The Peril of Following Your Passion


I used to believe that if a person pursued their passion and did well, the opportunities would jump out and the money would follow.

I don’t believe that anymore. 

It’s not that I’ve become more negative or pessimistic.   It’s just the cold reality that exists.  This isn’t designed to be a downer post either.  It’s actually just the opposite and should motivate you even more.

First though, why I don’t believe it anymore.  Here’s what I’ve observed:

  • Too many failed businesses where a person is passionate about something, very good at it, but nobody else sees value in it.
  • Too many young people encouraged to follow their passion and get degrees in liberal arts, women’s studies, sociology, or similar then graduate without a job, get a job in hospitality and as a fallback, and move back in with their parents.
  • Too many job seekers taking their severance packages and putting together ill-prepared home-based businesses and projects without getting (or just simply ignoring) good advice on how to do it correctly and then fold shortly after with nothing to show for it.
  • Too many entrepreneurs who are simply craftsmen or specialists or consultants but don’t know the first thing about how to grow a business and thus burn out after a few years.

In all these cases, pursuing passion was foremost.  Common sense and sound business skills were second (or absent).

Now I’m all for a career where you do what you love.  It’s rewarding.  It’s what I do now.  What people don’t know is that I gutted out 15 very unsatisfying years as a dental assistant in the Navy followed by a few years in some boring jobs before breaking out and launching on my own.  While it was tough, the payoff was that I founded my business on some good lessons learned and the wise counsel of experienced professionals I surrounded myself with.  Had I started this out of high school, after getting my MA, or even directly after leaving the Navy, I know I wouldn’t have been ready.

What SHOULD you do?

  • For young people:  I love that you’re passionate and want to save the world.  Good.  Get a career that has viable job opportunities (anything in the STEM fields is a good start) and make some money and get some experience first.  Then think about how to save the world when you’re a bit more seasoned.
  • For parents of young people: Do NOT let your kids get degrees in fields that are dead or dying.  Unless they want to go into teaching as a profession, keep them away from non-STEM degrees.  If they’re not “math or science people” then get them a tutor.  It’s much cheaper than feeding and housing them until they turn 30.
  • For school counselors:  Get away from your desk and start networking with professionals and find out where the careers of tomorrow are.  The advice you gave last semester might be outdated by now.  Enlist the help of parent volunteers who can give you and the students a reality check on what careers are viable and which aren’t.
  • For wannabe entrepreneurs:  Bottle the passion for now and get some good sound business and professional advice from a mentor before launching a business.  There are tons of opportunities but you have to be careful.
  • For job seekers:  Find a job first that has the pay and benefits you need, then think of this job as a stepping stone to pursuing your passion.  Job satisfaction won’t be much comfort if you can’t pay the rent or put food on the table.

We live in a country with unlimited opportunity and technology enables us to be creative in how we build and promote businesses.  It simply won’t replace the difficult and sometimes common sense information you need to be successful though.

That said, I wish all of us much success in following the sometimes-difficult path to personal and professional success.  I never said it wasn’t do-able.  It just takes planning and patience.

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  1. David says:

    George Monbiot has very different advice:

    “This career path, in other words, is counter-educational. It teaches you to do what you don’t want to do, to be what you don’t want to be. It is an exceptional person who emerges from this process with her aims and ideals intact. Indeed it is an exceptional person who emerges from this process at all. What the corporate or institutional world wants you to do is the opposite of what you want to do.”

  2. Ana says:

    totally disagree

  3. Malcolm Munro says:

    Ana, which part do you disagree with on my post? What are your reasons? Just curious, not critical.

  4. As an Art History graduate, I have to agree with the author about kids nowadays not pursuing dying fields. Even if you want to and have the aptitude to be a liberal arts professor, you would need to have a PhD in a highly-competitive market. I also “paid my dues” in a corporate career for over a decade which taught me important life and business skills. Before pursuing my passion (food photography), I saved up a lot of money, gained two years of technical and business training in commercial photography, and created a viable business plan. Passion is not enough. But your passion can carry you through the hard work to get to where you need to be.

  5. Samantha says:

    As a chemical engineering graduate, tutor, and successful job seeker, I disagree with several points. I think the caution should be “The Peril of *Blindly* Following Your Passion.” Jobs in STEM fields are competitive as well and I don’t see how people can get a job and do well at it without some kind of desire. I’ve seen way too many people pursue degrees in STEM fields for the wrong reasons, not graduate, and end up with low-paying jobs while they struggle to pay off student loans. Most of the people I know get a job and wouldn’t dream of moving back in with their parents. How many parents can afford enough tutoring to overcome the will of a student who doesn’t want to be a “math and science” person? Don’t get me wrong, I love STEM fields, but I still see the value of non-STEM degrees. There are a lot of satisfying jobs that pay enough to cover rent and food if you know the difference between a want and a need.

  6. William Bryce Angell says:

    This post is really awesome and informative. I’m a college student majoring in chemical engineering. Although this comes as a harsh reality for some, high school students need to know this before they enter the college arena. I’m thankful I chose the field I am studyin in.

  7. Sal says:

    “We live in a country with unlimited opportunity..”

    What country do you live in?

  8. [...] few days ago I read a really interesting article called, “The Peril of Following Your Passion”, by Malcolm Munro. In a nutshell, the article was about the perils of following your dream to become a professional [...]

  9. [...] reiterate what I said in my last blog post, read Malcolm Munro’s article on the perils of following your passion. Then dial that message back one or two turns. I wholeheartedly agree with Malcolm. You NEED to be [...]

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