at least not right now. To be honest, my months of lurking here and reading the archives have educated me quite a bit and I realize now that managing people isn’t just a matter of sitting in an office and doing yearly reviews. It’s a lot, lot more, and quite frankly it sounds like a huge headache to me! I’d much rather stay in my cube with my noise-canceling headphones on and write super-cool SQL code.

        3. darsenfeld

          Life is largely about talent and luck, and yes not everybody can be a CEO.

          But the major reason achievement is promoted is that we live in a society of equal opportunities. It’s not about some holding more of a right to top positions, or “accepting their role”. I think some career analysts/coaches who bemoan this attitude somehow are offended that another holds the same basic opportunities as they do.

          Some also, and I suspect this may be the primary reason, that most who bemoan the modern attitude are merely envious that in their era/time period, people were not encouraged to start off from the same base and achieve their potential no matter who are they are and where they come from. So yeah… people born over the past 20/30 years must feel “guilty” of being envied by 60/70 year olds….

          1. khilde

            darsenfeld, you’ve said a lot of different things here and I must admit that I’m having a tough time tracking your major points. But since you have responded a few times in this conversation, you obviously have an interest in the topic so I do want to try to understand your perspective.

            After reading all your comments a few times, it seems to me you’re saying a few main things:

            1). That some of the ‘experts’ giving advice have been in management positions before, yet they’re also encouraging people to stay in their individual contributer roles because not everyone can/should be a manager. And to you that seems hypocritical. Like they’re the privilged few that have risen to those ranks, yet how can they tell all the underlings to stay at the low levels?

            2). I gather that you believe very much in individual merit and accomplishment (so do I/we!) and that should be celebrated more than priviledged people that have gotten to their position by other means?

            3). You also mentioned that there’s nothing wrong with *wanting* to be a manager or climb the ranks and seemed to defend that position. I think those of us that have weighed in on this sub-conversation totally agree with you on that point. Dude, we NEED managers and leaders and CEOs and decisions makers. It’s just that those of us in this discussion don’t really want to be that person, for our own various reasons. Be we don’t look with derision on those that do want to make it to those levels.

            4). Your last statement above intrigues me: “So yeah… people born over the past 20/30 years must feel “guilty” of being envied by 60/70 year olds….” I’m always interested in generational perspectives and am curious what you meant by this? I have never felt that I should feel guilty about my age, my lot in life, my decision, my career path, etc (I pretty much only feel guilty for feeding my kid junk food last night before bed and then wondered why bedtime was a nightmare). So before I jump to conclusions on this point I just wanted to see what you meant by it.

            1. darsenfeld

              To respond to your points:

              1 – If a manager providing advice tells others that management is not a big deal, then why did s/he pursue it or engage in it? I’ve seen many career advice experts cite this.

              2 – Well I believe that people should be free to fulfil potential, if that’s what you mean.

              3 – If somebody wishes to rise to a higher position, they shouldn’t be scolded for it, if they have sufficient ambition.

              4 – I think many older people attack our generation due to envy, and we logically cannot take blame for the era we’re born into. If 60 or 70 year olds “had it tough” for not living in as open a society, so what? What are we supposed to do about it?

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                I’m not really sure what you mean by #1, but if someone isn’t interested in management, it makes no sense to push them into it. I feel like you’re talking about something that isn’t actually what’s being discussed here.

              2. khilde

                I think you and I are more in agreement than disagreement on these points.

                For #1, I don’t see it as so much hypocrisy on the point of the manager doling out that advice as much as self-awareness. I think managers and non managers are able to recognize that management is for everyone. Maybe it’s in the delivery of the message? I’d be turned off, too, if the manager dispensing advice was kind of a pompous jerk about them. But here’s Alison giving the same advice and is able to do it in a way that’s non judgy and helpful.

                1. khilde

                  Darn. I meant to say:

                  “I think managers and non-managers are able to recognize that management is NOT for everyone.”

  14. Soni

    A friend and I were just fb’ing about this. My advice was that instead of following your “topical” passion (i.e. chocolate teapot craftsmanship), you should focus on the theme or underlying pattern of things you love to do and do well – traits and behaviors you love to indulge in, environments you work best in, the types of activities that you enjoy. For example, in my own case there are a few main key “themes: Experience curation (creating or facilitating experiences for others), coolhunting (finding cool stuff like this blog and sharing it with friends, trendspotting, etc) and cross-pollination (pulling all those disparate ideas/trends/etc into new configurations as a route to problem-solving, creation and innovation). I also do best when I have the chance to help others achieve something they want, engage in teaching/skill development (workshop style, not educational school style) and am in a creative field/activity.

    There are a nearly limitless array of positions that feed those thematic passions, across a wide variety of fields. For example, my previous position was editorial/product development oriented in the personal development field, in which I took existing content and helped the authors adapt it to new forms for a new audience, while my current position is working retail in the arts and crafts field, where a big part of my job is helping customers choose and customize projects and either solve or teach them how to solve problems they’re having. So much fun!

    1. Sascha

      “You should focus on the theme or underlying pattern of things you love to do and do well – traits and behaviors you love to indulge in, environments you work best in, the types of activities that you enjoy. ”

      Exactly. I started out in linguistics – because I love the study of language, but the reason I love it is because I like finding patterns and extracting those patterns into useful, enlightening data. I struggled during my degree program because I wasn’t passionate about the topics my fellow students were studying, and the careers they were pursuing. Now I am a project manager who is on the path to being a database administrator/BI analyst, and I love it. If I kept plowing ahead with my topical passion, I would have been jobless or in a crappy job, and with a lot more debt, and less overall satisfaction.

      1. Jamie

        So weird. The whole DBA/BI thing is my absolute favorite part of IT bar none and I also have always been fascinated by linguistics.

        I’ve never studied it formally – but absolutely one of my favorite topics to get lost in.

        Wonder if those two things are in the same part of the brain…the part that breaks stuff down into data bytes and roots.

        1. fposte

          I suspect that’s true. A facility with languages was apparently a good indication of codebreaking aptitude during WWII–it’s all absorption with systems and their irregularities.

          1. fposte

            And yes, I know “linguistics” is not the same as “the study of foreign languages,” but as another linguistics lover I think that delight in patterns is what makes people have that facility with languages.

        2. Sascha

          I think it is. I have encountered a lot of people who love linguistics and they are doing something along the DBA/BI lines. Linguistics is all about patterns and problem solving, after all.

        3. Windchime

          Ha, I just posted about this. I’m a developer on a datawarehouse/BI team. I don’t have a degree (shhhhhh, don’t tell!), but I love, love, love database stuff.

    2. Leslie Yep

      1. “Coolhunting” is the best word I’ve ever heard.

      2. Yes to the rest of this. I went to a liberal arts college, and people love so much to denigrate the liberal arts as not practical, what-are-you-going-to-do-with-THAT?!, etc. My school was amazing and I’m a full-on proselyte for it and the liberal arts generally, but it did a really, really crappy job of helping us to learn and articulate the value of our degree–how our research/the way we’ve learned how to think translates into valuable workplace skills. When I think about my value to my team, the #1 skill I bring to the table is my training in qualitative research methods. Sure, we’re not doing full-scale ethnographic studies, but I’m much better than the typical person at seeing and rigorously testing themes and patterns in behavior. When I graduated, I could never have articulated the value of this to a workplace.

    3. khilde

      “focus on the theme or underlying pattern of things you love to do and do well”

      Oh this is so good. I have always known I was better at people than things. So when I went into the Air Force, my career choices I asked for were pretty limited. Public Affairs or Personnel. I got Personnel. Quickly I learned that Personnel was not what I thought!! It was the equivalent of HR Management – it was about the processes and things surrounding people. But it wasn’t so much about the people itself. I was fortunate to get some additional education while serving and discovered that there’s a different side to HR and it’s Development! I realized that’s where I need to be and pursued the development side of people. When you talk about patterns – if I examine my life’s patterns and the places/instances I’ve been successful, it’s always been about teaching and sharing ideas with other people. I have been a bit crazy/dreaming lately that I”d love to homeschool my kids one day. It would mean leaving my very lovely job, but I am less apprehensive about it because of that fact that I’d still get to be teaching people.

      So yes – your point is so spot on.

    4. Natalie

      This is exactly how my dad’s career has gone.

      He got a BFA with a focus in pottery and initially tried being a commercial potter. His first job was 300 identical sets of salt & pepper shakers, all wheel-built. This was a sign that being a commercial potter would suck all of the fun out of pottery, so he shifted into commercial illustration.

      Over the last 30 years his career has continued to evolve. As it happens, he owns his own business. So while he is more focused on website construction and online commerce, he still gets to bust out the commercial illustration skills on a regular basis. And he has a pottery studio in his garage for his free time.

    5. Lindsay

      I have to say I love the term “experience curating” and I may have to steal it in describing why I love what I do (I work in an old time photo studio).

  15. AdAgencyChick

    Hobby jobs pay hobby wages unless you’re one of the best in the world. I was lucky enough to hear a version of this when I was in high school — I was playing with an orchestra composed of other high school students, and we were led by the assistant conductor of a major American orchestra. He told us, “Don’t do music as a career unless you HAVE to do it. If you just cannot sleep, breathe, or live if you’re not making music, then study something else in college. You can always have music on the side. But if you make it your life’s work, you’re in for a very rough road.”

    He was right. These days I get all the performance time I want with an amateur group. If I decide I want to join a new group, the worst thing that can happen out of the audition is I won’t get in — not that I won’t eat.

    I like, not love, my job. But that’s okay — it pays more than well enough to allow me to be in the amateur musical group (which is not free!), for one thing!

    1. AdAgencyChick

      BTW, by “hobby jobs” I mean “jobs associated with things a lot of people do for fun” — not that they are easy or casual!

      1. LMW

        Yes, yes, yes! One of my old roommates called my old job a hobby job for this exact reason – people would do it for fun, and they would do it for nothing, purely out of love.

        I loved my job in publishing, but it was truly a hobby job because not only will people work for peanuts out of love for writing or editing, but I worked for a hobby publishing company, so people would work for peanuts out of love for beads or trains or sewing or something. But now that I’m working in the corporate world, I get paid well do something that I’m good at (helping people turn information into interesting stories and infographics and blogs), and my old hobbies are more fun because it’s not the center of my universe. And I’m struggling to pay the bills anymore.

    2. mas

      This is what the double major was made for – there’s no reason you can’t study your passion and also something practical, and if you’re smart, you can make them work together. Marketing, Business, Communications/Writing, Management – all good skills that I think make great second majors, and frankly something that a lot of artistic types desperately need training in.

      Similarly, if you are going to go for your passion, for goodness sake go all in and really do the work, because there are lots of other actors, writers, singers, fashion designers and dancers who are just as passionate as you, but work harder. The only way you’ll be the lucky one who “makes it” as a famous novelist or movie star or whatever is if you put yourself in the position where you are prepared through your work, study and experience to get lucky!

    3. AL Lo

      He told us, “Don’t do music as a career unless you HAVE to do it. If you just cannot sleep, breathe, or live if you’re not making music, then study something else in college. You can always have music on the side. But if you make it your life’s work, you’re in for a very rough road.”

      I’ve heard this advice at virtually every level of education. I have my degrees in theatre — and I’m a big proponent of “impractical” careers. I’m in the arts; as a producer, I need those individuals who do this for a living — who need to act, or dance, or sing. I can’t do my job without theirs, but yes, they (we) have to need to do it. It’s hard, but if it’s the only thing you can imagine yourself doing, it’s worth it.

      One of the universities here has just announced that they’re planning to cut all of their theatre and music programs, and it’s devastating news. The arts community is shaken, because we need this influx of emerging artists (and the working professionals who teach them) in order for the arts sector to remain vibrant. Losing one school doesn’t mean that the whole sector falls apart, but it’s a significant loss, especially when they’re cutting nationally-renowned programs in certain disciplines.

      The arts matter. The “impractical” courses of study are so vitally important to the growth of culture. It’s not for everyone to study, but it’s making me sick that these are being cut.

      (Sorry, I went off on a tangent there, and I can’t go back to edit before heading out to a meeting, but I’ll come back to these thoughts. This is such an interesting topic for me today, in light of this news.)

      1. glennis

        I agree with you that the arts matter. I am in the theatre myself. Although I have had to accept that the theatre work I do supports productions that are both of “artistic merit” and shlock, and it pays the bills.

    4. Elizabeth West

      What he said could be interchanged with writing. It’s a lot of work, no one wants to pay you, and sometimes you’d rather sit and watch hogs screw than finish a troublesome chapter.

      But I can’t stop. Because sometimes it’s awesome, and there is always the possibility (even if it’s small) that someone will publish something I have written. And that people will buy it, and like it.

      So whatever job I have is to pay the bills. Since apparently no one on earth wants to marry me and have kids with me (and that is what I wanted FIRST), I have to have a job that is better than crap. Which, of course, requires more school, more energy, etc. And by the way–what nimrod thought second block classes were a good idea? A whole semester in six weeks? WTH?

      I’m just so TIRED right now.

  16. ggg

    Cal Newport has some great articles making the same point.

    As an 18 year old, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I chose a major which was likely to result in a decent living with the idea that, if I started to hate it, I could switch to something else. Turns out I never hated it enough to quit and here I am happily and successfully working in that general area 20 years later.

  17. Mike C.

    Great advice, and nice point about socioeconomic privilege.

    For folks who want to take the next step and look at some data, some of the best I’ve found that isn’t tainted with the stench of someone trying to sell you something is the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS .gov).

    Additionally, one of the things that gets left out is a certain expectation from managers that employees must always passionate about the job at hand, regardless of the position. If you want passionate employees, treating them like adults goes a long way.

    1. tangoecho5

      “If you want passionate employees, treating them like adults goes a long way.”

      Yes! And give us some nice perks every once in a while to remind us you appreciate us.

  18. ThatGirl

    A very good friend of mine told me a few years ago, that she wanted a job that gave her the ability to afford her hobbies.

    That simple statement truly resonated with me in a way that ‘career advice’ never did.

    While my job isn’t the most exciting in the world (some days it’s downright boring), it does provide me with a really good salary, excellent benefits, and free college tuition for my kids.

    Seriously, none of my passions would provide me with anything close to that.

    1. Jamie

      free college tuition for my kids

      I would take a job moving rocks from one end of the quarry to another, by hand, and then back again for that perk.

      Nice!

      1. mas

        Side note – I had a friend who was one of ten kids. His parents were professionals of some sort, but when the kids hit college age, his dad quit his job and became an entry level janitor at a university, because the dependent tuition benefit was something like 90%. The kids had no choice in where they went to school, and mom and dad threatened them with the fear of god if they didn’t get into this particular school, but it made financial sense for everyone, not to mention a funny story they liked to tell.

        1. Anonymous

          I’m glad they made it work, but I almost wonder if the decade-plus of lost professional growth and wages (although university janitors are paid pretty well) were worth it – if the kids could get into what sounded like a competitive university, it stands to reason they could probably get some scholarships at lesser-ranked ones.

    2. Sascha

      That’s precisely how my husband views it. And when he gave me that advice, it dramatically shifted my whole career paradigm, and I’m a lot less stressed.

  19. Liz in the City

    I wish that I had heard this advice much sooner in my life. Both of my parents are doing things they really like and were called to do at young ages — so as a kid who grew up wanting to be a trapeze artist (not kidding), a veterinarian (forget that I have hive-inducing allergies to all pets big and small), and then “who knows?” it would have been nice to know that instead I should focus on the kind of LIFE I wanted to have, versus the job itself. I ended up majoring in a career that would have demanded weirdo hours in the office (think graveyard shift), which isn’t how I want to live for the rest of my life. Thank goodness the skills are transferable. Now I have the schedule I want for the kind of life I want to live: 9-5, able to leave work at the office and have a family life, which is what I’m really passionate about.

    1. Elizabeth West

      See my post above–same same.
      Except I’m not allowed the family life and the vocational stuff is a very poor substitute. Maybe I should have chosen a weirdo hours major!

        1. khilde

          Being an American, I think that dry wit and cutting humor is better executed with a British accent. :)

    1. Emma

      Oh my god. I love David Mitchell. I sometimes speak to myself in a very Mark Corrigan-ish way.

  20. Kim (Career Advisor)

    If you agree with Alison’s points here (which I, for the most part, do), you should definitely read “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport. It’s a quick read that does a great job outlining the reasons why the “passion principle” comes up short in determining job and career happiness.

    Working with liberal arts students (and coming from that background myself), this issue is constantly on my mind.

  21. Nodumbunny

    Thank you! My 17 year old will be reading this tonight. Now if I could just get my 50+ year relative who is trying to transition careers for the 3rd time to be something s/he is “passionate” about to hear this advice.

  22. Anonimal

    A couple people have touched on the idea of finding the underlying theme instead of focusing on specifics. I got my undergrad and grad degrees in counseling. I wanted to be a family and marriage therapist. Until 3/4 of the way through grad school, I had a client for 6 months and the paperwork/dictation just killed all that joy for me. So, no, I’m not a counselor now. Even though I’m awesome at it. Instead I’m in higher education. use all those skills all the time and have a great path ahead of me. The underlying theme was helping people. It just took a while to refine it to higher education. And that’s okay too.

    1. fposte

      And I think this points to a complementary problem: another under-considered aspect of career choice is your level of tolerance for that position’s scut work. Every position has some crappy obligations. Consider not only how much satisfaction you’ll get from the good stuff but also what your frustration level will be with the crappy stuff.

      1. Elizabeth West

        Yes, perfectly put. Even the best job you could imagine will have the stinky, boring stuff. If you have to do six hours of the stinky stuff and only twenty minutes of the good stuff a day, it gets old fast.

  23. Anonymous

    I do a bit of online dating and had to laugh last weekend when I saw a woman’s profile that said something like “don’t bother contacting me if you’re not passionate about your job”. I generally like my job and I make fantastic money (which allows me to do other non-work things I am passionate about) but am I supposed to keep switching jobs until I find one I love?

    I think it’s all part of the Hollywood fairy tale that everyone can go to art school and then be a romantic struggling artist while they live in a $3M NYC loft and date models. The reality is you end up working at a book store for minimum wage (probably subsidized by your family) while living in a crappy apartment in a horrible, unhip neighborhood with 3 roommates until you get sick of it and quit art to do something else.

    A more realistic goal for dating is to just avoid people who hate their job because they are annoying and draining.

    1. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

      Online dating profiles are scary. I had one guy message me to “provide feedback” on my profile picture. And there’s so many “I won’t consider you if…” profiles out there. I wish dating was as easy as job hunting. Really.

      1. Anonymous

        Agreed but I try to keep an open mind. For those of us over a certain age (maybe 35 or so), online communication isn’t a natural thing so I think awkwardness can come off as creepy sometimes. I tell my friends all the time that if you wouldn’t do or say something in real life, being online doesn’t magically make it OK. You would never walk up to someone in a bar, say “Hey” and then just stand there but many wouldn’t hesitate to send that in a first email. But of course, some people are online because they’re simply too creep to date in real life. Also, some (most?) people are not good at writing about themselves so I try to cut them some slack there as well.

        1. Jamie

          Really? I’m well over 35 (ahem) and have been talking to strangers online since I had to do it over a 2900 baud rate.

          I just assume people of a certain age have had longer online to refine their manners.

          1. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

            I’m under 35 and get BlackBerry tips from my boomer colleagues. But I also taught my boomer mother how to double click. I’ve found that most of the successful boomer professionals I’ve worked with have adjusted to new technologies.

            1. Alicia

              A complete tangent, but where you just said “double click”, it made me start singing a,… ahem, curious, show-tune…

          2. Anonymous

            I meant the average person over 35 because they didn’t grow up with MySpace, Facebook and smartphones. Even if they don’t work with computers, the average 25-year-old is pretty savvy with the Internet if not computers in general. Those of us who work in IT sometimes forget that there are plenty of normal people who have almost no technology in their life. Some of my friends bought their first computer ever within the last 5 years and would never even consider a smartphone. They can check their personal email at work and don’t see the need to own a PC. This crowd is not comfortable with things like online dating.

            1. Rana

              the average 25-year-old is pretty savvy with the Internet if not computers in general

              Again, to follow up on my previous comment, you might be surprised. I taught 18-22 years for years, and I generally had superior computer – AND internet – skills compared to most of these supposed “digital natives.”

              Some people are just awkward online; I don’t think it really has to do with age.

          3. Omne

            Got you beat, I started chatting with 110 baud acoustic couplers on timeshare systems…..we dreamed of 300 baud…..

        2. Rana

          For those of us over a certain age (maybe 35 or so), online communication isn’t a natural thing

          I don’t know about that. I’m 43, and I’ve been online since there’s been an online for me to be on. (The same’s true for my dad, who’s going to be 72 this year.)

          1. EM

            Seriously. I’ve been online for longer than many of the ‘digital natives’ have been alive.

      2. Sydney Bristow

        I found my partner through an online dating site and I think the “I won’t consider you if…” stuff is doing everyone a favor. It saved me from wasting my time contacting those people if I didn’t meet their criteria. I phrased my own differently and focused on what I was looking for in someone else and then just didn’t respond to the people who clearly hadn’t read my profile. 3 weeks, 5 dates with 4 guys later, I met someone and fell in love.

  24. ThatGirl

    As an aside, my kid is currently attending school for a degree in Biological Science. She dreams of being a Forensic Scientist (I know too much CSI/NCIS).

    I don’t want to discourage her dreams but I kind of think she’s being unrealistic in this goal. I think that because
    1. That field seems ridiculously small
    2. She’s smart but doesn’t like to do repetitive work. You know, she’s great for handling big stuff but not the little detailed stuff.
    3. She’s a true extrovert, I’m not sure she would be happy working in a lab environment where people are incredibly focused on the task at hand and there’s not a whole lot of social hour.
    4. She has OK grades in the sciences, she does much better at business/communication/language type classes.

    Any of the scientists here (or anyone), have any suggestions to help me let it go or steering her into a much more realistic field for her personality?

    Thanks.

    1. Leslie Yep

      Has she ever shadowed someone with the career she wants? Or gotten some hands-on experience via internship or similar? This might help her let go of the idealized vision of this job she has in her head. Or she might discover that actually, the reality is very much what she wants, and you’ll be able to rest easier that she’s going into this field with open eyes.

    2. AnotherAlison

      Not a scientist, but that was what I wanted to do when I grew up. . .I read too much Patricia Cornwell.

      I would encourage her to stay on her current path and go to med school, with the intention of studying pathology. Chances are she would find another specialty that was more suited towards her personality. Seems like medicine has something for everyone.

      I also would not encourage her to do something else (it’s not like she’s studying something people consider to be a useless degree), because my dad did that to both my sister and I, and I resent him for that still. I have a son in high school, so I can reflect on that with a parent’s eye, too.

      1. Original Dan

        I also would not encourage her to do something else (it’s not like she’s studying something people consider to be a useless degree), because my dad did that to both my sister and I, and I resent him for that still. I have a son in high school, so I can reflect on that with a parent’s eye, too.

        +1

        My dad pushed me into engineering and to this day I wonder what would have happened if he’d let me figure it out for myself :-/

        Gentle encouragement is great, pushing and shoving is not, no matter how things turn out.

    3. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

      I went from a humanities major to picking up stats in grad school and working as a data analyst. I’m similar to your daughter, but the quant skills have opened doors. I’m working on translating my technical expertise to a management job in my field. By moving up, I’ll still use my technical background, but I’ll get more interaction with people. I think the most important step is to get some technical skills early in your career – then figure out where it takes you. She could thrive in pharma sales or healthcare administration – but it will take some time to figure that out. I think rigorous bio training would open the first few doors in a growing field. And that’s really what the first degree is about – opening the first door.

    4. ggg

      Internship is definitely a good idea.

      As for social interaction, most science labs are not as socially sterile as you think. Science is a very collaborative field. Excellent people skills and the ability to see the “big picture” will serve her well.

      If she really enjoys the field, she will find her niche within it. She may end up as manager of the NCIS lab, or a professor, or consultant.

    5. Mike C.

      She’ll still be getting an awesome degree in the sciences, so tell her that she needs to take as much math as possible, and she’ll find something related to work in. Also, so long as you get your degree, most labs don’t really care about grades.

      Also, there’s no reason why a “true extrovert” would be terrible in the laboratory. One thing seriously lacking from the science world are people who can communicate well.

      1. Alicia

        I’m not especially sure how much labs don’t care, in my experience. Many of the big labs have “new grads” programs that specifically ask for your transcript/GPA on those online hiring websites.

        From my experience teaching at the third year undergraduate science level… some of those students are “scary” in what they think is okay technique… So if I had my choice, and was hiring for industry labs, I’d take the best student I could get. Which is a complete shame because I’d screen myself out, haha (my undergrad was abysmal…)

        1. ggg

          To me it is more important that someone is a self-starter, can ask good questions, and is not afraid to jump into an unfamiliar project, than that they have stellar grades.

          Those factors usually shine through in letters of recommendation from internships and laboratory classes. Work hard at those and a modest GPA can be forgiven.

        2. Mike C.

          Or you could have them actually demonstrate their lab technique during the interview. Direct measurements are much better than indirect measurements after all..

  25. Leslie Yep

    I’m really grateful to this thread for avoiding the ol’ “Those dumb special snowflake Millennials and their dumb sense of entitlement!” argument. There is so much thoughtful, productive, and empathic advice in Alison’s post and in this thread.

    1. Nerissa

      Seconded with great enthusiam. I get really sick of Millennial bashing – I work with a lot of them, and find that they’re more adaptable and easier to manage than some of the employees closer to my own age. The only thing they think they’re entitled to is a decent paycheck and basic workplace courtesy.

      1. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

        There are a lot of articles that bash millennial entitlement. I think most of them are actually describing the naivete of newest age recent cohort entering the workplace. It’s not a generational shift, it’s standard newbie behavior. My friends and I felt super-entitled when we were graduating a decade ago. The jobs ads were confusing. Five years experience? But I can do that now. I went to big name school – don’t they see that? It’s a confusing transition.

    2. Mike C.

      I have to agree, this is one of the few business/career sites that avoids that sort of thing.

  26. maisie

    Add me to the list of people who wish they’d known this sooner.

    I always liked to write, but was turned off Journalism when a very wise HS teacher explained to me that Journalism wasn’t above the love of writing at all and that I would hate it. I was also really interested in the history of language and cool facts about language and whatever, and I discovered linguistics. Well, a BA and an MA later, I absolutely hate linguistics and am now applying for totally unrelated jobs.

    As it turns out, “cool facts about language” does not a linguistics degree make.

    I wish someone had told me, or I’d been mature enough to research, what really goes into different careers. If I’d known that working in linguistics would involve working in a small office of kooky academics who were all obsessed with name-dropping other kooky academics, drawing syntax trees, transcribing hours of data alone, taking statistics classes, attending really horrible and boring conferences, etc, I would have run for the hills.

    I’m in the final stages of interviewing for a really cool job that I want, and while I am VERY excited and don’t have rose-coloured glasses on like I did before uni, I’m now really obsessed with finding out the ‘reality’ of jobs.

    AAM, have you ever considered maybe a “day in the life” series? From reading the comments on your posts, there seems to be so many readers with cool and interesting jobs. It would be really fun to feature a few reader guest posts where they talk about the day to day of their work lives. I always find it fascinating to hear what really goes on in different fields, and how people enjoy various aspects that you might not realise are part of the job right away.

    1. Original Dan

      Interesting.

      I went into engineering because my best friend and my dad made me realize that I would be good at it and that I would make a decent living.

      Meh.

      I often wonder what would have happened if I had studied linguistics instead. I love “cool facts about language”.

      I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, eh?

  27. anonz

    I studied a field I was passionate about, but I’ve never held a paying job in it. Instead, I picked up plenty of other skills (research, writing, software, statistics) and have made a living with those. Would I like to work in what I actually studied so long ago? Sure, but I would be starting at the bottom again.

    I tell people to get practical, useful skills, no matter what degree they end up with.

    1. Jamie

      Statistics keeps coming up – I swear that and accounting were the two most useful things I ever took in school.

      Accounting isn’t just about the finance department – it’s the language of business…and stats? Everywhere I’ve been an understanding of stats will get you very visible very quickly regardless of department.

      1. Chinook

        Jamie, you are right about accounting being the language if business. I used what I learned in my grade 11 intro to accounting class all the time, even when I was just the receptionist. When I hear other admins who refuse to understand how basic accounting works, I know that usually means they fill in expense reports incompletely and won’t understand why cheque requests take more than an hour to process even if they are for the boss.

      2. Emma

        In public health, having a good grasp of stats and data is so very helpful. I learn that more and more every day in my work. While I loved epi and stats in undergrad, I didn’t pursue it – because “I wasn’t good at math” (even though IIRC I receive an A and a B+ respectively in those courses). I never touched stats in high school, which is a tragedy because those of us who grow up believing “we’re not good at math” aren’t “not good” at math – we’re just not good at a particular type of it and can actually do quite well in stats!

  28. Penny

    Agree with every point you made! I was one of those that studied my passion in school thinking I’d move to NYC or LA after college to pursue it. Only, after college did I realize I don’t want to be so far from my family, I didn’t want to pay a ton of rent to live in a tiny apartment with roommates and my field of study had very few and poor paying job opportunities in my local area. Of course, when I was going to school everyone said “It doesn’t matter what degree you have as long as you have one” which is really untrue, especially at an entry level.

    So funny you provided baking as an example, because baking and cake decorating has become a fave hobby of mine and people are always telling me I should start a business. Well I don’t want to run my own business and deal with finances and taxes and such long hours. Baking relaxes me, I don’t want to make it stressful.

    1. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

      My refusal to relocate was one of the major reasons I decided to abandon my undergraduate field. I could have theoretically found that dream job elsewhere, but at the cost of leaving my family and friends? A lot of factors determine your happiness, and proximity to loved ones is on the top of my list.

  29. Ali

    Boy, do I find this true. I picked my major in high school (journalism) because I liked writing for the school paper. I don’t think I ever considered anything else, and if I did, I just dismissed it right away. Once I began to see how limited the job opportunities were, especially in writing for newspapers…which is what I wanted to do, I was regretting my choice, but by that time, I was in my junior year of college and it was too late to switch. I bounced around odd jobs for two years after school until getting somewhat into my field, which is where I’ve been for the last three years.

    For a while, I also really wanted to work in the sports business, but “passion” for my favorite sports only took me so far when it clicked in me one day that I was writing for free, attending cattle call job fairs and breaking my back trying to network and apply for jobs with little return. I had the wake-up call when my current company offered me a promotion and a decent raise, and when I saw what they were giving me and how much they appreciated my hard work, I knew there was no way I could go back to doing all my career prep work for no pay. I still met some great people in the industry and keep in touch with them, but ultimately, I really can’t get excited about doing that with my life now. I have a good paying job that let me upgrade my season tickets to my favorite team and travel to support them, and it beats working 12-14 hour days for little salary.

    However, because the media field doesn’t have that much opportunity as it is, I am considering a career change and hope I can use my journalism skills (writing/research/interviewing/etc.) somewhere else. I wish I had thought more about other career paths in high school or gone into college undeclared, but at least there is still time to correct it. After all, my mom was 43 when she graduated from nursing school, so I remember that when I think it’s too late to do anything about my mistakes.

    1. darsenfeld

      Journalism is a wide field, is it not? Especially now with the Web and social media.

      Isn’t the point here that it depends on the passion and/or interest? If somebody has a passion to be a doctor, can anybody genuinely say there is no demand for that work?

  30. Christine

    Ha! You got it from me!! ;)

    “Focus on the theme or underlying pattern” – Hmm…I love that, but am not sure how to apply that to my exploration. Although, khilde, I think something similar happened to me. I thought I really wanted to work with people, but discovered during my second-year internship (in an physical rehab facility) how emotionally taxing it can be, seeing how sick some of the patients were. I then landed a job providing information & resources via phone and email plus conducted intakes for a separate program. That didn’t work out so well either, which was devastating to me because I do like people and always loved it when an interaction went particularly well.

    I know exactly what my issue of interest is, but is it about the people themselves, or something else? That might be where I’m getting tripped up.

    1. Jamie

      Close your eyes and imagine your perfect job. If you could build your ideal job from a kit what would you be doing? Focus on the tasks big and small that would make up 90% of your time.

      Maybe it would be easier to work backwards from what you’re looking for and then try to find something which fits the bill on the big ticket items on that list. Kind of working backwards from big picture to job posting rather than vetting job postings against big picture?

      1. fposte

        I still think that there’s an opportunity here for some kind of crowdsourced database that offers flow-chart walkthroughs of what kind of jobs use what kind of talents and bring what kinds of irritants. Crossmatch it with interview questions that have actually been demonstrably useful in finding the right types for those jobs and it’s valuable across the board.

        1. Rana

          OMG YES.

          See, this is the thing that just killed me as a career changer. I actually do know what sorts of skills I have, and what aspects of them I enjoy – and I’m talking about strange random things like “enjoys data entry”; “likes working with spreadsheets”; “loves doing text-based research”; is “excellent at visual analysis”; “is really good at accurately describing things”; “is very good at explaining procedures”; “enjoys fixing physical objects and working with my hands” – that sort of thing.

          But taking those skills and connecting them up to a specific job, let alone a career path, and then selling employers on your ability to do that job without specific in-field experience… nightmare time.

  31. Christine

    Alison – I think the comments got messed up again. My post (@ 2:02 p.m.) was in reply to khilde, and Jamie then replied to me. Now our posts are separate (as opposed to multi-level, if that makes any sense).

  32. Chocolate Teapot

    There have been a number of TV shows where somebody is “passionate” about cooking, but works in another field, and decides they want to open a restaurant/delicatessen/Cupcake producing establishment with little or no idea of what it entails.

    Just because you are a great home cook/a dab hand with the bacon slicer/brilliant when armed with a piping bag and selection of hundreds and thousands, doesn’t necessarily mean happiness.

    1. anonintheUK

      About ten years ago there was a glut of TV shows about people who would do things like pack up and move to Italy to grow olives and run a bed and breakfast because it had always been their dream, regardless of the fact that they knew nothing about growing olives or indeed business and tax law in Italy.

  33. darsenfeld

    I don’t think I agree with the article.

    Surely it’s a case of “it depends”, then a black and white case of never following one’s passions. If somebody’s passion is to be a physiotherapist, how can it be bad to pursue? Similarly, if one wants to a chef, it’s not as if there is low demand for that work.

    I do think though that many careers are obtained without prior planning or thought. A friend of mine was an industrial relations manager for some years, but had never pictured himself in this role. My girlfriend wanted to become a teacher she was younger, however she found it way more stressful than anticipated, left the profession and is now an IT sales manager.

    As said prior, it’s a mixture of the two positions, not an “either/or” case.

  34. darsenfeld

    Also, AAM mentions that most people don’t work for emotional reasons. Are people supposed to feel guilty at being born in a wealthy country? Many people in the world still don’t have regular Internet access, so should Westerners feel guilty about this also?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I didn’t say people should feel guilty. I said that it’s worth recognizing that believing that work must be a source of emotional fulfillment is a privileged viewpoint that the majority of the world doesn’t hold.

  35. MA

    Rather than “follow your passion” how about know the type of work you like. Personally, I hate accounting. I’ve done it, I could learn more about it, and I hate it. So even if there were 99% accounting only jobs and 1% other, I would take my chances with the 1% rather than hate my 9-5.

    If you know the type of work (i.e. skill set you want to utilize and generally the type of tasks) you like, you should absolutely follow it because who wants to spend their whole working career doing something they don’t like?

    1. MA

      I should also mention that don’t we need and want some people to follow their passion? Sure its not practical for a lot of people, but without those people who do follow their passion we would never have great artists, entrepreneurs, writers, etc. If everyone was pragmatic I think you would see a lot less creativity and innovation in our society. But thats just my two cents.

  36. Chris Hogg

    Two books that address this topic:

    So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport (mentioned above).

    The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber

    I think there is a balance in here somewhere, between the person who knows from birth what they want to do, the person who is totally clueless, the person who develops a burning interest in a particular thing or activity and follows after it, and the person who follows their passion, if you will, irresponsibly.

    I met a young lady a long time ago, who let herself be talked into going to school to get a teaching degree, taught for (I believe) two years and ended up in the hospital due to the stress of that job. When I met her she was working in the marketing / event coordinating department of a hotel and was as happy as a duck in warm water (in college she took a minor in theatre). I think she makes a good example of what happens when we seek work that goes against our ingrained talents and interests, and what happens when we follow our interests (or passions if you will).

    This is certainly an important topic, and in my opinion, we all should be seeking a place of balance, while avoiding extreme positions.

  37. AG

    “”Do what you love” is privileged advice that ignores the fact that the majority of the world’s population works to get food and housing, not for emotional or spiritual fulfillment.”

    SO TRUE.

  38. Meg

    I think the best advice I got as far as this topic was to “Major in what makes money, minor in what you love.”

  39. ThursdaysGeek

    I think the examples we see of “passions” are often the wrong examples. If my passion is dogs, I think vet, and if my passion is writing, I think journalism.

    When I was in high school, I liked books a lot, so I thought librarian. But really, my passion is solving problems, figuring out the details, reading, learning, helping people, working alone, seeing patterns, constant variety. I kind of fell into software, and from there into database and maintenance programming.

    Perhaps if “passions” were expanded from dogs, writing, and books to problem solving, seeing the big picture, working with your hands, doing repetitive things, always learning, lots of variety, and similar things that also vary with different jobs, we’d end up looking at and training for more appropriate jobs in the first place.

  40. TGHR

    The best thing that ever happened to me when I was a teenager was exposure to the “real” work/business world. Not that I thought this at the time but it helped me find strengths I possessed early in my life and delvelop them. I spent my summers working with my mom in her office and in the volunteer services department of a hospital. I interacted with enough people to know that I was good at it. I could relate to both the interviewer, the unemployed, the patients, and the workers with so many needs. I wanted to help everyone and I found my passion at 16 – HR. It could have been medicine, p;hysical therapy, EMTs, nursing, anything that I was exposed to then. But,not one of those “jobs” touched as many lives so diversely. How lucky I was that I got to do that at 16 years old? My 16 year old brain just did not feel so lucky. I am pretty sure I rebelled a lot that first summer. No regrets now.

  41. lizzy

    i’m going to voice the unpopular opinion here. i think there are a lot of valuable things to think about in this article, but i also think that it’s quite single-minded to openly discourage people from following their passions to their careers.

    i’m an artist, a filmmaker, and i know from personal experience that successful artists are delusional to a certain extent. you have to be willing to weather rejection, criticism, lack of money, lack of security… and still be able to get up every morning to keep trying at it. and while i think it’s valid to evaluate whether or not a passion can be turned into a career on an individual basis, i also think it’s generalizing to suggest to young people that “following your passion” is a surefire way to end up being unhappy in your career. i wish that when i was younger more adults would have told me to pursue a career in the entertainment arts. it took me many years to realize i wasn’t cut out to be the doctor/lawyer/engineer that my high school wanted me to be and that i did have the talent and drive to pursue my passion – film. i just don’t think there’s anything wrong with finding a career path that aligns with your passions. maybe you can’t be an NBA star or a renowned flute player, but you can channel those passions into finding other jobs in the sports entertainment industries or non profit music initiatives. so in short, i disagree. follow your passion.

    1. Sarah Lawson

      I agree with you Lizzy. We actually share the same sentiments here. I’m not saying that I’m against this article, at some point what she said was true. But somehow, just as you said, it discourages other people to do what they love.

      I’ve encountered different people from different walks of life. And sad to say, despite their high paying jobs, they are unhappy. Most of them even say that they don’t like their work (and are planning to resign). This article shows the practicality of making a living—to support oneself and provide for the family. Well, all of us know that it’s true but isn’t it much better if you do something that inspires you? Something that gives you joy?

      Just like in her example about baking, If someone really likes baking, wouldn’t it be much happier getting up in the morning and baking those hundred cakes than sitting all day in the office signing, filing and organizing those hundred papers? I believe that following your passion in pursuing your career will make you more contented and competitive in that field that you’ve chosen. The rest will just follow. If you perform best in what you love, being promoted or receiving a high salary isn’t too impossible to achieve.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Just like in her example about baking, If someone really likes baking, wouldn’t it be much happier getting up in the morning and baking those hundred cakes than sitting all day in the office signing, filing and organizing those hundred papers?

        No :)

        Talk to the many bakers who here will tell you they have no desire to do it professionally!

        1. Chris

          Perhaps that’s because baking professionally isn’t exactly where they’re passion is. Our culture is so enamored with the idea that owning your own business is the ideal state of being that people automatically assume that one must start a business around their passion in order to be happy.

          However, read through these comments, and you’ll see posters that are happy being a cog in the system. The key point is in what sort of cog they are, and what skills/personality traits/interests they use in their careers.

          Honestly, I think you got it wrong with the original article. To give up your bliss (the Joseph Campbell version of not following your passion) in the pursuit of being responsible is a recipe for existensial disaster. I know this from experience.

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