Pursuing Your Passion For Work - Way Overrated?

Following one’s dreams blindly isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be.

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Back when I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed fresh graduate, untainted by the trials and tribulations of a working life, I thought I had my career aspirations all figured out: I would only pursue a job that I love, work for a company that I believed in wholeheartedly, and no matter what happened, never end up as one of the office drones clocking in and out of work mindlessly. 

I was convinced that I had to live by the mantra of “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”, that passion was everything in a career, low pay or long hours be damned.

Fast forward nine years later, I’m learning the hard way that perhaps I’ve put just a tad too much stock into that career philosophy; I’d vastly underestimated just how difficult it is to let passion be the sole deciding factor in your career choices.

Sure, it’s a very romantic notion to “suffer for your craft” – a notion, I believe, that’s perpetuated by people who never actually done it themselves. However, that shtick gets old real fast when you realise you’re unlikely to be able to afford your own house in the next few years unless you get a massive pay bump, win the lottery, or marry rich.

And unless you either truly do not care about material possessions, or are privileged enough to not have to worry, you’re probably going to end up resenting the one thing that you’d thought would sustain you for life. Few people are lucky enough to do what they love, and be rewarded handsomely for it, and burnout’s the last thing you need when you’re grappling with an existential crisis of having pursued the wrong career path.

It’s not always about the money either. In his 2015 commencement speech at Columbia University titled “Don’t Follow Your Passion”, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ben Horowitz brings up two other reasons to be a little more level-headed with your career choices.

The first and obvious one is that passions, “like with boyfriends” are likely to change as you age. The second, he says, is that following your passion is a self-centered move, because it tends to focus on what you get, instead of what you are contributing to the world. Instead, he suggests to “find the thing you’re great at and put that into the world. Contribute to others and help the world be better—that is the thing to follow.” 

Dave Isay, author of motivational book Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, echoes the sentiment in a TED article about finding the work you’re meant to do. In it, he posits that your calling is at the intersection of a Venn diagram of three things: doing what you’re good at, feeling appreciated for it, and believing your work is making people’s lives better.

In a ruthlessly pragmatic society like Singapore, the pursuit of passion is often viewed almost wistfully, often with rose-tinted glasses – because it’s so far out of our comfort zones. But by doing so, we seem to be putting it on an undeserved pedestal. Following one’s dreams is always a wonderful thing – where would we be without brave entrepreneurs? – but perhaps it’d be more prudent to apply a little more Singaporean-style pragmatism, and remember that there are other factors to consider before you plunge blindly headfirst.

After all, the line between pursuing your passion, and indulging in a pointless endeavor can be a very thin one.

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