Don’t Follow Your Passion, But Always Bring it With You.

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Have I ever mentioned how much I suck at snowboarding? I think the better term would be holy-hell-get-that-woman-off-the-slopes – but who is really paying attention? When it comes to physical prowess, I’m not the most graceful person ever (I *literally* cannot stand on one foot). That doesn’t keep me from trying to be a badass snowboarder chick – but if there is one thing I do know, is that while I’m passionate, I’m just not very good at it.

While perusing the internet over a cup of coffee, I found a quote that struck a chord with me and I can’t help but share it. Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” recently wrote a letter to someone explaining why following your passion isn’t necessarily the best idea. Just take a read and I’ll explain after:

Stephen Adams, Auburn, AL

“Hi, Mike. Let me begin by saying that I love what you and your foundation are attempting to do. However, I’m confused by your directive to NOT “follow your passion.” I think it can be safely argued that if no one followed their passion, companies like Apple, Microsoft, Dow, and many more wouldn’t exist. If no one follows their passion, who innovates? Whofounds companies that provide jobs for the outstanding workers that your foundation aims to help?”

Hi Stephen

A few years ago, I did a special called “The Dirty Truth.” In it, I challenged the conventional wisdom of popular platitudes by offering “dirtier,” more individualistic alternatives. For my inspiration, I looked to those hackneyed bromides that hang on the walls of corporate America. The ones that extoll passersby to live up to their potential by “dreaming bigger,” “working smarter,” and being a better “team player.” In that context, I first saw “Follow Your Passion” displayed in the conference room of a telemarketing firm that employed me thirty years ago. The words appeared next to an image of a rainbow, arcing gently over a waterfall and disappearing into a field of butterflies. Thinking of it now still makes me throw up in my mouth.

Like all bad advice, “Follow Your Passion” is routinely dispensed as though it’s wisdom were both incontrovertible and equally applicable to all. It’s not. Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it. And just because you’re determined to improve doesn’t mean that you will. Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue a thing you’re passionate about?” Of course not. The question is, for how long, and to what end?

When it comes to earning a living and being a productive member of society – I don’t think people should limit their options to those vocations they feel passionate towards. I met a lot of people on Dirty Jobs who really loved their work. But very few of them dreamed of having the career they ultimately chose. I remember a very successful septic tank cleaner who told me his secret of success. “I looked around to see where everyone else was headed, and then I went the opposite way,” he said. “Then I got good at my work. Then I found a way to love it. Then I got rich.”

Every time I watch The Oscars, I cringe when some famous movie star – trophy in hand – starts to deconstruct the secret to happiness. It’s always the same thing, and I can never hit “mute” fast enough to escape the inevitable cliches. “Don’t give up on your dreams kids, no matter what.” “Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have what it takes.” And of course, “Always follow your passion!”

Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?

There are many examples – including those you mention – of passionate people with big dreams who stayed the course, worked hard, overcame adversity, and changed the world though sheer pluck and determination. We love stories that begin with a dream, and culminate when that dream comes true. And to your question, we would surely be worse off without the likes of Bill Gates and Thomas Edison and all the other innovators and Captains of Industry. But from my perspective, I don’t see a shortage of people who are willing to dream big. I see people struggling because their reach has exceeded their grasp.

I’m fascinated by the beginning of American Idol. Every year, thousands of aspiring pop-stars show up with great expectations, only to learn that they don’t have anything close to the skills they thought they did. What’s amazing to me, isn’t their lack of talent – it’s their lack of awareness, and the resulting shock of being rejected. How is it that so many people are so blind to their own limitations? How did these peope get the impression they could sing in the first place? Then again, is their incredulity really so different than the surprise of a college graduate who learns on his first interview that his double major in Medieval Studies and French Literature doesn’t guarantee him the job he expected? In a world where everyone gets a trophy, encouragement trumps honesty, and realistic expectations go out the window.

When I was 16, I wanted to follow in my grandfathers footsteps. I wanted to be a tradesman. I wanted to build things, and fix things, and make things with my own two hands. This was my passion, and I followed it for years. I took all the shop classes at school, and did all I could to absorb the knowledge and skill that came so easily to my granddad. Unfortunately, the handy gene skipped over me, and I became frustrated. But I remained determined to do whatever it took to become a tradesman.

One day, I brought home a sconce from woodshop that looked like a paramecium, and after a heavy sigh, my grandfather told me the truth. He explained that my life would be a lot more satisfying and productive if I got myself a different kind of toolbox. This was almost certainly the best advice I’ve ever received, but at the time, it was crushing. It felt contradictory to everything I knew about persistence, and the importance of “staying the course.” It felt like quitting. But here’s the “dirty truth,” Stephen. “Staying the course” only makes sense if you’re headed in a sensible direction. Because passion and persistence – while most often associated with success – are also essential ingredients of futility.

That’s why I would never advise anyone to “follow their passion” until I understand who they are, what they want, and why they want it. Even then, I’d be cautious. Passion is too important to be without, but too fickle to be guided by. Which is why I’m more inclined to say, “Don’t Follow Your Passion, But Always Bring it With You.”

Carry On
Mike

I will forever stick by bringing your passion with you. There are quite a few people out there that have wondered where Shaun and I have gone in the world of travel blogging. It isn’t that I do not love traveling and blogging. I do. It was a huge part of my life and I will never forget how it has molded me into the person I am today.

But you know what? I’m not very good at it.

I’m a great photog, but I’m not a good businesswoman. I don’t like selling things to my audience. I like to stay authentic. I feel weird about proactively looking for press trips. I hate writing proposals. And to be honest, I don’t ever feel like I have anything to sell. I’m not aggressive enough to be making a living doing this. Not to mention, I just got plain tired of companies refusing to work with us because of how we look. Folks, we’re not LL Bean, nor to we want to be – but the travel community is still incredibly conservative. Look at who is doing well. Does anyone look like us? No.

And that is fine – because I’m finding other things that I’m good at and I’m learning to be happy.

I love to travel. I love to take pictures. And if you continue to check back here every so often, I will continue to share my thoughts, pictures, quirks, and life stories. But I will not sell you anything.

What have I found that I’m really good at? Customer Service. Not only has WooThemes shown me that I have great potential, but they listen to me and take my ideas into consideration for improvement. I’m taking something that I’m good at and pursuing it as a career.

And with the money I make, I can travel – on my own terms. I can show my photos in galleries in Kansas City – on my own terms and without wondering how I’m making ends meet.

I’m no longer following my passion – I’m bringing it with me in everything I do.

Mike Rowe, you rock. *high five*

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28 Responses to “Don’t Follow Your Passion, But Always Bring it With You.”

  1. jasmine January 8, 2015 at 8:23 pm #

    You’re Awesome. and, i can relate to this post A LOT… thank you for sharing yourself with us readers! i always appreciate your genuine openness and honesty. 🙂

    • Erica January 9, 2015 at 12:36 pm #

      Hey lady! I’m always so glad when you stop by and read. <3 It means the world. 😀 I think that people are lacking honesty and vulnerability these days when it comes to advice and I think this is some of the best I've read in a while. Discover your strengths and roll with them!

  2. Devi January 9, 2015 at 10:00 am #

    Awesome post – I think I have also been somewhat guilty of this mantra with my kids – but only to the point of encouraging them to pursue a career in something they love, because we all have to work too many hours to spend it doing something we don’t. But then I look at my career, which I’ve had for 35 years, that I chose, not because I loved it but because it suited my personality and availed me to take advantage of life on my own terms. So I guess I should preach what I practice.

    • Erica January 9, 2015 at 12:37 pm #

      Oye Devvi! 😉

      Thanks for hitting me up on Facebook this morning. I feel like I made a post that really mattered! I would love if you would share your son’s reply here! 😀

      • Devi January 12, 2015 at 6:23 pm #

        I’ll ask him…

      • Jacob January 20, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

        I love mike rowe but the part of his quote that I disagree with the most was passion is too fickle to be guided by. It’s true, I’ve quit pretty much everything I’ve ever started in my life, all except skiing. Am I fantastic skier? I’m not the best but I am pretty darn good. And while my interests are ever changing, it has been the only constant activity I’ve enjoyed my entire life. So yes, certain passions can be fickle to an underdeveloped sense of self, it’s hard for any young person to know what makes them truly happy until they’ve experienced more of what life has to offer. I turned my passion into a job at the age of 18 and by 22 I was a little burnt out on living paycheck to paycheck. Thought I could expand my earning potential by going back to school and getting a career in a field that came easy to me only to realize halfway through I had very little foresight and I could never sit indoors the rest of my life. The day of my last final, I had my car packed and ready to go back to my old job at the ski shop, of which I have been employed at for 11 winters now. The reason I went back to working seasonal jobs is because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, knowing that there’s an end to any kind of grind makes the day to day a lot easier. Now there’s a guy who makes pizza down the road from my house, he works every single day for the last thirty years making pizza. We call him the pizza nazi (a la soup nazi) cause you will never see him smile. I’m sure he was passionate at one time making pizza, thought he’d make a living at it and now you can see how dead he is inside. So it all depends on the person. Some people measure their success with their bank account, others with how they feel at the end of the day. I don’t believe in an after life, this is all we have and if you’re not enjoying your time here on this earth, what the hell is the point in living. Money? money is fickle, not true passion.

        • Erica February 1, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

          Hey Jacob,

          I really appreciate the time you took to reply here. I really appreciate it. I think it is incredibly important to discuss (pros and cons) about what was said. I’m happy to hear that you find happiness in providing other people happy outdoor experiences.

          I think that is is much more important to measure success by your own happiness, not the bank account. I’m on that team. As long as I’m happy, who cares? I could have gone back to school (a film degree is by no means lucrative) but I’m happy I chose that as my studies. I’m not sure I would have had it any other way.

  3. Katie January 9, 2015 at 11:02 am #

    I love this post! I was a lawyer in my former life and while I always thought I wanted to go to law school and at 28 was doing exactly what I said I would be doing 10 years after graduating from high school, I really wasn’t that good at it. I didn’t have what it took to be a really good lawyer. So I got out. I found something else to do – alumni relations and development for a law school. And while it was never something I ever saw myself doing, I’m good at it and I enjoy it. And it allows me to pursue my passion for travel by giving me opportunities to travel domestically for work, by giving me a steady income that I can afford to travel how I want to other places and by giving me flexible vacation time to visit a few countries each year.

    I was like you with my travel blog – while I love to travel and I like writing about travel, I feel exactly as you write above – “I don’t like selling things to my audience. I like to stay authentic. I feel weird about proactively looking for press trips. I hate writing proposals. And to be honest, I don’t ever feel like I have anything to sell. I’m not aggressive enough to be making a living doing this.” I still maintain my blog, but it’s just for fun and I don’t feel pressured to post on a schedule or build my audience, etc.

    Great to hear that WooThemes is such a good fit for you!

    • Erica January 9, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

      Katie, I’m so glad that you told your story here. I feel that way about being a travel blogger – and that is okay! I need it to be more of a hobby to make me happy anyway. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one that was done with the BS of being a “successful” travel blogger. My blog *was* successful! It took me places I could have never have imagined. 😀

      I’m sticking around for sure and I’m glad you are too.

  4. Rika | Cubicle Throwdown January 11, 2015 at 8:51 pm #

    I love this, and so needed to read it today!! Thank you!

    • Erica January 13, 2015 at 10:53 pm #

      I’m glad I could help Rika!

  5. Glenn Dixon January 12, 2015 at 10:52 am #

    Oh……….my……………….

    YES. This, 1000x over!

    • Erica January 13, 2015 at 10:53 pm #

      Right?! It spoke to me too!

  6. Katie @ The World on my Necklace January 13, 2015 at 5:51 pm #

    God I love Mike Rowe – what a legend! He is completely right too. You may not be a ‘great’ blogger but you are a fantastic writer and I agree with you about the business side of travel blogging – I hate it too. I take contract work in various admin jobs so I have the flexibility to travel extensively between contracts and although the jobs aren’t usually the most exciting – it gives me the freedom to live the life I want and although they aren’t exciting, they are fine and I have met some cool people that still remain close friends at the offices I have worked out. So happy to hear you have found your balance and are enjoying your job and yay for taking yoru passion with you 🙂

    • Erica January 13, 2015 at 10:54 pm #

      Yes! Yes! YES! It is nice to find the balance and do things that make you happy. I’m so glad to hear that you are doing this as well! 😀

  7. Hans January 23, 2015 at 8:53 pm #

    Using your passion as your business can lead you to not like it anymore. By starting a business to give you more time to do your passion, you’ll be doing much better!

  8. Svenja January 30, 2015 at 3:50 pm #

    “Follow your passions” would probably have sent my 18-year-old self straight to something I’d actually hate, like working in some dusty museum archive or library.
    I chose a different path and, rather by chance, found a career that I’m good at, that I learned to like a lot, that pays my bills, funds my passions, and leaves enough time to actually follow them on my own terms.
    Win-win, if you ask me.
    Oh, and I really like Mike Rowe!

  9. Mike | VagabondingMike February 21, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

    Very Interesting. I never thought of it like that. Mike Row makes a very good argument.

    Its amazing what you can learn when you stop and look at topic ‘doing what you love’ and look at it from a different angle…particularly someone elses.

  10. Aaron March 28, 2015 at 4:53 pm #

    Very interesting point of view from Mike Row, I like how he thinks differently and challenges the status quo, be an individual not just do something because everyone else thinks its right. Great post.

  11. Martin P May 23, 2015 at 9:31 am #

    Mike does share an interesting viewpoint. But I feel that he underestimates the importance of the satisfaction and inspiration that passion can bring to any pursuit.

  12. Andrew June 13, 2015 at 7:00 pm #

    Doing whatever you’re good at with a ton of passion will take you many miles ahead of everyone who’s half-assing it … keep it up!

  13. Izy Berry - The Wrong Way Home June 23, 2015 at 10:19 pm #

    Hey Erica! Don’t give up on snowboarding! Maybe next winter would be more fun and entertaining. Thanks for the genuine post.

    • Erica September 1, 2015 at 1:23 pm #

      You are the sweetest. I’m not giving up quite yet but it sure is frustrating!

  14. Tajirul Haque July 2, 2015 at 5:57 am #

    Thanks for this wonderful post. Its exactly what i needed to hear. I have tried to make a career in music for a long time. It is true that I love music very much. But it does not mean that I will be great in it. Now I am trying to be a writer. Lets see where fate takes me. Often times it is fate that decide what you can do great in, not your passion. And often our passion comes from our ego. And that is not our true self.

  15. Ross - FreeYourMindTravel October 14, 2015 at 4:56 am #

    I’m now seeing Mike Rowe in a whole new light after this 🙂 Thanks for sharing this and I really do look forward to continue marvelling at your stunning photos. I especially love your street art captures. Cheers

  16. Camila February 5, 2016 at 1:26 pm #

    Wonderful post. I am starting a new phase at my life and this is exactly what I was needing to hear.
    Changes are always to difficult but, in some way, your words helped me to define a couple of thinks!
    Congratulations & thanks for share tis with us!

  17. Suraj KC February 12, 2016 at 1:48 am #

    Nice insights about passion and life. It’s a good read.

  18. Michael Thomson March 16, 2016 at 5:12 am #

    They aren’t exciting, they look great and I have met some good people that still remain close at the offices. So happy to hear you have found your balance and are enjoying your job

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