you don’t need to follow your dreams

I recorded a piece for the BBC about the problems with the career advice to “follow your passion” — including that it’s not highly actionable for most people and sets people up to feel like failures if they don’t end up in jobs they’re passionate about. I argue that it’s okay for work to be work, and to find our emotional fulfillment elsewhere.

It’s three minutes long and you can listen here.

{ 396 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. Kara

      I’d like someone to pay me to read. More like a reading tastemaker rather than a reviewer or book blogger. Because I don’t want to put the effort into making videos or writing long reviews.

      Reply
      1. Olive Hornby

        I more or less have my dream job in “getting paid to read.” And on average, I’d say about 25% of my day is spent on work that’s intellectually/emotionally/morally fulfilling. Leaving 6-8 hours a day of work that, well, isn’t really any of those things. Maybe there’s some job out there that’s all passion all the time, but I have yet to hear of it. (Not a literary scout–but yes, it is indeed an awesome job. It’s also a brutal one–they have some of the worst hours in an industry known for bad work/life balance.)

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      2. Aleta

        I joke that I’m paid to read because my reception job involves a lot of downtime! My boss is actually relieved to find someone who doesn’t mind entertaining themselves and doesn’t beg to take work off of someone else because they’re bored. :p

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        1. TrainerGirl

          I had a temp job right out college for a couple of months (I was taking one last calculus class at a community college), and I had to sit at the front desk of an IT integration lab and “look busy”. I learned Word, Excel and Power Point and got paid for it. Not a dream job, but it was a great way to hone my skills for my first “real” job.

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      3. Lemon Sherbet

        I want someone to pay me to watch TV. I don’t want to write reviews about it, I don’t want to talk about it. I might tell you if I liked the show or not, but that’s as far as it goes.

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      4. BottleBlonde

        Ha! In college I decided to start a book review blog, partially as a passion project and partially as part of some distant pipe dream to eventually get paid to read all day…. I got exactly one review in before giving it up. Turns out I only like the sitting-and-reading part but found the writing part downright painful!

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      5. Vicky Austin

        You could be an editor for a publishing house. You could read manuscripts and decide whether or not they should be published; and edit them for errors.

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        1. smoke tree

          I have this job. Actually I find that the lower level you are, the more time you get to spend reading manuscripts. The longer you’re in the industry, the more you’re squeezed for time to read, and at that point it isn’t as much fun.

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      6. Falling Diphthong

        One of my kids’ friends had a teacher who made them do book reports for every book read. Even for fun on their own time. If you were going to read it, by god you would write an essay analyzing it. I would be hard pressed to find a more effective way of killing love of reading.

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        1. smoke tree

          Oh man. When I was a kid, I read so much that it would have been pretty much impossible to keep up with the book report demand unless I pulled a lot of all-nighters. On the plus side, any kid that makes it through that year and still likes to read might as well be given an English lit degree right off the bat.

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        2. SS Express

          That’s a terrible idea, but as a child I read like my life depended on it and my gosh I would’ve loved to see her face on a Monday morning when I handed her a stack of 20 book reports.

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        3. SarahKay

          Wow, that is a horrible idea. When I was a Brownie Guide I did my reading badge which, among other requirements, involved listing all the books I read in (I think) a month. Once I’d hit three sides of A4 (Letter size, in the US) I decided enough was enough with the listing. That was about two weeks in.

          Also, she’s surely doomed to fail – after all, I could read five books over a weekend – how would she ever know about four of them?

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        4. CDM

          Fifth grade, for my kids, and actually it was fantastic, in perspective.

          Fourth grade was an unending slog of ten highly structured book reports. A costume for the biography. A newspaper for the nonfiction, a pop up book for the fiction, a diorama for the historical fiction. Plus the videoed oral presentation, then watch the video and self grade. It was brutal, time consuming, and never ending and not just for the kids who struggled with organization, the parents of the gifted kids hated them just as much. The reaction from the parent of a kid with a stutter was unprintable.

          Fifth grade: Read a minimum of two books a month of the students’ free choice. Write a paragraph summary book report, drop it in the bin on the teacher’s desk. Ungraded. No pressure if you met the minimum. For the readers, teacher posted counts for the top readers, with prizes, and a big prize for any reader who beat the all time full year record of books read. (Which, IIRC, was close to 300 books in 180 days) If you read something and chose not to do the report, the teacher had no way of knowing. It was a huge relief to the parents and the kids, and was a good way to encourage the kids to read more books for their own enjoyment, rather than just reading what was assigned to them.

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      1. Miss Fisher - Lady Detective

        Same, I am a master at binging British / Australian / New Zealand Detective Mysteries. Hence my new name.

        Sadly we don’t get paid for such things.

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          1. Miss Fisher - Lady Detective

            Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is a TV series based on books. She is a 1920’s feminist icon and awesome PI.
            Death in Paradise is a fun murder mystery show set in the Caribbean.
            Good Karma Hospital is on Acorn tv I believe and is set in India – beautiful backdrop
            Brokenwood Mysteries – New Zealand murder mystery series
            Almighty Johnsons – not a murder mystery but a fun new zealandr show about a family who are reincarnated Norse Gods.
            For books, I am a sucker for Janet Evanovich. I love her Stephanie Plum series. I also really love Darynda Jones, that one is about a PI who is also a grim reaper so she can help the ghosts solve their murders before crossing over. That one takes a different direction though after the 1st couple books and really delves into Demons, God etc. Its really interesting.

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            1. I Love Thrawn

              I love Miss Fisher! She’s the best, and the settings – costumes, etc – are just sumptuous.

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              1. Hey-eh

                Jumping in to add the Canadian show “Murdoch Mysteries” that apparently also goes by the name “The Artful Detective” in the US? It’s based on books written by Maureen Jennings – William Murdoch is a detective with the Toronto constabulary and the series starts in I think about 1896? And continues through the turn of the century. It’s totally fictional and ridiculous at times but the characters are charming, the writing is witty, and a lot of the history is based off real places and events!!

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                1. Miss Fisher - Lady Detective

                  And to go along with that, the republic of doyle. They actually did a crossover episode involving distant relatives.

                  That one is a fun PI show.

                  But yes, Murdoch is known as The Artful Detective when played on tv here.

            2. Jules the 3rd

              I love Miss Fisher, and also Midsomer Murders (also on NetFlix). Good sense of humor… I’m really interested in Sacred Games, though I’m a little worried it’s more American Detective / horror lite.

              For books, I love Georgette Heyer.

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            3. Miss Fisher - Lady Detective

              Sorry should mention the Darynda JOnes series is here Charley Davidson series.

              Also just the costumes on Miss Fishers is enough to watch for alone.

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              1. Specialk9

                The audiobooks for that series are done by the same woman who voices the Mercedes Thompson books, Lorelei King, who’s in my very top 4 list of narrators.

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              1. Miss Fisher - Lady Detective

                I enjoyed watching Thor Ragnarok and seeing the varying take on Hella.

                I also love the take on Loki from the show.

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                1. Specialk9

                  You might enjoy the Iron Druid series. I was surprised by how thoroughly I adored it, when I was expecting much less.

            4. Heather

              This is literally a blurb on the covers of her books, but it’s true: if you like Stephanie Plum, check out Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow mysteries. The first one is Murder With Peacocks – they all have some kind of play on the name of a bird in the title (my personal favorite is “Owl’s Well That Ends Well”). I picked one up in a bookstore in Maine because it had a puffin on the cover, and I ended up going back to buy some of the others before we went home. They’re hilarious :)

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            5. Drago Cucina

              If you like Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series give Lisa Lutz’s Spellman series a try. I love that crazy family. The footnotes are a favorite part.

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              1. Miss Fisher - Lady Detective

                I have those on my list. My issue is that after a while, all the female characters resemble Stephanie so closely. Janet Evanovish is guilty of this as well though. All her female characters are the exact same besides career and looks.

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          2. J

            Miss Fisher is great, and if you’re looking for shows with a contemporary setting, Broadchurch and Marcella are great BBC murder mystery/detective shows available on Netflix. Both recently came out with new seasons – Broadchurch has had 3 seasons I think? Marcella has two so far.

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            1. J

              Also recommend The Killing, an American show but based on a Danish original. Three seasons on Netflix. A bit dark, but addictive.

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    2. Amber T

      I had a dream that petting my cats paid my mortgage. It was at an low rate, like $0.05/min, but I have two cats, two hands, and a whole lotta love. My cats would get so sick of me eventually.

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    3. Gatomon

      I could be down for that!

      My dream would be playing video games. Sadly playing (some) video games actually does pay… I’m just not anywhere near good enough. :(

      Reply
  1. Kara

    This was the philosophy my father drilled into us from a very young age. If doing what you love isn’t profitable, at least find a job where you can afford to do what you love in your spare time.

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    1. Kris

      My father was a great example of that philosophy. He worked to become very, very good at his profession so that he could work on his own terms, which allowed him to spend his free time pursuing his passions.

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    2. Antilles

      Yep. When I’ve been in crummy jobs in the past, I always liked to mentally think of them as ‘fundraising’. I don’t love spending 40 hours a week reviewing boring legal documents, but doing so funds for the lifestyle I’d like the other 128 hours a week.

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    3. Classic Rando

      The day I realized that many/most published novelists have day jobs was actually life changing.

      Reply
      1. Antilles

        Right. And it’s even more amazing when you realize it applies even to the absolute biggest of Big Names in literature. Even the authors who are so well-known that they’re locks for the best-seller list…yeah, even *those guys* generally still have some kind of other paid work as an editor, college professor, etc.

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          1. Antilles

            Yep, here are a few examples off the top of my head, but there’s plenty more:
            >George R.R. Martin is an active editor of other authors’ works
            >Michael Crichton wrote TV/movies scripts and served as a director even while he was cranking out best-selling novels in the 90’s
            >Brandon Sanderson teaches a class at BYU

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            1. Working Mom Having It All

              To be fair, being a TV writer or film director is not exactly a “day job”. It’s just diversifying the type of creative work you do. Today I will write a film, tomorrow I will write an episode of NYPD Blue (for example, no idea if he wrote for that show), next week I will direct a movie based on a screenplay I wrote last week, etc.

              But, yes, almost no novelists are ONLY novelists.

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        1. aebhel

          Yep. Until you’re getting into the Stephen King/JKR realm of success (ie, like 5% of published writers), most people aren’t getting by on novels alone.

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    4. Artemesia

      My husband was an opera singer; he wasn’t good enough to be a pro, but he was good enough to be in the chorus and participate in operas for over 30 years. And he was enthusiastic enough that he got the occasional solo line or the fun piece of stage business (drunken cross anyone?) His day job as a professional supported him while he enjoyed this hobby. I have had students over the years who are in the business side of the music business because they discovered they were not good enough to make a career of it but enjoyed being around it. They did internships with opera or symphony companies or record companies and then got jobs in those fields.

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      1. Falling Diphthong

        I knew two very gifted musicians; he worked for a sound company and she did the admin side of chorus work. And both performed sometimes.

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      2. Specialk9

        Ann McVaffrey’s Crystal Singer series started with that premise. Almost good enough for opera, but cut after years invested.

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    5. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

      I like your dad!

      My philosophy is find a job/career that you don’t hate and you find some joy in (I’m a firm believer that I should be able to laugh at least once every day at work). After that it’s gravy.

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    6. Jennifer

      Yeah, I call that the “Harvey Pekar Life Plan.”

      I haven’t tried to market my non-job skills, pretty much because I like regular pay and health insurance and I don’t have “start my own business” skills/brain. Also, I don’t think anyone really wants to pay you to do art most of the time.

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    7. Anon Accountant

      My family always told me the same thing. “Passion doesn’t always pay the bills. Keep things for a hobby but if you won’t make much money you need another job/field”.

      So grateful to them.

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    8. Kelsi

      This is great advice. Especially as I’ve found that the things I love as a hobby, I come to hate when I’m doing them for money! I’ve found work that is satisfying and sometimes enjoyable, and that pays the bills so I can go home and focus on my passions on nobody’s schedule but my own.

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  2. Jenn

    I wanted to follow what I thought was my passion, so now I’m $95K in student debt and making $55K in a totally unrelated field so that I can get that sweet, sweet public loan service forgiveness. If I could talk to newly graduated me, I would say follow the money and stay away from grad school!!

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    1. Audenc

      I posted about this below before seeing your comment! I think the “do what you love” concept has led to a LOT of bad grad school debt. A lot of my friends have insane debt from master’s in social work, writing, French lit, things like that, and now have to pay down those insane loans with totally unrelated jobs, often that don’t pay that well. So it’s kind of the worst of both words – crappy job you don’t enjoy that doesn’t even come with a nice paycheck.

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      1. Kb

        Yeah, I don’t want to be the person who discourages anyone from following their passion, but being aware of the financial realities and having a back-up plan is important. And sometimes planning on being boring, lucrative, and frugal for a few years allows you to pivot into your dream role a little later with more financially security.

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        1. Thlayli

          Be that person! There are too many people telling kids to follow their passion and then they end up unemployed or working crappy jobs.

          Where I live university is free and there are a lot of people with masters degrees working stacking shelves, because just about everyone has a degree – but a lot of them in such useful subjects as philosophy. Philosophy is interesting and fun to study, but nobody’s going to pay you to sit around and wax lyrical about the meaning of life!

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          1. Kb

            See, I think philosophy is incredibly important and I think more people should take the time to study it! I just also think maybe tacking on a double major in computer science or accounting or anything v practical may be prudent. I’ve never met anyone who regretted having a double major (except maybe a few people who regretted not triple-majoring!)
            I majored in anthropology and biology and work in neither field, but I actually use my anthropology skills more often in my job than biology knowledge, which most people find surprising from a “what’s a practical major” standpoint.

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            1. Falling Diphthong

              Yeah, don’t get a degree in philosophy if what you are hoping is to paid to philosophize, but there are plenty of people employed in business who got philosophy degrees with a broader eye to how that might be applied, and unemployed mechanical engineering majors who hate the subject but were told it was a guaranteed job.

              Don’t take on debt with the vague idea “I love this topic, so someone will pay me a ton of money to do it” OR “I loathe this topic, but someone will pay me a ton of money to do it.”

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              1. Vicky Austin

                On the other hand, if you know you want to be a counselor or a doctor, you NEED to get that graduate degree in counseling psychology or medicine.

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            2. Specialk9

              I got so frustrated in philosophy classes. It got so navel-gazey that it was like anti-thought. If I wanted to hear people imagine that all existence is just a god’s dream, I’d hang out with some stoned frat boys. But maybe I’m too linear of a thinker.

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              1. A Non E. Mouse

                It got so navel-gazey that it was like anti-thought.

                Thank you! I never could so adequately express why Philosophy 210 left me feeling like I was in the midst of the sober-ist existential crisis known to mankind.

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            3. J

              Actually – people with Bachelors degrees in philosophy statistically earn a higher starting salary and make more money over their careers than those with other majors, including business, pre-med, etc (tied with math majors). Philosophy majors score better on the LSAT, GRE and MCAT, and a good percentage of attorneys were philosophy majors. The reason is that classes teach logic, reasoning, critical thinking, and other skills that are valuable across the board. Justice Breyer, Carly Fiorina, George Soros, Peter Thiel, Alex Trebek…all philosophy majors. I didn’t major in philosophy, for the record, I just find the facts interesting given that philosophy is usually thrown out as a “useless” degree.
              https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/for-philosophy-majors-the-question-after-graduation-is-what-next/2017/06/20/aa7fae2a-46f0-11e7-98cd-af64b4fe2dfc_story.html?utm_term=.0c67d2fdffe4
              http://dailynous.com/value-of-philosophy/charts-and-graphs/
              http://www.naceweb.org/job-market/compensation/philosophy-projected-as-top-paid-class-of-2016-humanities-major/
              http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/info-Degrees_that_Pay_you_Back-sort.html

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              1. Heather

                Same as an English degree – the critical thinking and analysis skills I learned prepped me for basically any career apart from those requiring super-specialized knowledge. Although it also frustrates the living hell out of me to constantly deal with people who have zero critical thinking skills of their own :-D

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              2. Genny

                I think the key is in how you market a degree. Some people interpret their degree too narrowly (philosophy degree = teach philosophy), when in reality there are a lot of things they could do with it (anything that requires you to be a good thinker). They just have to know how to sell it to hiring managers.

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              3. Chriama

                How much of that also has to do with the fact that people with philosophy degrees often go to private liberal-arts colleges? Once they control that data for family background and school I’ll believe it.

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                1. n

                  Yup, you also have to take into account who majors in philosophy– even today, it tends to be a white, male-dominated field (people who statistically earn more in every field). (For the record, I majored in philosophy, and I’ve found it to be a hugely helpful degree, just not in ways that are easy to put a concrete dollar amount on yet).

            4. Working Mom Having It All

              +1, absolutely.

              I have a degree in anthropology. I work in the entertainment industry (another “you’ll starve!” type of field). Someone has to make a living doing this stuff. If you have an affinity for a certain area, it’s better to get a degree in that area and then get a job that uses the skills you picked up while getting that degree.

              And, yes, it is a very long story how I got from anthropology to a TV network.

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              1. TardyTardis

                My BA in economics is paying off when I build worlds for fantasy books. I even did the old import/export list for my various provinces, and why they all hate each other because of it.

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        2. Nanani

          The flip side of that is that it’s impossible to predict where the market will be when you finish your degree.
          Even 1 year can make a big unpredictable difference. Bubbles pop, but people who got their careers going during the bubble have very different outcomes to the people who immediately follow.

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          1. Liz

            I finished nursing school just in time for the Great Recession. It took me 10 months and a 250-mile move to find my first job. Some of my classmates never found a first job. People who graduated the semester before had numerous job offers before graduation, in a state where new grads were not allowed to work as nurses until they passed the licensing exam.

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      2. nonymous

        I personally think that it’s fine to go to grad school (any legit education experience, really) regardless of what the income earning options are. However, I do think that there is a calculus to determine how much debt can be used to fund that education experience. So if the employment outcomes are weak, maybe there’s a grad program that includes a tuition waiver + livable stipend in a low COL area. Obviously this has implications regarding what opportunities are available to the wealthy vs. people who are not affluent, and opens students up to exploitation, so it’s not a perfect solution. But it’s certainly better at an economic scale.

        I think part of the problem is that education, as a whole, is largely disincentivized to limit participation. Not only is education viewed as the great equalizer, frankly the whole system would grind to a halt if there wasn’t a steady supply of people who find academic life worth sacrificing for. So students become the product at multiple levels, and I’m not sure who is getting the primary benefit.

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    2. krysb

      I keep thinking I want to get a degree in history. Not that I will ever work in any field relating to history, it’s just that I love the subject. I am currently working on a degree (business) that will benefit my career. If I do pursue a history degree, it’ll be for me, no other reason.

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      1. Sara without an H

        Hello, fellow history geek. Look for some online courses — there are a lot of them out there, and some of them are free. You can get a feel for the subject without spending a fortune.

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      2. nonymous

        A lot of the practicalities for a history degree can be useful in the workplace. Specifically, I’m thinking of the heavy duty research and writing, formulating complex arguments and presenting them in a logical manner.

        Depending on the focus of one’s emphasis, someone can develop the knowledge base that would otherwise come from years in the field. So if someone has an ultimate interest in social work or science or teaching, those can inform their research topics.

        I think the key is to take advantage of the distribution requirements and stack them in a meaningful way. So if I were a history major with an interest in healthcare, I might take all my science/math electives to prepare for employment in that field (many schools offer a 1-yr certificate to transition from general Bachelors to nursing, for example, but the pre-reqs are extensive), knowing that would give me the option to pivot into a paralegal certification, law school, med school, etc.

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        1. Robyn

          I have a degree in history, and one of my favorite professors always gave his students examples of what other history majors had gone on to do – sure some where seeking PhDs or teaching history in schools, but others went to med school or were working in finance or any number of other things. Basically, the point of a liberal arts degree is to build the skills of learning because almost every job will have to train you anyway. Your shiny new diploma means that you can be taught, and the analysis/critical thinking and writing skills you gained on the way are a bonus.

          In case you’re interested, I got a history degree and work in a law enforcement-adjacent field and my husband uses his history degree to make beer for a living.

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      3. Working Mom Having It All

        I have a “useless” anthropology degree and had no problem getting a job after undergrad.

        Meanwhile my understanding is that someone with a business degree can either not be a great candidate on paper or can get lost in the shuffle easily.

        Not saying you should do what you love, but this is a classic case where “follow your passion” would actually be serving you just fine. You’re unlikely to become a professional historian, but a history degree will give you all the soft skills you’d need for most office jobs (assuming you don’t want to go into finance, and my understanding is that an accounting or econ degree is more useful for that).

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  3. The Original K.

    I love this. If what you love is painting watercolors, odds are great that you’re not going to be able to make a living at it. That doesn’t make you a failure. I also like that you touched on the fact that “do what you love” is only said to kids whose parents are in a certain income bracket.

    It’s totally reasonable – ideal, even! – to do work that pays you enough to have the life you want and gives you enough free time to pursue the stuff you truly love to do. I used to work with a woman who loved her job in accounts payable because the company was close to home (which was rare, as it was in an exurb), she could leave at 4 at the latest and pick up her two kids and take them to their various activities (they both did a lot of team sports), and she left work at work. Her life was primarily being a wife and mom and the job supported that. I thought that was great.

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    1. Tea, please

      The “do what you love” philosophy is especially insidious when said from someone at a middle and up income bracket to someone of a lower bracket. Working in non-profits that employed a lot of bright eyed (wealthy) recent college grades (because who else really can afford to do AmeriCorps or similar programs), I heard this a lot.
      But on a flip side, I remember when a family member said he wanted to be a carpenter when he was in middle school. This side of the family is just swimming in advanced degrees. Another family member flipped out that that wasn’t an acceptable career path because it didn’t require higher education. So I think “do what you love” is incredibly restricted to visual arts, film. music, and some sports.

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      1. Artemesia

        It is useful advice for people who are being narrowly channeled and don’t think about the options they might actually have. You don’t JUST need to think about a track that makes you a good living. There are many directions you can take. I wish someone had told me this as a young woman growing up when women were heavily discriminated against professionally but we were on the cusp of that changing. I would certainly have chosen a different professional field which would have been both lucrative but also more satisfying than the unimaginative direction I ‘chose’.

        So think about what you actually want to do — if it is macrame, think again — but there are lots of choices that are also reasonable economically.

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        1. Kj

          I agree there is room between “lucrative job I hate” and “passion job that pays nothing.” I have a job I like. Most days, I really love my job and it is a labor of love, along with sweat and tears. Your story reminds me of my mom- she wanted to study botany in undergrad, but due to the time period, was told she could be an algebra teacher or a nurse. She became a nurse and was reasonably happy, but always wondered what would have happened if she ha chosen to say “none of the above” to her high school guidance counselor.

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      2. Thlayli

        Oh yes I hear you. A friend of mine who’s a secondary teacher told me that one of her students wants to do an apprenticeship. He’s a smart kid but not great academically and she thinks it would be perfect for him. But his parents are adamant he needs to go to college. He’ll probably end up with a degree in arts or something and no chance of a decent job, whereas if he became an apprentice electrician for example he’d be swimming in cash in a few years time.

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        1. Sara without an H

          I work in higher education. It’s frightening to think about how many of the students’ “passions” are actually their parents ambitions.

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          1. Ego Chamber

            In your experience, do the parents who are paying for their kid’s education seem much more vocal about prestige careers while the parents who aren’t part of the financing plan seem more vocal about careers that will pay well regardless of optics?

            That’s been my experience and I’m wondering whether my perception seems accurate.

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            1. Sara without an H

              I think you’re on to something. It may not be true in every case, but I think it’s true more often than not.

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            2. nonymous

              Both mine and hubby’s parents did not pay towards tuition and were definitely focused on the prestige part. I think the division is more along the lines of whether the parents want to brag about the title/honorific or that their adult kid is buying a new car/going on cool vacations all the time.

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      3. Erin

        I hope he became a damn good carpenter. Some skilled trades make more than people with advanced degrees.

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        1. nonymous

          Carpentry has a really wide range. Everything from the deck/fence crowd to MFA level stuff with a healthy dose of project management and architecture thrown in. I’d still recommend college, because the the business side of things is so very competitive – but it’s also probably one of the few professions where relevant summer jobs pay well! And here’s an example of where a love of history could be useful :-)

          I have an acquaintance who has a MFA in furniture making – he’s basically sculpting with wood.

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  4. Hush42

    I think that it’s important to find a job that you can be reasonably content in. Not that you “love” or that you would do if they weren’t paying you, just that you can be content in. If your job is making you miserable then you need a new one. If it isn’t making you jump for joy and feel completely fulfilled then you probably just need a hobby.

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    1. Cyclist5

      I completely agree. There’s got to be a happy medium between “I hate this job and it’s the worst” and “I’m working a job I love and absolutely am 100% passionate about.” I’m contemplating a career change in the near future. I majored in a subject I liked (English), got a related job out of college and followed a typical career path into content writing/marketing…and I’m *pretty sure* I hate it and it’s not the right place for me. But I’ve had some people comment that “It’s just a job, you’re not supposed to love it” and “No one likes their job all of the time” and this just makes me think I might be crazy for wanting something different? How do you know what’s the regular “working blues” and what’s a sign that a change is necessary?

      Reply
      1. Kb

        I think just as it’s true that you shouldn’t feel like you have to follow your passion, it’s also okay to want a job you feel more than meh about. You should approach it somewhat practically and be okay with the financial realities of a finding a new path.
        I have a friend with a v lucrative career in business who was considering leaving to start working as a chef. Before she took the plunge, she spent 6 months only spending what she would expect to make as a beginning chef and took a pt gig as a line cook. After the 6 months, she said nevermind because making less money to work prime socialization hours wasn’t something she actually wanted to do. She started hosting amazing dinner parties instead.

        I also had a friend who left a more lucrative job to become a teacher and she is so, so much happier. It all really depends!

        Reply
      1. Jean (just Jean)

        This this this!
        Oh, so much this!
        I have one of these so-called “good enough fit” jobs. It occupies my brain during business hours without crowding out all the rest of my life. Sure I have the occasional regrets re not pursuing something more prestigious like, say, neurochemistry or international law (!!) but mostly I’m content. Sometimes we are our own best advocates despite ourselves.

        Reply
        1. Relentlessly Socratic

          As someone who trained as a neuroscientist–boy do I wish I could get the years back spent chasing NIH money. I left academic research and have a job that’s pretty darned good and I’m pretty darned good at it. Most days I even enjoy it. They do need to pay me for me to show up, though, since job. My hobby is knitting, for which I don’t expect to be paid.

          Reply
    2. Emily K

      So much agreement!

      I suspect that if I tried to monetize what I do for enjoyment they would turn into work rather than work turning into something enjoyable.

      I like my marketing job. I have a strong interest in the psychology, I can do it well, and I feel rewarded when I produce good work product. I have enough seniority to be trusted with a lot of flexibility, but not so much that I’m the one who gets called onto the carpet by C-staff when something goes wrong, and while part of what makes me good at my job is my willingness to work after-hours or occasional long hours, it’s pretty much optional–it makes me look good and helps me succeed at a higher level but I wouldn’t fail or look bad if I didn’t do it.

      I’m coming up on a decade in the field and I realized a while ago that I have no desire to ascend any further in my career. I mean, I would love to make more money, but I don’t want any more responsibility than I currently have. I don’t want to have to center my job in my life. Turning your passion into a job is another kind of centering your job in your life. Not for me.

      Reply
    3. jb

      Yep.

      My job involves a fair amount of non-routine problem solving, but the work is generally doable in a reasonable timeframe; It’s got respectable social status; and it pays well enough to afford a middle-class lifestyle. I’d never do it for free, but it makes me content on both a moment-to-moment and month-to-month level.

      I’m much happier than if I had a job doing what I love but was desperately poor.

      Reply
    4. aebhel

      Yeah. I’m a librarian, which wasn’t exactly my passion as a child. But I genuinely enjoy 90% of the job, the hours are good, the stress is low, and I get to feel like I’m doing something valuable for my community.

      And I write fiction on the side, because it turns out that while I love writing, I hate almost everything else that goes along with being a professional writer.

      Reply
  5. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow

    Thank you for this! I get very tired of young people (in particular) being told to follow their dreams/passions.

    It’s often not realistic. You cannot live off of thin air and passion. You need a job that pays actual money. And while money doesn’t equal happiness, money does make people happier when they are low paid. Stressing about debt and keeping a roof over your head isn’t a great way to live so that you can follow your “passion”.

    Reply
    1. Working Mom Having It All

      I think that when you’re just starting out, and you don’t really know what your options are, it’s good to “follow your passions”, inasmuch as that’s probably going to lead you to work you’re good at in a field you enjoy. I followed my passions, got a liberal arts degree, worked in the film industry, and ultimately landed at a network. My day to day isn’t my “passion” in the sense that I’m not Shonda Rhimes right now, but it’s a lot closer to it than if I’d listened to the adults around me when I was 17 and just majored in business, never left my hometown, and ended up working in the oil and gas industry. Even though I’m sure they have people with jobs that are largely the same as mine.

      There’s a way to balance “follow your dreams” with “don’t piss in anyone’s cheerios”.

      Reply
      1. AnotherAlison

        That’s good that it gave you a good jumping off point, but I’ve also seen a lot of kids get stuck trying to “figure out their passion” before they can follow it. A lot of kids would be better off if someone advised them to just find a job they kind of like to start off, and see where it goes because you don’t have to do anything forever. I’d rather be a moderately fulfilled engineer than working a minimum wage job waiting for my passion to show up. I had a lot of friends who went into music or other things that were clear passions (and are successful), but I never had anything like that to begin with. We shouldn’t feel defective if we don’t have a passion we want to pursue.

        Reply
        1. Working Mom Having It All

          Yeah, I think the advice to “follow your passion” only makes real sense if you know what your passion is. On the other hand, I think a lot of people don’t have any particular passion that lines up well with a career, and all this focus on Your Passion, or Do What You Love, etc can insert anxiety into the whole process that isn’t necessary. Like, it’s completely fine if you’re just a regular person who likes database admin OK and also really enjoys baking cupcakes at home in your spare time.

          My brother is an accountant and is fine being an accountant. He doesn’t have any overarching Life’s Passion that he isn’t following. He wants to make good money, have nice things, and hang out with his friends. That’s not a bad way to live.

          Reply
          1. Sarcastic Fringehead

            I wish we did a better job of teaching kids (and past me) to figure out what kinds of things they’re good at, rather than what jobs sound fun. Like, I would struggle in a creative field, but I’m great at rules and analytical thinking – if I’d looked at it that way, I might have been more open-minded about pursuing a STEM degree instead of assuming I didn’t want to do those jobs.

            Reply
            1. AnotherAlison

              Sounds like I function like you, but I am still screwed up on passion. See, “they” say that you’ll find your best working area where you can use your talents (the analytical thinking) to pursue your passions (which should be something like space exploration, robots, IDK what). My talent is analytical thinking, but my passion is . . .analysis. When I’m pondering a problem, or someone else is, I like to spreadsheet it up and look at the data and possible solutions. I work in energy, and I really do enjoy the tasks of my jobs, but I don’t have a “passion” for the industry specifically. I know others who have zero background in engineering or science, yet get into, say, renewables, because they have a passion for renewable energy. Wish I could. . .

              Reply
              1. OtterB

                I dunno … another analysis nerd here. If you like to do analysis and do it well, then I’m not sure it matters what you apply it to as long as it produces useful results for your employer. If you have something you’d especially like to apply it to, good, but if you don’t, then as long as you’re not helping SuperVillainsRUs with their world takeover plans I’m not sure it matters.

                Reply
                1. Calpurrnia

                  Yes, this! I’m also an analysis nerd. I got my undergrad degree in astronomy because it was cool and fun and my “passion”, but I mean… Right now I’m a data analyst for a company in the automotive industry – I don’t know or particularly care about cars at all, but they sure do generate lots of data. Before this, I was monitoring the performance of air traffic control systems; I grew into loving ATC, but definitely didn’t come in expecting anything more from the job than “earning my paycheck with Excel”.

                  In both of these jobs I’ve ended up gravitating toward two things: building organizational systems, and building analytical tools that streamline or automate tedious analysis work. I would bet money that not a single high schooler, myself included, would even consider either of those as a potential “passion”, but it’s what I enjoy doing and gives me the greatest sense of accomplishment at work. What exactly I’m analyzing is totally irrelevant – it’s the analytical process that matters.

                2. Falling Diphthong

                  It could be the next book club. Analysis nerds could come together once a month and analyze a random problem.

            2. Jules the 3rd

              Consider an MBA… it’s way more analytical than most people think. My career is ‘translate between the geeks, sales, and the money people’, and it’s a fun niche.

              Reply
          2. Nita

            That’s so true! I’ve known what most of my passions are since I was a kid, but those are the ones that are unlikely to make any income. The ones that I could have turned into a paying job? I didn’t figure out that (a) I’m passionate about them and (b) that could be an actual job until it was a little too late. Not ruling out ending up in one of those lines of work some day, but it would be a big investment of time and money I do not have right now. Maybe one day.

            Reply
          3. Amber T

            I remember when I was interviewing for a job when I was still in college (i.e., not experienced in interviewing, long before I found AAM (before AAM existed?)). I forget exactly what the job title is now, but it was an entry level HR type job… something to do with Benefits I think, and I was asked why I wanted to be the Benefits Assistant or whatever the job title was. At the time, I was thinking I wanted to get into HR, and this sounded like an HR type job, and I absolutely tripped over myself trying to figure out how to answer. I ended up getting turned down because they wanted someone passionate about benefits.

            It really makes me curious… are there people passionate about office jobs? I now have an office job, and I can see being excited about aspects of it, and there are certainly parts of it I enjoy… but outside of creative jobs, or jobs like doctor or fireman, I don’t see anything to get passionate about. And I’m okay with that! This post sounds super depressing – I have passions! They just exist outside of work.

            Reply
            1. AnotherAlison

              I think people can be passionate about standard office jobs, but I think those are the passions that are built over a career as you become an expert, not passions that a new grad would have. I knew one person my age (40) who majored in HR. Others I knew who got into that were from other business degrees or miscellaneous degrees who probably had not taken an HR class and wouldn’t have had exposure to the topic of benefits to even know if they were interested, never mind passionate.

              Reply
            2. There's Always Money in the Banana Stand

              I am not passionate about my office job. I enjoy parts of it, and I like it for the most part, but I am not passionate about it. My passions fall under the volunteer work and the side jobs that I do outside of my day job.

              Reply
            3. rldk

              I think a lot of interviewers conflate “passionate” with “very good at” and see the two as mutually reinforcing, and equally necessary. And in reality, they just need someone who is good at the work and willing to put in effort to continue being good at it. Passion doesn’t actually matter. But making a case that you a) will be good at it and b) will continue to seek ways to improve can be read as passion without actually lying about what drives you.

              Reply
            4. Working Mom Having It All

              I totally think “we’re looking for someone who is passionate about [boring thing nobody is passionate about]” is shorthand for either a bad cultural fit or something that is really more to do with experience or aptitude.

              Example: working in TV and film production for years (where I would say storytelling or maybe something broader like creativity/the arts/humor would be my actual “passion”), I realized that I have a really good head for all the legalese involved with production insurance and deals with outside vendors. When I interviewed for my current job (BLA at a network), I was able to draw on that skillset to explain why I’d be a good fit to work with legal language all day. While I’m not “passionate about” license agreements, I have the aptitude to read the fine print on them day in and day out.

              Conversely, I think that “have a passion for x” is also a euphemism for weeding out people who want to use the position as a jumping off point for some other area. They want someone who wants to work in benefits, not someone who wants to be a recruiter (sorry I legit know nothing about HR) but thinks working with benefits will be a foot in the door.

              Reply
        2. Salad

          So true! I never had a “passion”, and I went into engineering because 1- I knew it paid well and 2- I was good at and enjoyed math and science. I almost transferred out but I’m SO GLAD I stuck with it. I’ve liked my jobs well enough, loved one of them, and had some awesome experiences at most of them. And I get paid well. I still don’t have one “passion”, but I love to travel, along with some other hobbies, and this job allows me to. And as a bonus, I’ve discovered something job-related that I really like and may end up being my work passion, and I’m working towards getting into that field. But even if that wasn’t happening, I’d be very happy where I am.

          Reply
          1. Working Mom Having It All

            But “good at and enjoyed math and science” sounds like you do in fact have a passion. It’s just not really the way we usually talk about those areas, unless it’s a biography of Einstein or something.

            Most people don’t have a “passion” for travel. They like going on vacation. But that’s because it’s good to take a break from the grind and dedicate time to enjoying yourself. Kanye West (to name someone people would probably agree “does what he loves” “follows his dreams” etc) goes on vacation sometimes. A friend of mine is a successful TV writer. She gets paid to sit in a room and come up with funny things for actors to say. She still goes on vacation and has hobbies, though.

            I think a major issue with this entire conversation is that what we’re allowed to think of as a “passion” or “doing what you love” is warped. I’m pretty sure nobody who wants you to follow your passions wants someone who loves math to quit in favor of writing poetry, or thinks that this means that nobody should work meaningful jobs but should instead just pet corgi puppies all day.

            Reply
        3. Sam.

          I worked with college students until recently, and many of them were very, very stressed about figuring out their dream career. Any time I suggested that finding your One True Calling (especially at 21) wasn’t actually necessary for a productive or fulfilling life, I’d get the most horrified looks. It was kinda sad, honestly.

          Reply
          1. Ego Chamber

            Man, I was pissed when I turned about 17 and all the adults around me started asking what I was going to do with my life every time they saw me. I was 17 years old, how the hell was I supposed to know that already (I assumed I’d slept through that class or something and I’d be damned if I was going to let that by my fault). Most of my friends had some idea though, so I understand THE FEAR of not knowing this thing everyone else already has a handle on.

            Reply
          2. Genny

            Yes. This. I’ve encountered several peers 5-7 years out of college who feel so guilty/stressed about wanting to leave the field for a semi-related one because they bought into the idea that this was their passion, their one true calling. They feel like they’re selling out on all the education and internships they had to go through to get into the field.

            Reply
      2. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow

        I think the problem often is that following those passions doesn’t lead you to a work you’re good at and a field you enjoy. Some people can course correct. But, many people can’t or won’t course correct.

        Reply
      3. Also not Shonda

        Came here to say something similar! Just for the sake of adding additional anecdotal evidence to the mix: I was a poor kid (food stamps poor), from a southern town, who was in fact told by my single mother to do what I love. Her voice, thankfully, was louder than the “go to community college for xyz and get a job at xyz factory” crowd, and now after 20 years of hustle I am in fact in my dream job as a TV writer. Grateful not everyone told me just to make money and keep my writing sidelined as a hobby.

        Reply
    2. MarsupialHop

      No too mention, what happens to the kid who has no dreams or passion when it comes to work? Especially hard when you have siblings who knew at an early age what they wanted to do, and have gone onto success in that field.

      Telling the kids to follow their dreams/passion is not just unrealistic for passionate dreamers, it’s defeating for the undecided.

      Reply
      1. Dust Bunny

        I don’t think I ever had a dream job. I still don’t. I like the one I have well enough. My dream job is whatever doesn’t hurt and will pay me enough (still sort of working on that second part, though). I’m OK with this.

        Reply
      2. CR

        Yeah, I never had a dream job or aspiration. It wasn’t until 30 that I actually found a field I enjoyed working in.

        Reply
        1. MarsupialHop

          It took me a while to realize that I’d never find my passion in work. My job does not reflect who I am. The quality of work I do, the effort I put in – that reflects who I am.

          I do not work for a company. I work for me (and I sub-contract out my time to the company)

          Reply
      3. CMart

        I’m fantastically lucky my I got my BA with minimal debt that was easily paid off, because I went into college with zero “passion” and so I majored in something that seemed cool/fun, and left with a degree and still zero “passion”. Which translated to zero drive to pursue an actual career in that field (you really need to love what you do to be willing to move to Wheatfield, KS to launch your career, you know?).

        I’m also lucky that while of course my parents wished for success and ambition for me, they were non-judgmental when I just hung out and bartended for a decade waiting for a lightning strike of inspiration.

        And I’m lucky now that as I approached 30 I had the time, means, and access to figure out what kind of “work skills” I’m good at and don’t hate doing 40 hours a week, and have been doing that for a bit.

        But the mental shift that came when I decided “eff it, I’m not actually passionate about anything, I just want a stable job with normal hours and good benefits” and figured out how to make that happen? It lifted a weight I didn’t know I had off my shoulders. I apparently had spent the ages of 18-30 feeling like a failure for not knowing what I wanted to be when I “grew up”. It was incredibly freeing to realize I could just… work.

        Reply
    3. Jennifer

      Yeah, you really need to do for work what people NEED for work, not what you want. People will always need help and services and even though I hate doing that stuff because it drains me, it’s what I can get paid to do.

      Reply
  6. Working Mom Having It All

    After over a decade working in the entertainment industry on a creative track (the idea being to go from PA work to someone’s assistant to getting hired as a writer), the day I realized it was completely OK for me to let work be work and follow my passions elsewhere was liberating. I’m now a legal assistant, still in the entertainment industry (but nobody thinks people in Business Affairs are trying to become TV writers), and now I go home at 6 every night, leave work at work, and have much more time and energy to pursue creative projects than I did before.

    Reply
    1. Properlike

      Same here. TV writing WAS my dream job, until it wasn’t. And then I was 30 and had to make a real living elsewhere, and the thought of being a TV writer now with those insane hours and constant crush is not remotely appealing. Had to figure out my other skills. Still looking for The Perfect Job because I’m good at plenty of things except being around people as part of a bureaucracy.

      I wish someone would pay me to go to college forever. I would love it. I’d get fifteen different degrees.

      Reply
  7. Emma

    Yes to being practical- I’ve always been on Team Don’t Quit Your Day Job, but this also makes me want to scream “FUND THE ARTS!!!!!” through a giant megaphone. It’s such a shame that the arts and humanities are viewed as inherently unprofitable, when it’s actually just a matter of us as a culture choosing not to value them.

    I took the I-just-need-a-hobby route until I realized that spending just my free time on my hobbies wasn’t enough. I’m now working on a plan to transition into doing what I love full time (which includes a Patreon page I just made and am happy to discuss further on the open thread).

    Reply
    1. Becky

      Patreon and similar services do offer an avenue that I believe did not exist previously. Some people do well with that kind of thing but some do not.

      Reply
      1. Drago Cucina

        It’s a lot of effort. The person who writes a book doesn’t realize the marketing involved after publication. Unless you’re Stephen King you have to work very hard at promoting and selling.

        Reply
        1. Emma

          So true! A lot of the success of Patreon projects also depends on creators having a pre-existing fan following who do a lot of the work of generating buzz.

          Reply
    2. Jennifer

      The weird thing about paying for entertainment is that in some cases (I think I read a quote by Stan Lee about this but can’t recall it), entertainment IS worth a lot of money. Or at least it is once you hit the big time.

      Reply
    3. Thlayli

      “Viewed as inherently unprofitable, when it’s just us as a culture choosing not to value them”

      People pay first for things they need. People are willing to pay for food and clothes and medicine and housing and so on. Artists produce things that no one NEEDS. Producing art or music inherently has less value than producing food or being a nurse or cleaning the streets.

      I love music and I like some art, but let’s get real, the reason it’s poorly paid is because it’s not something many people can afford to spend money on. There are real and valid reasons why art is not well paid, not just because “society chooses not to value it”.

      A painter who spends a month painting a picture can only sell it once, so they need to sell it for a lot of money of it is to be their day job. Most people can’t afford to spend a lot on a single painting, certainly not enough to pay someone to feed their family for a month. So very very few people can manage to make enough money to live selling paintings.

      The only artists who make real money are those involved in the big art industries that convert art into something that can be sold to millions of people for a small price – because most people can only afford to spend a small amount of money on art. Cinema tickets for example are relatively affordable. Movies cost a lot but they can be sold and resold many many times. Millions of people will pay a small amount each to see a movie, so movie stars can get very rich, and lots of artists who contribute a small amount to the movie can make enough to live on. Pop stars are another example. They make most of their money touring these days since music is so easy to pirate, but they can sell the same show to many people by playing it again and again to packed theatres.

      The key is replicating it in a form that the average person can afford to buy and will be willing to pay for. Then you might just make enough to live on.

      Reply
      1. Thlayli

        And in terms of “fund the arts”: Once we have no more homeless people, we solve the heroin problem, disabled and sick people have all the services and support they need, and we are giving a reasonable amount to third world charities, then I would support funding the arts. Till then I think if you aren’t producing stuff that people are willing to pay for, just accept that it’s a hobby, not a job. Personally I don’t want a huge amount of my tax euros paying for someone to enjoy their hobby, especially if I don’t think it’s producing something I would want to spend money on anyway.

        Reply
        1. esra

          Yikes. I mean, there is value in art and creativity and innovative thinking. Taxes going toward parks and public works and art that challenges people is value to society. The fact is, we really do have the capital to do it all, we’re just not spending it that way. Taking away arts funding is not going to solve societal problems, it’s an active detriment to society.

          Reply
          1. Ego Chamber

            Seriously agree. Setting causes up against each other to war over funding is gross—even if that is an economic reality, sort of, because the people who bitch about money for the arts not being given to the homeless usually seem like they don’t care much about the arts or the homeless. There will always be bigger problems than the one you’re working on, but that doesn’t make what you’re doing lack all value.
            #atleastyoudon’thavecancerANDaneatingdisorder

            Reply
            1. Heather

              A big hell yes to both of these. There’s plenty of money to do everything – it’s just that it’s concentrated in the hands of a few people right now. Not to mention that the arts provide an emotional outlet for people that many of us really need, especially right now.

              Reply
            2. Thlayli

              I disagree with money going to the arts precisely because I think there are better places to spend that money, like homelessness. Other people on this thread have expressed similar sentiments. You might want to rethink your assumption that people who don’t think government funding of arts is a good use of taxpayers money “don’t care about the homeless”. I’ve acrually been homeless (very briefly but even a week or two is pretty awful). I strongly suspect most homeless people, if you asked them, would express a preference for more homeless shelters versus more art.

              Reply
              1. esra

                So here’s the thing. I have also been homeless. Worst years of my life. After being homeless, I was super poor, for a long time. I have eaten enough expired food bank yogurt to last a lifetime.

                It’s not about the arts or helping the homeless. The good news? Plenty of money for both! The bad news? Tax shelters and breaks for the extremely wealthy mean everyone else gets into scraps like these over whether we should feed the poor or bring the many values of public art to society. It’s not like public arts money goes to homeless shelters when it gets cut. It goes into extremely minor tax breaks 99% of the time.

                Reply
          2. Thlayli

            Why on earth are people putting “parks” in the same category as “art”? Not even remotely the same thing. Also, public works includes many things people do actually need and use. “Challenging society” may be fun if you dislike society, but it’s not something I think taxes should be going towards.

            Reply
            1. esra

              Replying to you twice because I am legit so sad to see this. Challenging the status quo is absolutely of value to society. We become stagnant without new ideas + lots of challenging art incorporates seldom heard perspectives. If there is no public art, then basically only the wealthy are creating art. Art has impact, on the way people think about themselves, about the world, about the community they live in. That impact should come from a variety of perspectives.

              Also, yes, when I was homeless, I still cared about art.

              Reply
        2. Vicky Austin

          I agree, and I’m an artistic person myself.
          I am a die-hard liberal Democrat, but this is one of the few issues where I side with Republicans.
          I’m okay with the government funding things like PBS and NPR and public libraries because they serve a useful purpose, but the government shouldn’t literally pay people to create paintings and music and things like that. For every artist who gets paid by National Endowment for The Arts, there are hundreds more people (not just artists, but all types) struggling to make a living.

          Reply
      2. Starbuck

        By this argument we might as well de-fund and abolish all parks as well. Just because something isn’t assigned a monetary value in our capitalist society doesn’t mean it’s worthless or not necessary to have a good quality of life.

        Reply
        1. Kate 2

          But that’s not her argument. Should we force people to support the arts? People only pay for what they can afford and need, then what they want. And too many people can’t afford the “need” part at all, never mind want. How many people can afford a $2000 painting??? Not me, that’s for sure!!

          Reply
          1. VioletDaffodil

            No one is asking you personally to buy a $2,000 painting to support the arts. But as a society we can do things like fund libraries, to make literature easily accessible, and fund museums, theatre groups, and the like to make the arts more accessible.

            The money exists in the budget to do these things, but it routinely slashed or underfunded, and typically not in service of things like helping the homeless.

            Reply
        2. Thlayli

          What you are saying is literally the opposite of my argument. Parks have a genuine health benefit for the users, and green areas are necessary in urban areas to regenerate the oxygen in the air – we literally need green areas to breathe. They can also be enjoyed by many many people at once. Paying tax euros for maitaining a park everyone can use and get actual health benefits from is pretty much the opposite of paying someone to be an artist.

          Reply
      3. B

        The other part is a lot of people go into the arts; arts can definitely be lucrative, but like all businesses it takes a plan and hard work to be successful, not “i did what i wanted now money?”

        Reply
      4. Mark132

        +1, people actually spend plenty of money on the arts anyways, but it’s stuff like popular music, tv, and stuff like fancy furniture.

        There just is a limited market for classical sculpture vs sitcoms.

        Reply
      5. Working Mom Having It All

        But a lot of other people do who things few to no people “need” make a ton of money.

        I would say that the number of people who “need” to see a specialist doctor about their skin conditions more than they need food or shelter is minuscule. But dermatologists still make great money.

        As a nation, we probably don’t need to invent new kinds of bombs more than we need food and shelter. And yet defense contractors pay very well.

        My brother gets paid probably twice as much as me to do backend stuff for some internet thing that didn’t exist 15 years ago and is certainly not more important than food or shelter to literally anyone on the planet.

        In a complicated 21st century economy, how much a person makes does not in any way correlate to how needed their job is in a Maslovian sense.

        Reply
      6. Genny

        Agreed. I love the arts. I look forward to the day when I can afford a subscription to the performing arts center, but outside of NPR and PBS, I don’t think the federal government should be funding them. If state or local governments decide it’s a priority, I’m fine with that, but the federal government has are far higher priorities that require immediate funding than the arts. The reality is that money is finite, but the amount of positive things one can do with it is infinite. Things have to be prioritized, and those things should be immediate needs like healthcare, education, housing, infrastructure, national security, etc.

        Reply
    4. CBE

      When my kid got an art degree, even the speakers in the college of the arts were really, really discouraging. It wasn’t a celebratory function at all. It was “Best of luck, kids, probably shouldn’t have picked this degree” One speaker in particular (a department chair) was particularly Eeyore.
      And yet my kid is gainfully employed in their field!

      Reply
      1. Working Mom Having It All

        That’s awful. I’m literally sitting in an office where 100% of people on this floor of a large urban office building got arts degrees (or went into the arts despite not having that specific degree). And we’re all doing fine. WTF?

        Reply
    5. Nanani

      THIS.

      If we had more funding options, even for stuff that isn’t necessarily going to make anyone a millionaire, we’d probably have a happier, healthier society. More art! More artists! Fewer of them starving!

      Reply
  8. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

    I’m reading Big Magic (by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat Pray Love fame) and I sort of hate it, but one interesting thing she’s said is that trying to make a living from your passion is asking a lot of something you love; she argues for letting your creative passion be free and not tethered to your mortgage.

    Reply
    1. NW Mossy

      Years ago, I worked with someone who made beautiful yarn crafts – think lovely scarves and sweaters. I don’t even remember her name, but I do remember her philosophy that she would never make a piece with the intent to sell it because the thought of making the time profitable was so stifling to her creativity. She is happy to gift pieces, but doesn’t take commissions. I’m not a creative type, but I found her perspective so enlightening.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer

        I think about doing that, or at least folks will bring it up to you. However, if I charged you minimum wage for every hour I spent making it…there’s no way you’d pay it. So you really can’t do yarn crafts for pay for anything beyond the smallest of things.

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      2. Turquoisecow

        I liked art classes in school and once I was helping a friend with her art homework (read: doing some watercolors for her that she should have been doing herself). My friends were surprised by my talent and asked why I wasn’t an art major. My answer was similar to your coworker’s- the minute I start doing it for grades (or money), it’s less fun. There’s this pressure to make it *good* instead of fun, to reach some standard that makes it something worth being paid for – in money or with grades – that takes the fun out of it for me. If I draw for fun then there’s no outside pressure on me, it’s just my own amusement. If I’m trying to sell a drawing, or turn it in for a grade, it’s not as fun.

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    2. Becky

      My sister is a talented artist but consciously decided not to make it her livelihood, so as to not lose her enjoyment of it by making her financial stability dependent on it.

      Reply
      1. Midge

        That’s how I feel about baking. Years ago, my parents had (mostly jokingly) come up with this whole life plan for me where we’d open up a cafe where I’d do the baking and my dad would help with the business side. A) Waking up in the middle of the night to start baking things sounds terrible. And B) producing large quantities of the same thing, the same way sounded pretty boring to me (basically doing factory work, as Anthony Bourdain described working in a kitchen). I’d much rather make something when the whim strikes me, or because I’m interested in learning something new or trying a new flavor.

        Reply
    3. Tau

      This is actually the reason I decided from very early on (eighteen? nineteen?) that I did not want to try to make a living off writing (which is probably my main “passion”). I want the freedom to be able to go “OK, no, not feeling it today” or “I know nobody will want to read this weird amalgam of genres but I want to write it anyway” without that having a financial impact, and am afraid that forcing something that’s always been a hobby would ruin my enjoyment of it.

      Reply
      1. Writing Passion

        The best writing advice I’ve ever received is very similar to this.

        It was basically “If you want to write, you need to have a steady income. Only an extremely small percent of writers ever make it big. Let it stay a passion instead of a job.”

        This advice came from a trio of men who do a panel at an anime con I go to every year on How to Be a Writer. They literally told us that the only reason they’re able to write what they love is because they retired from public service work with good pensions (one of them had been a firefighter and I don’t remember what the other two did).

        Reply
      2. TardyTardis

        I am writing (not as full time as I’d like Because Reasons), but a steady retirement income helps me not go mad with fear and anxiety every time I put up a book. Because of that income, when one book went up on Amazon and basically died, I whined, but I wasn’t really impacted financially. Otherwise I’d end up on the Must Market Everything All The Time and Miff Off All My Friends treadmill, and urg, that’s a ugly place to be.

        Reply
    4. Falling Diphthong

      In high school my oldest was debating between going into work with horses, or work that would afford her the time and money to do horses as a hobby. I would have supported either choice, but was glad she chose the latter–there is a lot to be said for retaining your passion as something you have to do, no matter how much you aren’t feeling it, because you need rent this month.

      Reply
      1. AnotherAlison

        I know of a few similar stories & I think the parents are generally relieved! A friend’s daughter planned to major in theater, but switched to pharmacy when she enrolled as a freshman and ended up finishing up her Pharm.D. and MS in Pharmaceutical Chemistry this year. I wouldn’t say studying theater is a waste for everyone, but jeez, when you have the kind of brain that understands that much chemistry, I think theater would be a waste. This is the particular problem of picking “following your passions” when you’re 18–your world is still fairly narrow & you may pick a childhood hobby or something your social group was into. My own son is starting his junior year at college & still hanging onto his baseball dreams, but he isn’t very academic and college is paid for, so I’m happy he’s going to college regardless. (I also think when he’s not around baseball players all the time, he’ll find other things he loves more.)

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        1. Vicky Austin

          Good point!
          It was none less than Lin-Manuel Miranda himself who said, “Only go into theater if you are so passionate about it that you can’t imagine doing anything else. I made it big, but most people who pursue theater as a career don’t, so unless you can’t live without doing theater, don’t make it your career.”

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        2. Le Sigh

          “I wouldn’t say studying theater is a waste for everyone, but jeez, when you have the kind of brain that understands that much chemistry, I think theater would be a waste.”

          I might mis-reading this, so I apologize up front if so. I just want to flag the characterization of science > arts. If the friend’s daughter decided that pharma as job, theater as hobby was the right call for her, I think that’s great if it’s what suites her best (and you def. need a strong passion for theater, given the challenges). But I feel like we have tendency to treat science as inherently a better use of our talents and time over arts. Perhaps it’s not as obviously practical, but the arts, philosophy majors, etc., have a lot of value and her brain could have been valuable in theater, too. We’ve gotten really aggressive in promoting STEM in the U.S., which is great, but sometimes it’s at the expense of liberal arts–philosophy majors can make great lawyers because they need those kinds of minds, etc.

          My older sister is in a science field and I really admire her work. It’s valuable and it makes her happy. I went in to a writing-oriented field that many viewed as impractical at the time–and now make a decent living fundraising for important causes using those same skills. I also spent years helping her become a stronger writer so she could become a scientist and publish studies. I think it’s important kids view things with a practical lens — which is how I wove writing into a career — and I roll my eyes at the “just follow your passion stuff!” But I also worry we push them to make choices simply cause it’s what they’re best at (regardless of interest), and send the message that STEM = obviously better.

          Reply
      2. AnotherAlison

        I should also add that one of my sister’s best friends from school rode growing up and then became an equine vet, so sometimes that works out, too.

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      1. TardyTardis

        Yes, the Incredible Privilege was strong in that one. Still took some interesting lessons away, but so could not identify with that kind of tourism.

        Reply
  9. Higher Ed Database Dork

    I think taking a critical look at your passions and interests can be a good start to figuring out what kind of work might make my reasonably content and satisfied, as well as what kind of lifestyle you want to have. I really thought I was going to end up in the social sciences, but the academic faculty lifestyle was not appealing at all (basically I just wanted to read and study things but not really write or publish…and definitely not be on committees). I also tried to get into graphic design, but having to be artistically creative on demand really drained me. So I dissected what I liked about those interests, and what I liked about those career paths, and tried to nail down what was important to me in a job – before I picked a specific job.

    I soon realized I liked design because it was problem solving and trying to make something better and more efficient, and I liked studying social sciences because I like to learn about large systems and tease out their issues and analyse them. So I got into IT and eventually into databases, and that satisfies a lot of those interests and skills, but also gives me a lifestyle I want – I work regular business hours and can leave work at work at the end of the day, and get paid a good salary.

    Reply
    1. Mimmy

      This is what I’ve needed help with. Can you (or anyone else) suggest any good resources for figuring all this out? Sure, there’s all those self-assessment books but they can only go far before you get into analysis-paralysis lol.

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      1. Higher Ed Database Dork

        I pretty much just sat down and started writing lists of things I liked about a career, and things I didn’t. When I envisioned myself doing that job, what kind of emotions surface? What does my idea of this job entail? And then I talked with people in the actual job about the nitty gritty of them.

        I feel you on the analysis paralysis, books didn’t really help me much because they had tons of ideas and suggestions about how to do things, but not really any place to start. So I suggest start writing out lists – and get the “vision” of the job out of your head and onto paper. And then talk to people doing that kind of work. I hope this helps!

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      2. Jules the 3rd

        I had to go to grad school to figure it out… School career counselors are supposed to help, and there’s professional career counselors if you can scrape together the $$.

        There’s been several good Friday threads on this, iirc – you could also start another one this week and see what pops up.

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      3. Brownie

        Think of it as if you were someone outside trying to get an idea of what your personality, likes, dislikes, strengths, and so on are. Ask friends and family what your strengths are and what they see you doing a lot of, especially what they see you enjoying. It’s easy to get sucked into the analysis hole when looking from the inside. Starting from the outside, going as broad as you can to start with is very useful as an anchor if the analysis hole threatens to paralyze you.

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        1. Airy

          The problem with this is that all the things people think I’m good at would be unsuitable in their job form – I’m a good cook and baker but working in those industries would exhaust me and make me miserable (the half a year I spent training to be a baker showed me that) and I can write a little but I need a steady job with a known income. I’m still stumped.

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          1. HannahS

            I think you need to break it down a bit more, to find the components of a job that will satisfy you. What about cooking and baking are good at and what parts are appealing to you? Further analysis looks more like answering these kinds of questions: Is it important to you to end your work with a concrete product? Do you like following processes? Do you like taking existing processes and going “wait, I know a different way, let’s try that” and getting new outcomes? Do you like working completely alone? Do you like working independently and making decisions on your own while being on a larger team? Do you in fact prefer not to make major decisions and work under someone else? Is it that you like nurturing people? Do you prefer mainly working with your body and using your mind to solve physical problems (these cakes aren’t rising, this electrical system doesn’t work, this jobsite set-up doesn’t work) or mainly using your mind to solve intangible problems (this child isn’t adjusting well, this business isn’t making money, these streets aren’t safe for cyclists)?

            You get the idea. I don’t have resources for lists of questions like that, but I think they’re really important and useful.

            Reply
            1. Airy

              Unfortunately this still leaves it far too vague for me as I have no idea what actual occupations those connect to or what they would be called in a job ad, since job titles these days seem designed to obfuscate rather than inform.

              Reply
              1. Business Librarian

                One thing that you might want to try is to go to O*Net and play with the skills search: https://www.onetonline.org/skills/

                You select areas that you think you have skills in (or that you’d like to develop) and then it gives you a list of jobs that use those skills and tells you how they rank in terms of needing preparation or education. I just did it and I matched with CEO and animal trainer so you can see that it will give you a wide range of things to think about!

                Reply
        2. A Username for here

          It’s always helpful to have people give you an outside perspective on your talents, but I really have to warn against this. I spent my school years being good at writing/history, so I got “binned” as an English/Social Studies person was told, “Oh you should be a writer/journalist/English teacher/lawyer!” I actively avoided math/science classes, because I “wasn’t good” at them.

          Looking back, I was a straight-A student in math and sciences. I got a perfect score on my state’s trig exam. I got A’s in Physics. Just because I was better at English/Social Studies doesn’t make me bad at Math/Science!

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      4. Cascadia

        I second the list making idea! If you have a job currently, go task by task and write down which aspects of it you like, and which aspects you don’t. Once you have your lists, look for threads in the likes column – maybe they’re all people-oriented, maybe they’re all detail oriented, etc. I might also do another round, but instead of thinking about what I liked/disliked I would focus on what I was good at, and where I needed growth. You should also think back to past jobs you’ve had – what did you like in that job? why? What didn’t you like? Why? Finally, consult with colleagues/friends/family for what you really do well in their eyes. Hopefully you can start to see some trends and start to pull together a list of what you’re looking for in your day-to-day work. After you have that, then you might have a better sense of where to go from there.

        Reply
        1. Cedrus Libani

          This is how I found my current field. I’d chosen my initial career path at age seven or so, and had stuck with it. I had a job that first-grade me would have been excited about. But I noticed that I kept gravitating towards the data analysis tasks. This was normally a small part of the job duties, but I pounced on anything of that nature that came up. In fact, I started bartering duties, such that I’d analyze other peoples’ data for them, while they did whatever I was supposed to be doing.

          Eventually, the light bulb went on. There are jobs where the WHOLE JOB is to analyze data! Also, those jobs pay a lot better. I should probably do that instead. (So I did.)

          Reply
      5. n

        What I’ve found helpful for dealing with my own analysis paralysis is to stop thinking and just start doing stuff that sounds interesting. Take online classes, read books/blogs, attend webinars, and start doing stuff that sounds cool. Try to take on projects that let you explore your interests. At my first professional job, I wanted to learn about copywriting and graphic design, so my boss let me write product descriptions and work with our art director to create email marketing campaigns, in addition to doing other things like customer service. After a while, I decided I liked doing those things enough to keep pursuing them in my next role.

        You can also do informational interviewing with folks, if you’re the extroverted/courageous type. Basically, find someone who does something that sounds interesting, and ask them all about it. This can help you start to get a sense of what doing the thing is actually like in real life and what steps you need to take to start doing it.

        Reply
    2. AnotherAlison

      The other piece I see in trying to figure all this out is the career advancement track. As you mentioned, trying to do art on demand can be draining. Even if you could follow a passion to do art and were a successful graphic designer, at some point, you may start wondering if you should broaden into other related functions, like marketing or running the art department. Then you hate that!

      Reply
    3. Brownie

      Oh, to go back and tell my college-aged self to do what you did and examine what exactly it was I liked in order to figure out which career path would be best. I ended up with a hard science degree and struggled for years to find a job that wasn’t being stuck in a lab or in academia, both of which made me miserable. Eventually I fell into a database and application design job where both needed to be built from the ground up to handle scientific data and therefore needed someone with a science background to design them. That developed into a DBA job and now I’m veering into database/application security. Going back and figuring out that what I love doing is troubleshooting complex systems, figuring out the whys and hows of things interact, that would have changed my whole career path from the beginning as well as letting me find a job I like much faster.

      Reply
      1. Jules the 3rd

        Yeah, but when I was in college, ‘complex systems’ wasn’t a career path, or at least not how anyone described one.

        ‘Troubleshooting complex systems’ is something that can be in a gazillion different careers, though:
        City/county/civil management (my original goal)
        Project management (considering for my next) – and all the variants of this
        – Construction
        – Movie production
        – Computer software implementation
        Business Supply Chain (my current job)
        Computer software architecture
        Computer professional consulting (considering for my next)
        Management (People are really complex…)

        Reply
        1. AnotherAlison

          For some reason, when I was a college student, I wanted to get into systems engineering so it at least existed in a more tangible way in the late 90s. So, I changed from mechanical engineering to that for one semester, then back to mechanical engineering when I transferred schools, but I still thought it would be my ‘best fit’ major. Mechanical engineering, of course, had plenty of opportunities to troubleshoot complex systems, but I found it intimidating as a young engineer and mechanical things never really clicked for me. I use similar skills for other things in the engineering industry, but to me, it is funny that something that fits really well on paper was something I didn’t like at all. Like, troubleshooting operational processes is fun but don’t ask me about your vibrating pump.

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        2. Brownie

          My dad always described troubleshooting complex systems as “something everyone needs and will pay out the nose for, but no one can ever define it for a job posting, so it’ll be listed as something else.” Man, was he ever right. And it is in so many careers! It’s the primary for so much, with the secondary being things like soft/people skills, mechanical ability, design aspects, organizational abilities, and so on. Paired up with the secondary skill it leads to a narrowing down of careers that would have been helpful for me years ago.

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      2. Higher Ed Database Dork

        Me too! I didn’t really figure all this out until I got hired into an IT customer service role, and started realizing I liked the troubleshooting parts much better than the design parts (the job was a mix of instructional designer/app support tech).

        I think that’s another part of it – you’re not a failure if you don’t figure all this out early on, just like you’re not failure if you don’t follow your passion.

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        1. Brownie

          I was lucky enough to have examples all around me growing up of what you major in won’t be your career that I didn’t really feel like a failure for not doing something in my major, but I did fall into the post-college trap of not landing a dream job instantly means failure at life. And then the recession hit and it turned into the guilt of at least I have a job, even if I hate it and every day I’m falling deeper into depression. It took me a good 5 years to get past the feelings of life failure and guilt to even start looking for a job that was a better fit for me. There’s so many traps out there like those and it’s so easy to fall into them, especially early in someone’s career.

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    4. L

      Thanks for writing it out like this, I did very much the same thing in figuring out what I really want to do next. All these “DON’T GO TO GRAD SCHOOL” threads make me feel horrible because I’m about to start grad school and am really over the moon about it. But I did much the same as you to figure out my new career path – I took longer to graduate college than what is “standard” and have been out working professionally for 3+ years, so I don’t feel like I’m rushing into it. I made lots of lists on what I liked about my undergrad and my professional job (which is directly related to my undergrad but not what I’m going for my Master’s in) and feel pretty well-informed about it. I think I’ve found a good cross-section for my future career (hopefully!) in a similar manner to what you did in that I think it will fill in the areas I like and be tolerable in the ways I don’t like. Grad school can be a good choice for some, as I feel it will be for me at this point in my life.

      Reply
      1. Kb

        Grad school can be an amazing choice and it sounds like you’ve considered everything very carefully. I think a lot of people have been burned, though, because the student loan situation is out of control. Also, there’s a lot of people who tack a master’s straight on to undergrad before they have any experience with money or “the real world.” I think a lot of 17-22 year olds assume they’ll immediately be massively successful and/ or don’t really understand what adult budgeting is like, so they get into 100k of debt thinking they’ll easily be able to pay it off in 5 years bc average salaries in their field are 50k and wow, that sounds like a lot of money, not really considering interest, taxes, healthcare, food, rent, transportation, and life events.

        Reply
      2. Scatterbrain Jane

        Grad school changed my life and doubled my salary. Zero regrets. I also did a lot of research on career paths and statistics in my new field before I was willing to take on new loans. It sounds like you know what you’re doing, so congratulations, best of luck, and don’t forget to eat and sleep! My first semester was a fun sprint, and then I realized with some horror that I was running a marathon. (Worth it, though.)

        Reply
        1. Toads, Beetles, Bats

          I ran 3 marathons while in grad school. In every single one, I would start feeling sorry for myself at mile 21, as one does, and then think: well hey, this is still waaaaaaay less painful than dissertation writing. I don’t regret grad school, but it really was a marathon x 1000. Hydrate well!

          Reply
      3. KTB

        I totally agree–getting my MBA was a great decision, and the debt was pretty minimal compared to my current salary. I also ended up getting into energy efficiency, which is not a field I had any clue about in undergrad. I read Back in Black by Cathie Black (which I wouldn’t really recommend anymore, but was great in 2006) and her advice about using grad school to change careers aligned perfectly with my goal. So in that sense, I have zero regrets about grad school, even though I was working full time while going to school.

        I even managed to get married in the middle of it, because I apparently hate free time. So yeah, definitely hydrate!!

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        1. krysb

          I hope to start an MBA program, but the difference is that I’ll be 34 with 7 years of management under my belt, not 23 with no idea how the working world works. I think that’s where a large portion of the problem lies. Specifically for MBAs, schools should never have removed the work experience requirements.

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      4. Higher Ed Database Dork

        Like others have commented, it sounds like you’ve thought this through, and it’s the right thing for you! I think graduate degrees can be great, but it just requires really evaluating everything carefully to see if it’s going to fit into your overall career and life plans, and have a good plan in place to finance it. I’ve been working in higher ed most of my career, and I see lots of young people who just leap right into a grad degree (myself included) without really thinking about what they’re doing.

        I encourage young people to really think hard about all their options (including going to college at all) and try to be conservative with their costs, as much as they can. And yes, sometimes you just don’t know until you get there and try things out…and that’s okay too. I started a graduate program and stopped halfway through, because that was the best choice for me.

        Reply
      5. Vicky Austin

        There are certain times when you SHOULD go to graduate school: for instance, when you know what line of work you want to enter, and it requires a graduate degree.
        In fact, I would tell any college senior in that position: Don’t wait. Go to grad school right away. The more time you take off, the harder it will be to go back to school.
        On the other hand, if you’re not quite sure what you want to do for a career, then you should work for at least a few years out of college until/unless you realize what you want and it requires a graduate degree.

        Reply
  10. There is a Life Outside the Library

    We link our self worth/dreams/overall personhood to work way too often in the US. It’s extremely unhealthy for a lot of people.

    Reply
        1. There is a Life Outside the Library

          I don’t think it’s quite as extreme in a lot of Europe, but with the recession it has definitely changed.

          Reply
  11. Ruth (UK)

    Thank you, I really enjoyed listening to that. I have gradually been realising pretty much everything you said here over the last few years through a combination of my own experiences, thinking and reflecting, discussions I’ve had with others, and of course from reading your blog. I’ve felt much more happy and content as I’ve realised this.

    After studying English (ha!) and initially working a string of retail/call centre/etc jobs, I’m now in a fairly nice administrative job where I am reasonably happy in my department etc and find the work neither especially exciting nor mind-numbing. I like to perform well at my job but I can hardly say that checking expense claims forms (for example) is my ‘passion’. But I also have the time etc I need to do the things I love (dancing) and spend time with my friends/family etc. I have lots of things I look forwards to with excitement – mostly out of work, but sometimes at work too.

    I wish I could explain this to some friends of mine who are in similar jobs to me but deeply unhappy and dissatisfied, feeling a range of emotions including a sense of failure and also a sense that the world has somehow snatched away their opportunity for happiness and fulfilment by not having the perfect career ready and waiting for them when they graduated, like me, during the recession (I graduated in 2012). I have seen one friend struggle with seeming to feel that no matter how hard she tries, she could never achieve the life she really wants, while at the same time seeming to feel she deserves that made up life without trying.

    I say “I wish I could explain” because I have tried to say it’s ok to just be ok with your job, but not love it. But they think that’s just like ‘accepting failure’ or ‘giving up’. I’m not saying I wouldn’t go for the perfect job if it came along, but to be honest I’m not even sure what the ‘perfect job’ would be.

    Reply
    1. Raquel

      I agree really great comment. I’m in a similar boat (but can’t dance to save my life!). I work admin but finished a degree I hated (I don’t think you said you hated your degree in my case mine was forced upon me by a strict family). I’m in a job that I tolerate but I realise it funds well to enjoy things outside of work. I look for little things at work to be happy maybe going for coffee break or treating myself to a nice lunch. I don’t hate the job but I wouldn’t write a sonnet about it, other it just gets me through the day and I collect a reasonable pay check.

      Reply
    2. Morning Glory

      I think there can be a big difference between feeling like you need to pursue a PASSION and feeling dissatisfied with your career progression, or stuck in a job you hate. When I was an admin, I was miserable; I am a poor personality fit for admin work, and felt trapped in a job without a lot of options for escape.

      Being promoted to NotAdmin was in no way a move into a job I was passionate about, but made a huge difference in terms of my day to day happiness. It may be your friends don’t need an attitude adjustment, they may be in a role that they are really unsuited for, without a lot of options for getting out.

      Reply
  12. Drago Cucina

    I’m fortunate that I’m doing the job I always wanted to do. I’m very passionate about our mission. There are still days I hate coming to work. The millions of little, wearing details make me want to scream. People think that having your “dream job” means never having a rough day. Wrong.

    There was a book (sorry I forgot the title) for those thinking about starting their own business. It warned that taking something you love and making it your profession can remove the joy. If you love baking cupcakes you may hate running a bakery. There is so much more than just baking the cupcakes and selling them.

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    1. Higher Ed Database Dork

      Whenever I complain about my jobs, my mom always suggested I start my own business – and hire her to help with it. Because running my own business PLUS my mom looming over me wouldn’t be stressful at all!

      Reply
      1. Bea

        A new business rarely ever has employees right out of the gate. It’s a ton of tireless work until you make enough to pay an assistant. So she’d be waiting awhile if she wants a paycheck from that arrangement!

        Reply
        1. Higher Ed Database Dork

          That’s something I can’t seem to get across to her – starting your own business (and it would be a small business) can be a huge time and money sink and typically isn’t even profitable for a single owner until a few years in. I like my steady paychecks!

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          1. Drago Cucina

            “Make my own hours” as a business owner means working 24/7. Very few people can afford “hobby businesses”.

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    2. NW Mossy

      Mr. Mossy works for a small business that’s co-owned by two guys rapidly approaching retirement. One of the owners would very much love for Mr. Mossy to buy the business from them on extremely generous terms so that it can survive into another generation. But unfortunately for the current owners, Mr. Mossy is sharp enough to realize that while he’s very good at the job they hired him to do, he has no interest in or aptitude for running a small business. That’s a very specific skill set in its own right, and it’s entirely independent from the service/product you may be good at creating.

      Reply
    3. Aphrodite

      Absolutely true for me and for many, I suspect. It’s why I don’t want to turn the things I love into a second job. I did that once with writing–and it taught me that Hunter S. Thompson’s take on it, that writing like sex “which is only fun for amateurs; old whores don’t do much giggling.” Despite encouragement from a number of quarters I lost all my passion for any writing and have never done any of it again. Nor do I have any interest.

      Reply
    4. Fiennes

      I’m lucky enough to have made my passion my career. It is both more fulfilling and more lucrative than anything else I’ve done. More flexible, too. While it obviously involves bad days and stresses, I prefer these bad days and stresses to the ones I had with other jobs.

      So I’m an outlier. I know this. I tend to be a practical person myself. But I’d also argue against *assuming* you couldn’t make your passion your career, or that you’d definitely hate doing it for money instead of fun. If I’d assumed that, I’d have a far poorer life than I do—in every sense.

      What I would say is, do your research. Do people make a living doing the thing you dream of? If so, what does it really involve? What is a realistic income expectation? If you’re in the US, how does this affect your health insurance? Can you live with the risk levels? Can your partner or family, if you have them?

      But if you have genuinely done your homework, have a realistic view of the likelihood of success, understand the financial situation, and have no particular attachment to your current work? I say, try. People can recover from trying and failing. But never trying can be a wound that doesn’t heal.

      And if your homework/risk assessment say you shouldn’t take the chance? Then at least you’ll feel more solid in your choice.

      I just can’t co-sign “you’d hate your hobby as a job!” as a universal principle. That is not always true.

      Reply
      1. buttercup

        I agree with this too. I think Alison’s message is for people who don’t have a specific “passion” and that it’s okay not to have one – or it is okay to have one that doesn’t translate to a full time job.

        Reply
      2. smoke tree

        At the risk of being nosy, I think I recall you mentioned what field you’re in on a previous thread, which intrigued me because I’m interested in that field. Any chance you’d be willing to share a bit about what it’s like on a day-to-day basis on the open thread? It’s a perspective I’m always interested to hear more about, particularly from people who like it. It’s nice to hear that not everyone hates turning their hobbies into a career!

        Reply
    5. buttercup

      So much agreement. I really like the core functions of my job, but all the little details, shitty management, and dumb client requests kind of put a damper on things.

      Reply
  13. Working Hypothesis

    The thing I think needs to be part of this advice is that you really should follow your passion… in SOME way.

    No, that way does not have to be what you do for a living. But the problem with following your passion *outside* of work time is that this society is so focused on work that if your plan is to do your work as work and get your emotional fulfillment outside of it, you need to understand it will take a lot of deliberate effort and boundary-setting (with both your employer and, quite possibly, your friends and family) to be able to set aside the time and energy to follow your passion *outside* of work hours. So often, people are told that they have to put almost all of their waking time and attention into work that they don’t even try to follow their passion outside of work hours. If they can’t do it as a job, they don’t do it at all, because so much of their time and energy is going into the job that they do their work, come home, do necessary chores and meal prep, eat, and sleep, and go back to work again.

    That’s no way to live, when the work itself is not fulfilling. If you’re going to have a job which doesn’t feel like play to you, it’s important to carve out the time somehow to follow your passion in your off hours.

    For example, Alison just answered a question from somebody whose passion is clearly travel… they’ve done several significant trips already and are now planning a two-month dream trip. It’s okay if they have a passion for travel and their work is simply what they do to finance that passion… but they are also going to have to make sure they have the time away from work to go places. Not just in this case, but throughout their career. That may mean focusing on employers who give a lot of PTO, even at lower paychecks; or it might mean planning to take time to travel between jobs and saving money so that they can spare the time without looking for work yet when they leave one job, before they move to another. It may mean a lot of different things, but it ought to mean *something*, because if they love travel and want to travel and they don’t actively consider this in laying out a strategy for what kind of work they want to do and with what kind of company they intend to pursue it, they will find that traveling doesn’t actually happen… their job demands too much of their time, so they can’t take the trips they want to take.

    We only get one lifetime, as far as we have any reason to know. It’s such a terrible waste to let the expectations of a ‘normal’ life box one in so that one can’t do the things that are most important to oneself in that lifetime. Thankfully, it’s usually possible for at least those of us in relatively rich countries to find a way to do at least the most important couple of things on our lists… but only if we actively seek out those ways, rather than drifting along with the expectations of society and not thinking about what matters to us personally.

    Reply
    1. neverjaunty

      Well said.

      The problem is that “find your passion” is thrown around to me “find a job whose substance neatly fits your interests”, like kids being told they should be lawyers because they like to argue, instead of your much more sensible definition.

      Reply
    2. Sara without an H

      Wise words. If you decide that your life’s passion isn’t something that the modern world will pay you to do, you need to find a reasonably pleasant job that will leave you with energy and and adequate income to pursue it. I have an awful lot of artist friends who are mostly working to pay for their art supplies…

      Reply
  14. Mimmy

    Thank you Alison and fellow commenters. This is something I am VERY guilty of. I can never feel satisfied in a job because it’s not exactly what I’m passionate about – I am always looking ahead, trying to figure out how to get out of a boring and somewhat dysfunctional job and how to craft my career into something that uses skills and knowledge I want to use.

    So….follow up question: What do you say in a job interview for a position that isn’t a “follow your passion” job? I always thought employed wanted people who are passionate about a company or organization’s service / product / mission?

    Reply
    1. Classic Rando

      When interviewing for my current job (which I don’t think anyone expected a passion-driven applicant for), my answer to what I was looking for in a job was something with regular m-f hours and lots of stability that I could stay at for many years.

      I didn’t bother telling them that part of my reasoning was so I’d have more time/money to work on a passion project with, that part wasn’t relevant. They just needed to know that I was looking for a long term, stable job.

      Reply
    2. Jules the 3rd

      Some careers care more about passion than others. Teaching, non-profits and computer game programmers require passion, because the pay and hours are so bad.

      A lot of companies are ok with ‘new challenges’ and ‘looking for opportunities to learn and grow’.

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        This. Employers who ask for “passion” usually mean “we want someone whose emotions cloud their ability to know how bad this job will be”.

        Reply
    3. LadyByTheLake

      I would think it really weird if an interviewee told me that they wanted a job because it “was their passion.” Most work isn’t anybody’s passion, and no one expects to gush about how excited you are about reviewing spreadsheets/stocking shelves etc. I don’t want “passionate” employees, I want dedicated employees. There’s a difference.

      Reply
    4. Brownie

      “Passionate” is such an ill-defined term in interviews & job postings outside of startups and non-profits from what I’ve seen. My current job is as a database administrator. No one ever asks if the potential hire is passionate about administrating databases. What they do ask about/look for is eagerness to expand knowledge/skills, willingness to troubleshoot, and desire to make a positive impact in the jobs/lives of those the database affects. Taken together those can all easily be categorized as “passion”, but they really aren’t when they’re broken down.

      Reply
    5. buttercup

      What employers fundamentally want is someone who can do the job and do it well – if you demonstrate that then it will be difficult for them not to hire you regardless of how much you demonstrate passion for the job. There are a lot of job seekers who will say they are passionate about the job/company, but if they don’t have the competencies, they don’t get hired.

      Reply
    6. Nacho

      “I like to help people” is a good one for pretty much any service industry job. I remember all I had to tell my current employer is that I was recently laid off from a company who did pretty much the exact same thing as they did, just like everyone else they hired within the past month. They snapped us all up pretty quickly.

      Reply
  15. bdg

    I followed my passion, then ended up back in school for engineering. But now, as I’m thinking about 5 year plans and career goals… I don’t care! I just want a job that’s not too stressful, has some interesting problems to solve, and lets me go backpacking a few times a year. I’m not sure how to communicate that without sounding like a real slacker, though. I’ve tried saying I’m interested in being a “technical expert” but that’s not really true. I just want to be a good employee who does good work and gets vacation time approved.

    Reply
    1. miss_chevious

      There is a place for the good employee who just works for the money in most organizations (I am one!), and let me tell you, it’s a sweet gig. You do have to play the corporate game a bit and talk up your ambitions — for some reason, no employer wants to hear “I want to work hear because you pay money and give benefits” — but most hiring managers are looking for good employees, not superstars, so sell yourself and do good work and you’ll find what you’re looking for. I wish you the best.

      Reply
    2. Mark132

      I think your attitude is fairly common. Sometimes you just have to play the game, tell people what they want to hear, and then do a good job like you said. Which in reality was all they wanted anyways.

      Reply
    3. AliceW

      I have always interviewed for jobs that sounded decent and which I knew I would be good at, but I have always faked enthusiasm in the interview. I have always told them what they wanted to hear (this job description aligns perfectly with my interest and skills; is the next step in my career which I am really excited about etc.) I have never told them actual truth- but saying I just need a job that pays the bills and will allow me to retire early- is not something I would ever say in a job interview. You say what you have to (within reason) to land a job.

      Reply
  16. LadyByTheLake

    I don’t have a “passion” for anything specifically, other than reading and my cats. I like my job. I’m good at it. I get paid well for it. But I think it is difficult to claim a “passion” for bank regulations (even if I do find them really interesting). I’ve been feeling really bad for years now that I’m not “following my dream” or “realizing my passion.” I’m fine, and thank you Allison, for giving me permission to be fine.

    Reply
    1. Dee-Nice

      Hi! Yes! I like lots of stuff. I only really LOVE my family, sleep, food, books and music. And sweet, sweet TV. I’m only going to get 80 or so years on this earth if I’m lucky, and I’d like to spend them in relative peace and comfort if I can, and help some people along the way. And I’m sometimes confused because it seems like if you’re not working toward some larger aim, people in certain professional spheres don’t know what to do with you. What can I say? My joys are subtle, my tempers are gentle.

      Reply
  17. whistle

    Another aspect to this is that if you follow your passion in work, you might end up with it not being your passion anymore. Nothing like trying to make a living playing an instrument/crafting/dog sitting to make you hate playing an instrument/crafting/dog sitting!

    Reply
    1. Working Hypothesis

      I know a lot of passionate musicians who flatly refuse EVER to use their music to make a living at, even when they’re broke, because they don’t want to start hating it.

      Reply
    2. Cheesesticks and Pretzels

      I agree 100% I love horses. I tried to make a living at it until my late 20’s, got burnt out and just hated it. Fast forward to having various different blue and white collar jobs including going back to school. After taking a 10+ year break, I am now able to work a job I can tolerate and have the time and funds to be able to enjoy horses and riding again.

      Reply
    3. buttercup

      Yes – this is why I’m glad dancing is only my hobby and not a career. People have actually asked me why I didn’t pursue it full time! I love dance, but I like stable incomes better, I guess.

      Reply
    4. smoke tree

      I don’t think this is universally true. I know a fair number of professional musicians and they all still love music. I think for many people, if you love something enough that you are willing and able to make money at it, it’s not something that you’ll easily grow sick of. But you might grow sick of some of the tradeoffs–for instance, a professional musician may love to perform but hate teaching and having no days off.

      Reply
  18. annejumps

    I very specifically chose not to go to art school and not to go into art as a career. I did not want to depend on feeling inspired to make art in order to make money, and I did not want to amass private schooling fees that would put me in the hole even more. I also didn’t want to get burned out. I ended up with a ‘boring’ but pleasant job that pays well, I have never had student loans, and I can opt into or out of creating art at any time.

    Reply
  19. tommy

    This bit of it never made sense to me either: “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” That’s patently untrue. Of all the lucky people who DO have a job doing something they passionately love, how many of them never have a bad day of work, never need to push themselves in unpleasant ways for that job, never find any aspect of it yucky, and never find it to feel like work? Zero. Zero of them. Work in a field you love passionately is still work.

    Reply
  20. Amber Rose

    Everyone should follow their dreams. Not everyone should do so in the context of finding work.

    Almost every story of “how I made my dreams come true doing X” I’ve ever read had people working as waiters and living on dollar store ramen noodles for years before finding a way in, and for every one of those are dozens of people who did not make it at all.

    I think it’s not so terrible to get a steady, decent paying job and pursue your dreams in your non-work time. I think it would be terrible to just give up on your dreams entirely. Actually I know, since I did and it’s a major source of unhappiness for me.

    Reply
    1. Cordoba

      I think there’s a difficult bit of selection bias around the “Even when I was waiting tables I always knew I would make it big if I never gave up” stump speech that people give after they’re successful.

      Sure, strictly speaking that is probably true. Taylor Swift (or whoever) always knew and always believed that they would make it and turned out to be right. Problem is that for every Taylor Swift there are 10,000+ aspiring singers who are equally sure they will make it and are completely wrong. The very best move they could make is to “give up” in the sense of abandoning music as their primary means to pay their bills and going into something more stable and lucrative. You can still play music, just don’t make it your meal ticket.

      I’m sure there are plenty of people in LA and Nashville who have spent the last 40 years telling themselves they can make it if they just don’t quit.

      Reply
      1. Amber Rose

        The interesting thing about the art scene currently is that it’s both a lot easier and a lot harder to make it. On the one hand, artists don’t necessarily need producers or big companies to give them contracts like they used to. Social media, self publishing and Youtube in particular have made getting your stuff out to the public much, much easier than it has ever been at any point in history.

        The flip side of that is that competition for attention is much fiercer. The market is flooded. Billions of people upload videos or art or whatever else to the internet every day. To be noticed in all that is… terrifyingly difficult. Most people never will be.

        Reply
    2. Vicky Austin

      “Almost every story of “how I made my dreams come true doing X” I’ve ever read had people working as waiters and living on dollar store ramen noodles for years before finding a way in”

      And the exceptions are people like Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, and Drew Barrymore who became superstars before their 18th birthday; and nearly all of them struggled with mental health and/or substance abuse problems at some point. Most likely, it was because they couldn’t handle the pressures of fame at such a young age.

      Reply
  21. GRA

    My job isn’t my passion, but it is kind of my “dream job” – flexible hours, decent pay, good benefits for my daughters and me, and co-workers who I look forward to seeing every day. It’s a job that lets me live the life I love outside of the office, and that’s living the dream enough for me!

    Reply
  22. Bea

    I’m lucky that I’m not creative and purposely took extra math to avoid creative options for elective courses.

    Making money and finding jobs counting someone’s gold coins and being a fire breathing dragon protecting the assets has been almost too easy.

    My dad just asked me what my hobby and how I express my creativity, since my brother has always written/been in bands. I had to explain to him that I spend my time anxiously watching CNBC and being exhausted by episodes of The Profit. “Well I’m glad you’re happy tho…” Dads…yeah we’re not all big dreamers it turns out but I’m glad he’s supportive.

    Reply
  23. Ellery

    My plan since I was a teen was to be a librarian by day, novelist by night.

    Now I’m a librarian by day, tired librarian by night, novelist on the train.

    Reply
  24. stump

    (I can listen to this yet, but:) Thank you so much for this. I’m a hell of a lot happier when I came to this realization a few years ago after failing to get into various med schools and biology grad programs. (And now that I’m 30 and working in a cube farm, I’m SO GLAD that I didn’t end up going into academia or being a doctor; they don’t tell you up front just how awful, toxic, and unnecessarily stressful the work environments can be! I had to learn that from people in/who left those jobs years later!)

    But yeah, it’s such a disservice to young people to tell them to follow their passion at any costs and that if your career isn’t your ~Dream Job~, you aren’t Living Your True Passion and that you’re Stifling Yourself, and that you’re a soulless automaton sheeple that’s slowly dying inside. It’s just not true! It’s okay to work just for money and insurance and to keep your True Passions as just hobbies!

    Honestly, I wish more people would be honest about how difficult it is to make your passion into a viable dream job that you can actually live off of. Creative jobs are the ones that immediately spring to mind here. There’s a lot of competition, not always a lot of money to go around, and even if you’re genuinely talented, it often takes a miraculous stroke of luck to get noticed and get enough work to sustain yourself. And even if you are successful, I know a lot of people get burnt out on their passion since there’s the added pressure of getting other people to want to buy it.

    It’s pretty messed up how (at least in the US), the majority of your identity as an adult is tied up with your job. It’s so unhealthy to place your entire sense of worth and self into your career! I know that’s what drives a lot of the Dream Job At All Costs ideology, because if you don’t have that Dream Job, you can’t be You; you’re just a Cube Monkey or Retail Drone or a Middle Manager instead of whatever it is you Truly Are. People just need to step back a bit from the Career as Identity thing and chill the heck out!

    I dunno, I’ve probably rambled enough for now, but I’m pretty satisfied with my Good Enough job that gives me enough money and security to pursue my passions without pressure. It’s awesome when people are able to get their dream job! But it’s okay if you don’t, too!

    Reply
    1. Bea

      The first thing you learn about med school is that it’s a toxic awful environment to work in! Anyone sugar coating and deflecting away from that is the actual devil O.o It’s all about how you’ll spend almost a half million dollars on school to then have a residency making 45k and working day and night for three years.

      Reply
      1. stump

        Mention of suicide below:

        Yeah, the people showing you around the end schools never tell you the stories about the people in their residency that committed suicide because the pressure caused/exacerbated mental health problems to an intolerable level and then their fellow residents ended up resenting them because their death left behind an increased workload for them. :/

        Reply
          1. stump

            I’m just glad I dodged that bullet! But I’ve run across numerous people with similarly nightmarish med school/residency stories. Even if I did end up getting accepted and not just waitlisted, all of the loving anatomy and medicine in the world would not have made that nightmare worth it for me!

            Reply
      2. KayEss

        One thing I learned from my doctor mother is that you should only become a doctor if it really, truly is your passion–to the extent that you cannot, in this life or any other, do anything else. She loves her work and her patients–so much that she’s resisting retirement even though she would literally make equal or better money from social security at this point–but she also has made it crystal clear for my entire life that every other part of being a doctor sucks, and that she deeply regrets missing a lot of opportunities due to the pre-med/med-school/residency/practice grind.

        Reply
  25. Cordoba

    Following your dreams/passions is overrated. It’s better to follow your skills. Skills pay the bills.

    Very few people would keep showing up at their job if the job stopped paying them.

    I’m damn good at what I do at work and am paid accordingly. It’s not my “passion” but it’s very interesting, comes with continual learning, and often involves traveling fun places with smart people. That’ll do just fine for my day job.

    My passions (distance running and playing with classic cars, mostly) are things that don’t pay any real money unless you’re in the top 0.01% of the field, which I am not. I am very happy I didn’t hitch my wagon to them, and can enjoy these activities purely for their own sake as a source of relaxation and enrichment rather than tainting them with filthy commerce.

    I can only assume all this “follow your dreams” advice comes from people who are either independently wealthy or lucked out and fell backwards into a lucrative career that aligns with their dream.

    Reply
    1. Thlayli

      This. Follow your skills. You may love to paint but if you have the skill of Cecilia Giménez you may be better off doing something else.

      Reply
    2. Sara without an H

      +1000. I’m a librarian, a field which is similar to teaching in that “passion” is supposed to make up for the meager salaries and difficult interactions with clients.

      “Follow your dreams” is really only practical advice for people with trust funds.

      Reply
  26. Audenc

    This should be mandatory listening for all high school or college students. I wasted a lot of my 20s thinking a job would fulfill me, if only I found the right one. Now I’ve found a job that’s actually pretty fun, but definitely doesn’t fulfill all the lofty aspirations I had when I was 22 – and in my early 30s, I’m finally OK with that.

    It’s a separate issue, but I think that this kind of thinking is part of what leads a lot of people to taking out unsustainable grad school debt – thinking if they can just get into X field, they’ll finally be happy. Then once they get there, they realize most jobs are just jobs like any others, even if they’re in slightly more exciting fields.

    Reply
    1. Bea

      The problem with making kids or young adults listen to practical things is they’re still growing, they’re still flexing independence. So whereas it may hit a select few, others will use it as a reason to rebel against being told what to do. Or simply forget they were told.

      It’s better to have people actively seeking the advice find it or be steered towards it by a trusted individual.

      Also lots gets lost. We forget we heard this while at school when put in a real world scenario. Shoutout to everyone who claims we didn’t get taught how to do our taxes in high school. We were, you (general you) just tuned it out because it didn’t apply right then :(

      Reply
      1. Jaydee

        Wait a minute, who got taught to do their taxes in high school?!?! I learned some basic drafting, how to sew an apron, how to make a crappy pizza, how to use a CNC lathe to cut a pattern in a block of plastic, and how to touch type. I also learned a bunch of calculus and physics and some stuff about wars that I admit to promptly forgetting. But I swear to you we never once looked at a form 1040.

        Reply
        1. Audenc

          Yeah, we had a state requirement class where we learned some VERY basic tasks like writing checks, opening a savings account, and the basic concept of what the stock market is…but definitely not taxes. Other than that and health, none of my high school classes covered life skills of any sort – unless you consider middle school social studies units on voting / elections.

          Reply
          1. smoke tree

            We didn’t even get that. I think we got a few lectures about trusting our feelings and not doing drugs and our life skills were considered complete. No practical stuff whatsoever.

            Reply
      2. Scubacat

        Agree that young people can tune a lot out. Pretty sure that I missed a lot of the sage advice given to me on how to balance Pursue Your Passion with Make Enough Money to Pay Bills.

        Disagree: We (of rural Canada 2004) did not learn how to file taxes. We did not. Nor was there any education on personal finance or other money things. However, we did learn how to make Kraft dinner in home economics class.

        Reply
      3. buttercup

        I definitely didn’t learn to do any taxes in high school…or even college when I studied Econ! My high school didn’t even have a home economics or personal finance class.

        Reply
    2. buttercup

      I have a friend who majored in a random humanities field in undergrad because they found it interesting…and didn’t think about how it would translate to a job until, well, they graduated and had to look for a job. There were no specific jobs in this particular field, so they had to take the first low paying job they got and are now unhappy. I think life would be simpler if everyone was a combination of practical and self-aware.

      Reply
      1. krysb

        In cases like this, I think schools should make it easier to double major (for example, neither of the colleges I have attended allowed you to get a BS and a BA; if you double-majored, they had to be within the same school) so students, if they choose, can seek a “I love this subject and want to know everything” degree and a “I can get a job in this” degree at the same time.

        Reply
        1. buttercup

          We did have that option – it’s what I did (my friend and I went to the same university). They actually double majored in a language and a humanities major. I double-majored in a science and a social science. The language major is something that they could have technically leveraged as a skill but they didn’t.

          Reply
  27. Anonymeece

    I do like this, but I also see some caveats:

    – Don’t follow the money if you’re not good at what the money follows. I see so many students who struggle with basic algebra who want to be mechanical engineers because they make good money. Some may push through, but others are going to waste a lot of time and money in the process.

    – Don’t take a job you hate just because it pays well. That, I think, is the critical distinction. Not liking your job because it’s not your passion, but doing it because you are comfortable, is fine; hating your job every second because you are comfortable is not. My dad’s personal philosophy was that if you liked your job at all, it didn’t “count” as a job. In his mind, the only way he truly earned money was if he was miserable every second. Finding a middle ground is critical to surviving 50 some-odd years or more in the workforce.

    Reply
  28. Aphrodite

    For much of my working life I felt I was not just selling out to work a day job (most of which I hated) but that working said jobs was beneath me, a major talent. *rolls eyes at self* But for the last 15+ years I have work as an admin assistant at a local college. Perhaps it’s that I am more mature now but I really appreciate my job. It pays okay, the benefits are superb (important in these political times), lots of vacation & sick time, generous holiday time off, and good regular hours. Oh, and the union. Having been moved to what has proven to be a fabulous new supervisor in November I am even more pleased. All my needs are satisfied so I never need think about or worry about them again–and that leaves all that formerly expended energy for me to use on my creative and fun free time.

    I am genuinely happy.

    Reply
  29. Mary Y

    When I was about to graduate from college (into a recession, with an English/creative writing degree, oof), a professor I really respected gave me some great advice. If your dream is a creative one (like writing, for example), you have two options:

    1. Get a “related” day job and view your day job as a way to enjoy some aspect of your main interest, even though what you write will not be what you want to write. So this might be something like technical writing (if you have a technical interest or the aptitude to foster one), marketing writing, etc. If your dream is art, maybe there’s graphic design work, or advertising art work, etc.

    2. Get a completely unrelated job, and view your creative work as a totally separate outlet, like a vacation from your job. This has the advantage of not using up any of your creative energy at work, since your work isn’t related at all to your creative interests.

    Both of these are totally valid options, and I have tried both over the last 10 years! Depending on whether you can get some enjoyment or satisfaction out of doing “compromise” day work (like writing “boring” but more lucrative things professionally), or you value reserving your creative energy for your own work more highly, one of these options might work better for you. I’ve tried both, and landed on option #1, but you have lots of good, famous writerly company in both categories. Very, very few writers start out writing to support themselves, and MANY continued working other jobs their whole lives. Is my job my “dream”? No, but I like it well enough, I feel respected at work, and I find it interesting enough to keep on doing. That’s plenty. And it funds all the creative work I want to do in my personal time (and has reasonable hourly requirements, so I actually HAVE meaningful personal time).

    Reply
    1. Jules the 3rd

      My fave writer (alive) is Vernor Vinge; my overall fave author is JRR Tolkien. Both professors and writers on the side. Sigh.

      Reply
    2. Lala

      I agree with this so much. I ended up with option #2, as trying option #1 ended up making me temporarily hate the thing I loved. It got to the point where I was avoiding it except when I was working because I felt like I couldn’t enjoy it anymore. But a lot of that depends on the thing you love and the related job.

      Work to live, don’t live to work.

      Reply
    3. Argh!

      Erle Stanley Gardner (creator of the Perry Mason character) had a law degree and went to Hollywood instead of a big firm because he wanted to write about the law more than he wanted to work in the legal system.

      Reply
    4. Anonymeece

      My boss, and a published author, told me, “Don’t write for the money.”

      She loved writing and was moderately successful, but was realistic about it.

      Reply
    5. Persimmons

      #1 is also excellent for people who want “make it or break it” careers. (I.e., a high school friend of mine who dreamed of nothing but joining the NFL, but then obliterated his knee in college. He works in sports medicine and loves it.)

      Reply
  30. Jules the 3rd

    Sometimes, it just takes wading through the grunt work for a decade or two (careers are 40ish years after all) and trying lots of different things. I spent a decade trying different jobs (retail mgr, tech support) and seeing what I was good at, then got an MBA to give me an opening into a different career. I don’t actually regret the decade – it was useful. The tech support skills translate really well into business process mapping, for example.

    But that was definitely my privilege – no undergrad debt, no dependents, a supportive spouse, a good deal on the MBA.

    Reply
  31. LawLady

    And I think the worst aspect of “do what you love” advice is that it’s often given to college students. In college, you’re not seeing the actual jobs or job tasks (except for in internships, and most people don’t do more than 2-3 of those). So students choose what they “love” from their classes. They’re choosing subjects and majors, rather than jobs.

    I have a friend who loved history classes, so she majored in that. But it turns out that the actual work tasks of being an academic historian are awful (for her). Yeah, she’s been able to make it work doing something else, and major doesn’t totally define what you’re able to do, but it certainly impacts it. It’s possible that she would be a lot happier being an engineer (and doing engineering job tasks), and reading history books in her free time.

    Reply
  32. Petire

    I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and work with kids and I had a part time job doing this in college. I loved it but it was so stressful and emotionally draining, the pay for teachers in my country is really low and many people don’t respect teachers, so I just couldn’t imagine myself being a full time teacher. Now I have an easier and better paid job and while I still miss the kids, I like the rest of m my life more

    Reply
    1. miss_chevious

      Hello, fellow former teacher! I was going to be an English professor and teach writing and literature to college freshmen and then I was lucky enough to have a PhD advisor who opened my eyes to the reality of that world, so now I’m a lawyer (much less stressful and draining than being a teacher) and I get paid a living wage for working (fairly) normal hours, and I teach classes at the local university for fun.

      I think the thing people miss about the “do what you love” advice is that sometimes doing what you love will break your heart. It’s much better for me to do a job I like for money and give my love for free.

      Reply
  33. EmilyAnn

    Louder for the people in the back. I am acquainted with two people who believe they should be free to find jobs they are passionate about while the SOs pay the bills. One has been under/unemployed for 3+ years. They quit jobs because the ones they had were not exactly what they want with nothing else lined up.

    It’s silliness. Work is what you do to support yourself and take care of your responsibilities. The fact that I kind of like my job and find it intellectually stimulating is a gift and I went through 3-4 jobs that were downright boring sometimes to get here.

    As immigrants, my parents dream for me was a professional job with no weekend work, paid vacation and a 401K. I’m not denying how hard it is to find those things these days, but sometimes you won’t get it looking for your life’s passion.

    Reply
  34. Argh!

    I took a job that’s in my specialty but I had to move 600 miles from the city I loved to a city that doesn’t have much to offer outside of work. I’ve made friends here only to see them move on because they hate the city too. Meanwhile, my job is becoming less satisfactory and my new GrandBoss has made things really uncomfortable. I’ve been looking for SameJobButElsewhere and had some interviews in the city I love, but people with an inside track got those jobs.

    So… stay where I am and be unhappy and dissatisfied 24/7? … or take a pay cut to get a foot back into the door doing a job-thats-just-a-job in the city that I love?

    Reply
    1. MarsupialHop

      How much is your happiness worth? And if you consider being miserable as part of your job, let’s count those hours as work time. (spend 2 hours listless on the couch every night because work drains you too much; lie about on Sunday because Monday is upon you) – when you include those hours, do you even make minimum wage?

      Is there any way you can start to journey from the disatisfying place you are, to a path that will take you where you want to be? Another location at the same company that will get you closer to cityyoulove, or look for a position with one of your vendors, or competitors? Maybe work out a 2 year plan to get back to cityyoulove, and what steps you will need to take to do that.

      Reply
      1. Argh!

        There’s an opening in another department, under a person who isn’t all that nice, but I’ll reduce my exposure to the backstabbers I’ve been dealing with for the past few years. I’ll also have a grandboss below current grandboss, who is a kick-ass woman who will stand up for her people. It will mean a pay cut, though.

        Reply
    2. Jennifer

      Hell if I know. Being whoppingly unhappy in one area of life poisons the rest, but it’s super hard to make yourself happy in all aspects.

      I think in your case, since the job is going bad you might as well go back to the city and get a “just a job,” though.

      Reply
      1. Argh!

        After two failed attempts, I’m widening my circle to places that have similar qualities to the city I love, in the same part of the country, i.e., not the polite-but-backstabbing-Midwest.

        Reply
  35. dorothy zbornak

    My issue is that I don’t feel like I am where I should be in my career. Then again I make a decent salary and don’t have a ton of stress/responsibility so do I strive for more or just enjoy it? The obvious answer seems to be ENJOY IT. I used to be way more ambitious in my 20s and now I’ve been kicked in the teeth enough by corporate politics that maybe I don’t want to elevate my career to a higher (director/VP) level.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      Notice that the typical organizational chart is a triangle — very few people get to that top level, and they pay a price for that. Researchers have found that top administrators have less empathy for others. Do you want to risk becoming that person?

      Reply
    2. Shawn

      Can’t make yourself enjoy something that you just don’t enjoy, nor should you try. There are plenty of people out there who do enjoy their work because they found their passion. I think it’s horribly misleading to basically tell people to forget about it. This is the first time I’ve been disappointed in something that Alison has written/talked about.

      Reply
  36. greenbeans

    I get this advice and do really appreciate it, but I also just think the working world is broken. Maybe some people are truly happy working 40+ hours a week with 2-3 weeks of vacation (if you’re not lucky enough to work in a country that mandates more vacation), but most people I know would like to be more free. My husband and I have had many conversations about how this isn’t how humans are supposed to live, usually while we are collapsed on the couch after another exhausting day.

    I think if the work week were shorter, much shorter, we wouldn’t cling so much to this “follow your dreams” advice. We could work maintenance jobs that are just jobs, while having the time to pursue dreams.

    The whole problem is that 8+ hours a day, plus commute time, plus time to mentally and physically recover from the day leaves many people little time to follow their dreams on the side. *Shaking my fist at the industrial revolution.*

    Reply
      1. greenbeans

        Yeah, I know, me too. The one time I worked part-time as a rent-paying adult, I ended up in massive debt. That lasted a year before I found a full-time job. But I still remember getting to go home and lunch and that feeling of freedom. :( I don’t have any answers–I’m just saying I think it’s messed up that this is the trade–40 or more hours of work each week to live.

        I know people out there have found other ways. There is the tiny house movement, although there are land use challenges with that, and bloggers like Mr. Money Mustache and The Money Habit are people who used extreme saving to retire early. I’ve been reading those two sites lately and thinking.

        Reply
        1. Shawn

          I still don’t think that 40 hours (or more) of work each week must be miserable. Sometimes it truly equates to thinking outside of the box but we CAN have those full-time jobs that we enjoy. I think to tell people that they cannot or should not is misleading. Keep looking at those sites. You WILL find it. I help people do that for a living so I know it’s done and it’s done more often than one would think.

          Reply
    1. Amber Rose

      I’ve had this chat with a friend of mine before a lot. That’s why I’m rooting for robots to take all our jobs. We’ll have a few years where things are really bad, and then ideally we’ll collectively realize that if robots are doing all the jobs, the rest of us can actually do something useful with our time.

      I read a cool book a long, long time ago that had a subplot about how people were paid to invent themselves out of their own job. Once they did, they got a lifetime salary, and everyone else who would’ve been doing the job were given a smaller salary. You could add them up too, so people were getting advanced degrees to try and automate more jobs to get more money. Eventually money became pretty pointless.

      Reply
    2. stump

      The whole system is absolutely broken! I would love to have a shorter workweek, more vacation, and to not have to feed into the whole capitalism monster (and I’m sure most other people would, too!). Everything absolutely needs to be totally revamped so that people don’t have to grind themselves into a fine paste just to put a roof over their heads. And I totally agree with you on why people fall for the Dream Job ideal under King Capitalism.

      For me, freeing myself from absolutely having to have a dream job and having my Good Enough job that lets me indulge in my hobbies is me doing the best I can under American capitalism until the system changes. But I think your point and Alison’s are both very correct and very valid!

      Reply
      1. MissDisplaced

        Remember, capitalism is just an artificially created economic system. It doesn’t HAVE to be this way if the whole human collective decided they were done with it.

        Reply
      2. greenbeans

        >>Everything absolutely needs to be totally revamped so that people don’t have to grind themselves into a fine paste just to put a roof over their heads.

        Yes! Well put.

        >>For me, freeing myself from absolutely having to have a dream job and having my Good Enough job that lets me indulge in my hobbies is me doing the best I can under American capitalism until the system changes

        Same here, but I still dream of a better system. It seems like an insurmountable task to change the way things are, but that won’t stop me from anonymously whining on forums. ;)

        Reply
    3. Snood

      Yes, I’m all for a 35 or 30-hour work week and mandatory paid vacation for everyone for at least 5 weeks a year. We should campaign for this and work to make it happen. We need to start a conversation about it in our society. It looks like no one politician in the US is even considering it.

      Reply
      1. greenbeans

        I’ve seen a few articles about it recently. There is one from the Washington Post in 2016: “Is it time for a shorter workweek?” But yeah, there is not a big movement happening for it.

        Reply
    4. The Expendable Redshirt

      *shakes fist at capitalism and the industrial revolution*

      And this is why my heart lives in the Utopian future that is Star Trek. People there work holistically satisfying jobs and contribute to society. One could be a maintenance worker or the captain of a star ship.

      Speaking honestly, I am one of those truly happy people working 40 hours a week (3 weeks of vacation) at Average Office on Vulcan. The reason for my contentment is probably 1) livable wages, 2) I’m good at what I do, and 3) I think that the tasks are interesting. Though I take great pride in my work, I would not describe my enthusiasm as passionate following of dreams.

      Passionate following of dreams is reserved for my volunteer role as a foster home for cats. It brings such joy to my heart that my insides become full to bursting.

      Reply
  37. Violet Fox

    Thank you so much for this! Thank you also for mentioning the socio-economic factors in the follow your dream stuff.

    I actually wonder if it is more healthy to have things that you love and do that are not work or are not related to your work to have something else and have something that is a way to disconnect. We also sold a lot of young people a raw bill of goods by telling them to study whatever at university and then to worry about jobs later, collecting a lot of student debt in the process.

    Reply
  38. Silicon Valley Girl

    OK, now can we get job listings to stop *asking* for people who are “passionate about cloud computing” or “passionate about SEO marketing”? Bec. honestly, I see so many descriptions where that’s the first line, & it’s irritating. Maybe it’s just a Silicon Valley thing, where the idea of your job being your whole life is taken to the n-th degree & people really are supposed to eat-breathe-sleep their work & be on-call 24/7, 7-days a week, 365 days a year. This really takes the “passion for your job” to horrifying levels.

    Reply
    1. jake

      I’ve seen this type of language in less than 10% of job listings in my industry. I think this may be an industry/location thing.

      Reply
    2. Brownie

      Silicon Valley and tech startups do this and I think you’re right that “passion” is being used as a catch-all for the work 24/7/365 lifestyle those kinds of companies glorify. I used to work for a tech startup where that was exactly the case and my boss (the owner) could not wrap his head around the fact that I’d rather be sleeping on a Saturday morning instead of getting up at 5am to squeeze another 4 hours of work in before breakfast.

      Reply
    3. The New Wanderer

      Not just Silicon Valley, but it does seem like a tech industry thing (passionate about data, numbers, programming, products, customers, etc etc). Definitely not limited to startups, but companies that want to keep or capture that startup feel.

      Reply
    4. Silicon Valley Girl

      To add on, today I was just in a department all-hands at my company (not a start-up, but a large, established, name-brand Silicon Valley company that many people could have heard of), & the topic was career development. Our VP said good employees have “passion” for their job & are “excited to come into work each day.” Had a whole slide about it in his presentation. Said that money shouldn’t be the only reason you come into work each day.

      I’m not making this up, & this is not the first big name-brand company I’ve worked at with this attitude.

      Reply
  39. BlueWolf

    I am not passionate about my job, but it has a good salary, benefits, vacation, etc. I rarely work overtime, and when I leave the office the work stays there (other than my anxiety brain sometimes deciding to obsess over work things for no reason). I’m also just not generally a “passionate” person. I have things I enjoy doing, but there’s nothing I really feel the need to try to turn into a career.

    Reply
  40. ThatAspie

    I think this advice doesn’t apply to me. My dream is to work at Pixar. Yes, I have backup plans (most of which are other branches of Disney, but if that doesn’t work, I do like the restaurant I currently work at…and it’s a chain!) But I really think Pixar is going to work.

    Reply
  41. Tau

    I remember reading a book (that I swear someone recommended in the comments here) by someone who was skeptical of the “passion!” narrative and went out and actually studied what sort of people were happy at their work. And he found one of the big dividing lines was being good at the task in question.

    Which makes perfect sense? The feeling of being really good at something is eminently satisfying, regardless of whether that something is writing novels, developing software or organising the CEO’s calendar with its three conflicting meeting invitations in any single timeslot. On the flip side, feeling that you’re doing badly is going to drag you down no matter how much you’re doing what you love.

    This happened to me – I gave “follow your passions” something of a shot when I did a PhD in pure maths, and it was miserable. I struggled, felt I was constantly behind, felt incompetent, and generally thought that someone else in my position could have been doing a better job than I was. That colours everything. I quit academia post-PhD and became a software dev; the structure of the job plays to my strengths a lot more than academia does, and it turns out I am a really, really good programmer. (The feedback I get is generally along the lines of “holy crap, you are awesome, can we clone you?”) I do enjoy the logical problem solving aspect of it, but not going to lie – part of my enjoyment is definitely that I can sit in my chair at work and feel epically competent.

    Reply
    1. Airy

      The problem I have with this is that what I’m really good at is spelling, grammar, punctuation, typing – all things that most people use a function of Microsoft Word for. My best skills are not job skills any more.

      Reply
      1. Roja

        What! There’s a whole field for editors!

        …which actually is related to my general comment to Tau. Although transcription/editing wasn’t originally my thing, I’m good at it. And it’s a good feeling. There’s a lot of satisfaction to be had, even when the work itself has its frustrating moments, because I’m putting out a solid product that helps people.

        Reply
        1. Airy

          But it’s all contract or freelance, right? That’s the other prohibitive thing. For mental health reasons I have to have the stability of a continuing job with a known salary I can budget and plan for.

          Reply
          1. Lauren

            It’s not all contract and freelance! That’s what I do and I have a stable job with stable hours, a good salary and good benefits (there are also lots of different industries/realms you can be an editor in, some are more stable and better paying that others).

            Reply
    2. SS Express

      Yep! I recently moved from one kinda boring role to another kinda boring role at my kinda boring organisation, and so far I’m doing pretty well at it. Every night I go home feeling good about myself because of the things I achieved that day, and every morning I feel positive about the new things I’m going to achieve and the value I can add for my colleagues and clients (and about hopefully impressing my boss).

      Reply
    3. Duffman

      I think part of that is in addition to being good at your job, the job needs to be challenging. I’m good at my job, but I hate it because to me it’s so mindnumbingly simple.

      Reply
  42. Empty Sky

    First time I’ve listened to one of the audio/radio pieces from Alison. I really liked it. It adds a dimension that you don’t get in the written column. (Now I’m wondering if an AAM talk show would be even better…)

    Regarding the advice, this is something I realized a few years back and I think my job satisfaction has improved as a consequence. I’ve learned to see doing occasional things that I don’t like as part of what my employer is paying me for, especially if they are necessary and helpful in support of a larger goal or something that I do enjoy. I’ve even learned to see dealing with unhelpful or toxic people or situations as an advantage if I can do it well, and if it happens in the context of a job that I’m happy with overall. My analogy is a specialized hazmat disposal team: if you can learn to do it well and protect yourself from negative effects, you can make life better for everyone around you, and be valued (and compensated) for your ability to do so.

    Reply
  43. Shawn

    I disagree with not following dreams. I mean, of course, one isn’t likely to make a living reading books but, take that love of books and monetize it somehow. We are here on this planet for more than just working and paying bills. I think it’s unfortunate to somehow think we can’t work our passions. Just ask all of those who have done it.

    Reply
    1. anonagain

      If we’re on this planet for more than working and paying bills, why take the things you love and turn them into work?

      Reply
    2. Nacho

      I noticed you conveniently managed to avoid exactly how to monetize a love of books, which is probably the most important part of your plan.

      Reply
    3. SS Express

      I love reading books! I have a kinda boring job that involves absolutely zero book reading. It’s cruisy enough that I can sometimes browse Goodreads and log on to my local library’s website to reserve things that sound interesting. I leave work at work and relax with a book on my commute instead of checking emails or thinking about my projects. I get home in time to pick up my reservations at the library then spend a few hours reading in the evening. It pays well enough that if I can’t get what I want at the library I can buy it for my kindle or get it at the bookstore without a second thought. And since I only read what I want, when I want, and am accountable to absolutely nobody, it never feels like an obligation at all. I am truly living my best life.

      Reply
  44. The

    The whole grad school decision really does depend. I took a year to work between undergrad and grad programs, which really helped me know that I was on the right track, career wise. Then I took three years off between master’s and PhD to avoid burnout and test the job waters. After I was laid off at my post-master’s job, it only took two weeks to decide to go back and get the PhD. I could have done well enough without it, but it was totally worth it to me.

    Reply
  45. Emotionally fulfilled

    Thank you for being a voice for this! I say this to my husband and friends all the time, and get blank stares or arguments back. I work in an industry that I set out to work in, yet would I choose to always not work than to work? Absolutely.

    Reply
  46. Dr Wizard, PhD

    A grad school discussion thread would be very interesting, actually, because a lot of post-grad school people end up caught like this.

    Reply
  47. Mr. Bob Dobalina

    The flip side of this is the message to employers: Don’t demand that every employee demonstrate passion for the work and passion for the corporate mission and cult-like cheerleadering. One can be a good employee without being in love with one’s job.

    Reply
  48. MissDisplaced

    I guess I got somewhat lucky. I wanted to be an artist or filmmaker. I still AM, but it was the more practical path of graphic design and communications. I love what I do, and I suppose it’s a passion, but I don’t always love where I do it.

    Reply
  49. Lia

    Thanks for this discussion, it’s been interesting to read through the comments here. I’ve been looking for a total career change lately (my morale at my current job hit probably an all time low today and I don’t see things being much better at a different employer in this field), and it’s always a little awkward for me when I’m discussing it with people and they ask me what I *really* want to do or what my “dream job” is. I’ve honestly never had a dream job! I am the type of person who needs a separation between work and my passions – kind of like how I enjoy lazing around at home for days when I’m off from work, but hated being at home all day when I was unemployed. I need a counterpoint, and I need to be able to do what I like on my own terms to truly get something out of it. But at the same time, I know that I would be much more motivated at a job that played into my interests at least a little bit. It’s been a weird thing to navigate.

    Reply
  50. Airy

    Being told “You don’t have to follow your dreams! It’s fine to take a well-paid job that you’re good at and that leaves you time and money to enjoy life outside of work!” feels a lot like “You don’t have to do Impossible Thing! It’s fine to do Incredibly Difficult Thing that you don’t know how to start doing and that none of your friends seem to be able to do either!”

    Reply
  51. Dzhymm

    Follow your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life!

    …because nobody is hiring in that field.

    Reply
  52. Sara without an H

    I wish this blog had “Like” buttons — I think I would have “liked” just about every post. (Amazingly smart people read AAM.)

    I went to graduate school in history, which I love, but the bottom was already starting to fall out of the academic teaching market…and it just kept getting worse. I took a library degree and, while that profession also has issues, I’ve been reasonably successful, and make a comfortable living. I also get to leave my work at the office at the end of the day.

    One of the perks of librarianship is the it’s easy to find out when new, interesting books are coming out. So now I’m going to pour some wine and dig into a new book on the Ottoman Empire. Both book and wine are paid for by moving numbers around in spreadsheets, answering emails, and looking alert in meetings for 40 hours per week.

    “Passion” is highly over-rated.

    Reply
  53. Chaordic One

    I don’t know how true this is, but I’ve heard that in Europe there are a lot of people with liberal arts degrees, but because the cost of education is lower (or in some cases completely paid for by the government through taxes) that they can graduate without being deeply in debt like people in the U.S. I’ve further heard that a lot of these people end up working in menial low-wage jobs (like working in restaurants and retail), but that they manage to live fairly middle-class lives anyway. It doesn’t sound terrible, like working in food or retail here in the U.S.

    Reply
    1. 30ish

      I can only speak about the German-speaking world, but there are indeed many people with liberal arts degrees (usually debt free) here, and in most cases they do not work menial low-wage jobs. They have jobs in the administration, cultural institutions, they teach at various levels (which is way better paid than in the US), they work at NGO’s, etc. In fact, in Switzerland, the unemployment rate is slightly lower for people in the humanities than in the sciences. The only thing that’s more difficult is landing that first job after uni when you don’t have a lot of experience to point to. Basically, where I live, getting a liberal arts degree is not a bad idea if you develop some idea of where you want to work along the way.

      Reply
  54. LAP

    I wonder whether people who claim to want to “love” their job have actually thought about what they’re implying.
    You want to find a job to have and to hold, from this day forward, for richer, for poorer…etc. until death do you part? That sounds great, until the manager decides they want to outsource your position to Asia. Maybe save “love” for people who care about you, or at least something that doesn’t view you strictly in terms of dollar signs…like chocolate or puppies.

    Reply
  55. Nacho

    I remember a conversation I had with my mom as a kid, about how I should follow my dreams and choose a job that I love, just like she did, and not worry about the money.

    My mom makes about 10k/year as a freelance writer/author. She gets some really nice tax write offs for traveling places, but if it weren’t for my father and his amazing job, plus the fact that she got into our housing market at a great time, I don’t think she’d be singing such a happy song.

    Reply
  56. Anon for this just in case

    I followed my passion, and luckily for me when I got my dream job it turned out that I really did love it and I really was good at it, plus my colleagues were lovely and while the money wasn’t incredible it was certainly decent. BUT my management was awful, which made it pretty hard to achieve anything and virtually impossible to be happy at work. I cried alllll the time. And because I was so passionate about the work it was still really hard to leave!

    Now instead of the glamorous exciting career I dreamed of I have a perfectly acceptable government office job that I kind of like and that provides me with enough money to do the things I love. And it turns out there are lots of things I love even more than my “passion”: working in a safe environment where the law and the company policies are taken seriously, having the resources and support to actually do my job, having my performance measured based on the quality of my work, having my achievements recognized and receiving constructive feedback when I do need to improve, taking a lunch break every day, going home after 8 or 9 hours to relax for the rest of the evening, reading books, watching Netflix, spending time with my friends and family, taking uninterrupted vacations, having time to keep my home neat and my fridge full and my life admin under control, thinking about interesting things instead of about how much I hate my boss.

    Reply
  57. ZucchiniBikini

    What I love is writing poetry, baking, hanging out with my kids, and reading. Three out of these four have provided me with what would once have been described as “pin money” over the years – I’ve sold a fair few poems and won a few comps that paid; I have baked for functions and been paid to do so; and I do paid book reviews for a a couple of online outfits. Combined, in a good year, the three can make me as much as $5,000 all up. Not exactly a living wage!

    What I do for money is freelance policy and strategy development and writing. I quite like it – it is interesting, skilled, technical work that provides plenty of challenges. As a freelancer, I am my own boss, which suits me much more than being in an office did.

    I don’t *love* my work; it is not my passion or my pleasure. I do, however, love being able to support my family, take holidays, eat well, pay off a mortgage, and not be beholden to the increasingly punitively nasty / absent social welfare system where I live. My work is not unethical and not boring, and it pays well. These things are very much enough for me.

    Reply
  58. Helen B

    THANK YOU!!!!! I wish we had had this as careers advice. I have felt like a failure for almost all my working life for exactly the reason you describe… while I am doing a good job at something reasonably worthwhile, making a perfectly ok living, and finding satisfaction elsewhere (family, friends, music, gardening, conservation). It is GREAT to have permission to say “and that is fine”.

    Maybe what we need is to share better rules about how to be happy:
    * Be part of a community
    * Have values and live by them
    * Support others
    * Look after your physical health
    * Keep learning, keep trying new things
    * Be mindful; be present in the moment
    * Practise gratitude
    * Experience awe

    Thank you again. I second the comment about “wouldn’t it be great if this blog had a ‘Like’ button?”.

    Reply
  59. LibbyG

    I love this whole discussion. Another problem with the “follow your passion” frame is that it implies that there’s one and only one sufficiently fulfilling career field for each person. I’m a college professor, and it seems like many students have this idea that they’re supposed to find the ONE THING they want to do for work for the rest of their lives, and they’re terrified that they’ll mess this up and be doomed.

    Reply
  60. Cordoba

    I’d also like to point out that I generally don’t want to do even my very favorite things for 8 hours a day 5 days a week forever.

    My passions are distance running and restoring old machinery. It is rare that I’ll do either of these things for more than 4 hours at a time or more than 2-3 times a week. Making them my day job and doing them continuously would quickly make them not my passions anymore.

    I have actually been in a situation where I was compelled/required to run long distances for ~8 hours a day 6 days a week for weeks on end. Since I enjoy running this would seem to be an ideal setup. It definitely was not, and only had the effect of turning something I loved into something I hated.

    Reply
  61. hr girl

    I know I’m a little late to this but here we go.
    My dad always told me to follow the money/benefits. He didn’t care if I liked the job or whether or not it was a job using my degree! I had a temp hr job and they laid me off 6 weeks earlier than they originally intended and those following 6 weeks where I was unemployed he was the WORST. Sent me jobs working for the state so that I would have a pension and decent benefits and when I didn’t apply to them he would get so mad at me. I had to remind him that I have a degree and I needed a job that followed the career path I wanted to take.

    There has to be a middle ground where the benefits are decent and you’re happy with what you’re doing! You may not be happy or love it all the time but that’s ok! My passion(really more of an obsession) is makeup and I actually just teamed up with a photographer and I’m going to be her makeup artist for her clients-I get to do what I love very minimally which ensures that I keep enjoying it.

    Reply
  62. memyselfandi

    I saw the Mr. Rogers documentary. In it he gives a graduation speech in which he assures the graduates that they do not have to do anything sensational to be loved. I thought it was a great message. There is great value in just being a decent person and doing a good job.

    Reply
  63. Vicky Austin

    Just one question, Allison. You say that we should strive for jobs that bring us a reasonable amount of satisifaction. What if we’re in a job that we find frustrating, brings us little satisifaction, and doesn’t pay enough? What if we also have the resources available to find a job that does provide us with adequate satisfaction and pay? Should we look for another job, or should we just accept that we can’t always get what we want and try to find pleasure and passion elsewhere?
    I ask this because I am one of those “artsy” types who “followed her dream,” discovered that her product didn’t sell enough to make a living, and is now stuck in her dead-end “day job” that was supposed to pay the bills while she worked on her art. It did pay the bills and still does, but it’s a job with little room for advancement. Now I’m stuck here because I failed to achieve monetary success with my art.
    I think I know what the answer is, but I’m asking anyway just to hear what you have to say.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If you’re unhappy and underpaid and could do work that makes you happier and better paid, you should do that! The advice isn’t “settle for being unhappy when you have other options” but rather “don’t feel obligated to find emotional fulfillment from work; you are not a failure if you do not.” Two different things!

      Reply
  64. stitchinthyme

    Also coming in a little late, but “I work to live, not the other way around” has been my philosophy since I started working. I enjoy my job, but it’s still a job to me, not my life; it enables me to do the things I really want to do.

    Related: seems like people often don’t understand when you don’t want to advance in your career. I like what I do (writing code), and I have no desire to manage people; in fact, I think I’d be horrible at it. In interview when they ask the standard “Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?” I always say I want to be doing exactly what I’m doing now — oh, maybe with new languages or other specifics, but I like to write code. I’m not looking to move up the ladder. I have no idea if this has cost me any jobs or not, but I’d rather be honest about it up front, because if they’re looking for someone ambitious or a future team leader, I wouldn’t be the right fit.

    Reply

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