The number one piece of career advice college students, especially graduating seniors, often hear is to “follow your passion.” This message is splashed across pep talks, graduation speeches, and self-help books. It’s encouraged by people of influence such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Jim Carrey, and so we can’t help but feel tempted to follow it.
A passion-based career seems to be a promise of everyday fulfillment, where you do what you love, there is no room for regret, nothing feels forced, and you are bound to stay motivated. However, pursuing passion-based careers may not be as simple and romantic as it is portrayed — burnout is rampant, and certain duties are left out of the narrative.
While pursuing your passion might at first seem like a solid plan, you might want to rethink this cliché.
The Problem With Passion
We are constantly changing, and our passions are not an exception. Locking yourself into a career path based on one passion can disappoint you in the long run. “Passion changes and evolves over time,” Ashley Stahl, a career expert at SoFi, tells Her Campus. “‘Following your passion’ just out of college assumes you know what your passion is and that your passion will remain constant through time. It also presumes that you have a core set of skills and talents that will allow you to have success in the arena of your passion, which isn’t always the case.”
Plus, why restrict yourself (and most of your time) to one passion? The message behind the push to follow your passion inaccurately insists that you must seek to find that one thing that will be the most important aspect in your life. Researchers at Stanford conducted an experiment in 2018 that highlights how problematic this is: They found that people with singular mindsets in one field were more likely to be discouraged by difficulties or failure.
Your mental health may also be at stake. The advice of “following your passion” can increase anxiety, according to Talkspace. Jon Hill, chairman and CEO of The Energists, tells Her Campus that turning a hobby into a job also turns it into a responsibility. “It might still be something you very much like doing, but it will no longer fill that same stress-release role in your life that it did before,” he says. “This especially becomes a problem if you don’t have a different activity you can use to fill that gap and de-stress from what is now your career. Because of this, people in passion-driven careers can get burned out or have a more difficult time achieving a healthy work/life balance than those who keep their hobbies and their career separate.”
Transforming hobbies into work can undermine the enjoyment of these activities. The things you love to do will be overlapped with compensation, competition, and obligations that may make that passion of yours lose the charm it once had, according to Cornelia Shipley Bearyman, MBA, PCC, ELI-MP, founder and CEO of 3C Consulting. “You may open yourself up for judgment about this hobby that means so much to you,” she tells Her Campus. “Others will have opinions about your performance and will have license to share them with you when you turn your hobby into a job. Deciding to make a living at your hobby creates the potential of losing your pure joy for the added pressure of profitability.”
Gen Z Wants To “Work To Live,” Not “Live To Work”
Passion is also a matter of accessibility in some cases. Not everyone can afford to choose their dream profession. In many ways, “follow your passion” is a message of privilege that isn’t affordable to or realistic for all workers. Given responsibilities that outweigh freedom such as rent, part-time jobs, career load, and family care, or due to financial limitation, some people do not have the luxury of going after their dreams.
But beyond the plausibility of a passion-driven career, Gen Z’s expectations for their work lives have shifted dramatically in the past few years, especially due to the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic began an era of reckoning for many, and young professionals were no exception,” Niki Yarnot, MSW, LASW, a career coach at Wanderlust Careers, tells Her Campus. “The collective consciousness has shifted towards the realization that boundaries between work and life are necessary and important for success, avoiding burnout, and mental health.”
Counselor and career coach Melissa Kaekel, founder of Morgan Hill Institute, tells Her Campus that the “live to work” mentality, in which passion-driven careers often take over a worker’s entire life, is being replaced by “work to live,” and an enforced separation between jobs and personal interests.
“The focus is less on finding fulfillment through their careers and more on enjoying life itself,” Kaekel says. “Gen Z don’t see working unpaid time as devotion to the company. Instead, they rightly see it as exploitation of the worker. They work to earn enough money to afford the things they are passionate about doing. There is a growing trend of couples working multiple low skill jobs like food service to earn enough money to travel and live in a refurbished van for six months out of the year.” She concludes that Gen Z is focused on “working to afford experiences rather than finding a lifelong career.” With proper work-life boundaries in place, you have enough time and money to explore your passions without the pressure of making a career out of them.
Other Factors To Consider When Choosing A Career
If passion can not be the only factor to take into consideration when choosing a career, then what else is there? And should you forget completely about my passions? Absolutely not!
Instead of pursuing a career with passion in mind, think of a career that can allow space for you to practice your passions. What job can give you enough time to dedicate to your passions? How does this job align or drift away from your goals, and does it provide the necessary resources to invest time in them? There are other factors to keep in mind other than passion that will be essential for future success.
- How much money do I want or need to make?
We need to stop shaming people who take monetary gain into deep consideration when thinking about their career. Money is important, but it shouldn’t be the only thing to take into consideration, similar to passion.
When you decide on a career path, make sure that the possible profit you’ll gain at the end aligns with the kind of life you want to lead. Would you be okay splitting rent with a roommate for most of your 20s? Do you want to make enough to set aside extra money for vacations every year? Do you have other people in your life that you’re financially responsible for? All of these factors will play a role in determining whether your passion will help you make enough to afford what you need and want.
- How much time will I be dedicating?
The majority of jobs out there dictate a specific amount of time per week and there isn’t much we can do about it, but flexible work arrangements are beginning to increase in companies since the beginning of the pandemic and the Great Resignation. So, finding a job that allows you to breathe between time to time and can be a conduit to dedicate time to your hobbies and crafts might be ideal for you.
- Where do I see myself working?
You don’t have to have the whole picture, but when you think about yourself in the workforce, do you see yourself being in the service of others, working in front of a computer screen, and/or traveling? Where you see yourself more or less can tell you a lot about your personality and interests that sync with a career that’s waiting for you.
It’s also worth taking a closer look at company culture and environment when you’re thinking about what field is right for you. “You want to have a career and join a company that aligns with what you believe in and where you want to go in the future,” Kathleen Black, founder and CEO of Kathleen Black Coaching & Consulting, Inc., tells Her Campus. “Find out all you can about the company culture because that will give you a ‘head’s up’ on what to expect. Do they believe in the same values as you? Does this company value the ‘work-life balance’? Do they incorporate mindfulness into their culture?”
- What am I good at?
This question does not necessarily have to be answered with a set of natural talents — you can also think about it in terms of your skills. “Knowing your interests and strengths can help you narrow down your options and find a career that is the best fit for you,” Omer Usanmaz, CEO and co-founder of Qooper Mentoring & Learning Software, tells Her Campus.
Let’s take, for instance, the profession of a physician. Physicians are required to be good listeners, to have clear communication skills, and to have a positive attitude, among others. When considering a career path, evaluate the skill sets that the job requires and if they align with the set of skills that you naturally possess.
If you can’t think of an answer to this question, ask your loved ones what they think you are good at. Chances are, they can give you a list of qualities to think on that you may not have even noticed about yourself.
- What do I really like (not necessarily love)?
Passion is not completely out of the picture, fortunately. But instead of visualizing it as passion, think about it as the things you love to hear and/or talk about. Again, your hobbies or entertainment might not transition well into a career, but some of them might. What grounds you? What makes you feel true to yourself? What you can’t shut up about? Finally, what do you keep returning to? It makes no sense to choose a career in a field that you detest — you have to choose one according to your enjoyment, but not necessarily based on an exuberant passion.
“While it’s important to find a career that you’re passionate about, it’s also essential to make sure that it’s something you could see yourself doing long-term,” Usanmaz says. “If you’re not sure if you can handle the day-to-day grind of a particular job, it might be best to look for something else.”