“Follow Your Passion” is Dangerous Advice

“Follow your passion” . . . you’ve likely heard it and read it countless times, from the likes of whoever made a speech at your graduation, a range self help experts or multi millionaires when they’re trying to dispense life advice. Except it’s not always the best advice, and can often be very dangerous advice. There are practical arguments to be made against “follow your passion”.

Passion, by its very definition describes something intense, bold and uncontrollable. Something intense is very often short lived and burns out.

This idea of telling young people to follow their passions is something we should perhaps be steering away from, due to the fact that many passions offer an incredibly narrow chance of success. Also, is the passion a deeply rooted, long term urge to do that, or is it a passing phase? The following should be considered:

– Are there employment opportunities in it?

– What are the chances of actually being a success?

– Do you actually have the necessary abilities and talents?

– Is this something you’ve had inside you for a long period of time, or is it a  relatively new interest?

If your passion is writing, your chances of being published and making good money from writing is extremely slim. An absurdly small percentage of manuscripts make it to publishing. If your passion is Roman history, how easy would it be to forge a long term career in this field, and where would opportunities come from? If your passion is singing, it’s an unfortunate truth that very few singers ultimately make it big.

Young people need to be given the freedom to experience as much as possible as they grow. Let them try new things, experience different activities and get involved in a range of subjects. However, it seems to me that it might make more sense for us to be saying to them instead of ‘follow your passion’, rather find something which holds opportunities, jobs and career prospects. In addition to this, is it something you’re good at, have a respect for and can find some rudimentary enjoyment doing?

Passion is overrated. You can be an enormous success in a field while only mildly enjoying it. It’s easy for millionaires to dispense of the advice of “follow your passion”. For many of them, following their passion early on was perhaps more a case of following wealth and riches, and once the first couple of millions were made, they could actually start enjoying it.

Having things you’re passionate about are important and often a requirement of a fulfilled life. However, often these passions need to exist as long term side projects and creative outlets.

Embrace what you fear

The more you run from your fears, the bigger they get. The more you embrace them, the more you find they tend to disappear.

If presenting in front of people scares the hell out of you, volunteer to do it more, or put yourself in a position to do it more often. If a senior boss intimidates you, make a point of bumping into them more often so you can speak to them more.

It is only by doing that we improve our performance in areas where we are weak or fearful.

No great progress was ever made in the comfort zone.

Measure yourself against your own standards

Never judge your performance or benchmark yourself according to what your boss expects.

You end up just being a pawn for what someone else wants, while never pushing yourself – resulting in a lack of confidence and self-motivation. Instead, set your own high standards for your performance, and judge yourself according to those. Then be your own toughest critic.

You’ll find yourself more engaged and delivering more for your superiors than if you’re benchmarking yourself against what they want. Measure yourself based on your own high expectations. Your boss is the facilitator of your progress. You’re the master of it.

Give your opinion when it’s asked for

During your early years as an employee and thereafter, you’ll be asked your opinion on various aspects of the company and industry by your boss and superiors. It’s incredibly frustrating when young employees answer these questions with “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know”. Not only are you not contributing anything to the conversation, you’re also showing an attitude of disinterest.

When asked for your opinion, give it. Even if you haven’t thought of it properly, take a position and give an opinion. You reserve the right to change your mind later, but in the moment, your boss wants an answer from you, not a shrug of the shoulders.

Excellence is the next 2 minutes

Excellence is in the current moment. What are you doing now? Do it well. If you’re working on an excel sheet, give it 100% focus to ensure it’s accurate. If you’re talking to a co-worker, give them the attention, respect and acknowledgements that will make them feel valued instead of looking bored and trying to get away from them. If you’re typing an email, give it the necessary attention to ensure it is well written, error free and clear. Every email you send gives an impression about you.

Excellence is not a long term concept. It’s the next 2 minutes.

Do you have a destination?

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Somebody drops you in a strange city you’ve never been to, gives you a vehicle and tells you to make your way to a certain landmark within the city. He explains the landmark to you and says it’s about 10km away, but gives you no instructions or directions.

Would you jump in the car and start driving, with a hope that you’d run into the landmark destination that’s been explained to you? No you wouldn’t. If you did you’d be likely to end up drifting around in circles with no clear direction, eventually running out of fuel.

Yet most of us treat our lives this way. We stumble day to day with an indefinite, simplistic idea of what we want to be or where we want to go. Is our destination a clear one of our choosing or some vague idea given to us by society? Are we driving with purpose, using the most efficient route possible, or are we being swayed by where traffic is leading us?

Life is that strange city. You’re in that car. You have a choice: Drive aimlessly towards a destination unknown to you, or use navigation tools to find your destination.

Mindfulness has a place in the office

The concept of mindfulness is often spoken about purely in spiritual terms, when in fact, it is something that is particularly relevant to your life in the business world. What is Mindfulness? The website PsychologyToday.com does a very good job of defining the concept:

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you bymindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

The most important aspect of Mindfulness in the business world is a continual observation of your feelings as well as what is going on around you.

Here’s an unavoidable truth about you in the working world: You’ll screw up. Sometimes you’ll make massive screw ups. Things will go wrong due to your mistakes. If you’re thinking “Nah, that won’t happen to me, I’ll avoid stupid mistakes like that”, then you’ve just made your first screw up.

Employees that constantly believe that they’ve never made the mistake and blame it on other factors when in fact they were at fault are on a straight road to nowhere, because they’re never learning. As humans we learn primarily through experience and reflection. It is also true that it is the toughest times that we learn the most. You become far more experienced on difficult projects than on easy ones. The tough client teaches you more about service than the easy one. And without mistakes we will never truly master the craft we are practising.

However, all of this learning requires you to be mindful. How did that mistake happen? How could I have done that differently? How could I have handled that impossible client in a better way? What actions and thoughts of mine led to that? Open minded self-reflection is critical in developing our careers and ourselves as people.