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Often, people say to follow your passion when it comes to your career. Unfortunately, while this slogan is echoed in self-help books, graduation speeches, and career coaches, it may not be the best strategy. It might just be the worst advice you can get.
In response to Adam Grant’s question about a “worst piece of career advice you’ve received,” Mark Cuban replied: “‘Follow your passions.’ No. Follow your effort. No one quits anything they’re good at. If I followed my passion, I’d still be trying to play professional basketball.”
Cuban isn’t alone in this stance. Three Stanford researchers found that following your passion can cause one’s success to be hindered by narrowmindedness.
To further illustrate this point, let’s dig deeper into why it’s bad career advice to “follow your passion.”
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A passion for something only indicates interest in it.
It’s easy to confuse a hobby or interest with a passion, especially one that pays off in a career or business. Unfortunately, it’s rare that someone has that kind of passion already.
In, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in Searching for Work You Love, Cal Newport writes, “Telling someone to follow their passion is dangerous.” Because the vast majority of people do not end up owning successful businesses in that way, that advice likely resulted in more failed businesses than all the recessions combined.
It’s because most passions aren’t based on effort but on interest. Sports is a passion for plenty of people. Maybe you’re one of them, like Cuban.
“I used to be passionate about being a baseball player. Then I realized I had a 70-mile-per-hour fastball,” says Cuban. FYI, it’s not uncommon for competitive major league pitchers to throw fastballs at speeds exceeding 90 mph.
“I used to be passionate about being a professional basketball player. Then I realized I had a 7-inch vertical,” says Cuban. In 2017, for example, all top NBA draft contenders had a vertical leap of over 40 inches.
“There are a lot of things I am passionate about. A lot,” says Cuban.
Ultimately, is that passion worth the effort we put into it? In terms of talent, knowledge, and skills, how much effort do we put into improving them? For many, not much.
In short, having passion only indicates that you are interested.
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We assume we will only be passionate about one thing in life.
It’s not uncommon for people to have more than one specific interest in life. Unfortunately, when you pick one passion, you leave no room for other passions yet to be explored.
Moreover, passions change with time. As we progress through our lives, we continue to evolve. It’s possible to look back on what we once loved with fond memories (or perhaps not-so-fond memories). As we change, so do our passions.
There is an assumption that we already know what our passions are.
Most people can’t describe a passion and how it relates to a career. There are many people like you out there who are going through this. People rarely find a passion until they have spent time, educated themselves, and worked various jobs.
The unknown of your passion can cause a great deal of anxiety and stress. It can make those who have not found it feel as if there is something fundamentally wrong with them. By the way, this isn’t true.
It implies passion should come easily or that your “dream job” awaits.
You should know your strengths and what comes more naturally to you when looking for a career. If you believe you can utilize those skills professionally, you may want to consider the types of professional positions you can pursue.
Even if you don’t know your strengths yet, it’s okay to experiment and see what works best for you. It’s better to develop passions on their own than to chase them.
Related: How to Allow Room for Failure and Create a Successful Work Environment
You may not have the right mindset.
Dr. Paul A. O’Keefe, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, was part of a team that conducted a study in 2018 exploring how different people perceive “implicit theories of interest” and how people discover new passions.
There are two theories of interest:
- The fixed theory: argues that our interests are relatively stable and unchanging.
- The growth theory: argues that our interests are developed over time.
It was found that people who subscribe to a fixed theory were less likely to realize that pursuing a new interest would be challenging, and they lost interest more quickly than those who subscribe to a growth theory. It is basically believed that interests and passions can develop with enough time, effort, and investment by people with a growth mindset of interest.
“This comes down to the expectations people have when pursuing a passion,” Dr. O’Keefe said. “Someone with a fixed mindset of interest might begin their pursuit with lots of enthusiasm, but it might diminish once things get too challenging or tedious.”
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There is no guarantee that you will be good at something just because you are passionate about it.
There’s no better example of this than American talent shows. Unless you excel at your chosen passion, you’ll have a difficult time succeeding. Just think of how many passionate singers you’ve seen booted from shows like American Idol. And it could end up hurting you in the long run.
TutorBright founder Sunny Verma said if “desire drives your actions, which in turn, align with your belief, that’s when great things start to happen.”
“If we are not naturally good at something, it becomes really easy to give ourselves a label of, ‘I am just not good at whatever I am trying to do.’ Then we carry this mindset of learned helplessness with us to adulthood, and if we don’t succeed on our first or second try, we think it’s better to quit,” he added.
Therefore, we internalize this fear of failing and being terrible at something, which makes it hard to enjoy the struggles and difficulties that are necessary for growth. According to Mr. Verma, positive psychology techniques like affirmations and encouragement need to be emphasized.
As soon as you turn your life’s passion into a job, it becomes just that: a chore.
It’s possible that a passion that you once held dear may lose its luster if you do it habitually and for monetary gain. It is possible to have a passion that is not a career — but rather a hobby.
I’ll give you an example. A childhood friend of mine was always passionate about cooking. He has loved it since he was a kid — much to the chagrin of my mom — who would wake up to a sink full of dirty dishes when he stayed over.
Anyway, he finally opened his restaurant. And he no longer has that love of cooking. In fact, he eventually refused to cook meals at home because it reminded him of work.
Another interesting thing happened. He also had to spend time on tasks outside the kitchen. When he first opened the restaurant — he was responsible for tasks like payroll, scheduling, taxes, and inventory. As a chef, that’s not what he signed up for when opening his restaurant. But these extra “chores” are essential for running a business.
Related: Why a Growth Mindset is Essential to Success and How to Shift Your Mindset
The money doesn’t always follow.
For years, I believed: ‘Do what you love, and the money will follow.’ I would lose money on projects and say, “Don’t worry, the money will follow.” I had to unlearn this lesson the hard way,” says Steve Griggs, founder and CEO of Steve Griggs Design, previously told Entrepreneur.
It is important to understand the financial aspects of any venture. Remember, it’s okay to make a profit. After all, profit is the lifeblood of any business. “Instead of just ‘doing what you love,’ I say, ‘be fair, honest, and make a profit.'” Griggs adds.
Related: How to Realistically Make Money From Your Passion
Not everyone has the privilege of finding their passion.
For some people, money is not a necessity. Perhaps you were fortunate to receive a large inheritance or maybe you’re content living within your means. For the vast majority of the working class, money drives what profession you choose until you establish yourself enough to take other options.
As such, think about what you value in the present, such as remote work, unlimited paid time off, or flexible hours. By receiving these benefits, you may have some extra time to devote to your passions. As an example, let’s say that you are able to work from home a couple of days per week. Since you don’t have to commute on those days, you can use that time to develop your passions.
Instead of passion, focus on effort.
It’s rare that passion comes without significant effort because effort leads to improvement and mastery of something.
Your hobbies and interests are clearly evidence of what you care about. You do not passively experience things or events in your life — you actively engage in them in your spare time. Cuban would say that you have already put in the effort.
“The things I ended up being really good at were the things I found myself putting effort into. Many people talk about passion, but that’s really not what you need to focus on. You really need to evaluate and say, ‘Okay, where am I putting in my time?'” explains Cuban.
“Because when you look at where you put in your time, where you put in your effort, that tends to be the things that you are good at. And if you put in enough time, you tend to get really good at it,” he adds.
It’s easier to enjoy something you’re good at, says Cuban. A snowball effect occurs when effort and skill are combined.
“If you put in enough time, and you get really good, I will give you a little secret: Nobody quits anything they are good at because it is fun to be good. It is fun to be one of the best,” Cuban asserts.
“But in order to be one of the best, you have to put in the effort. So don’t follow your passions; follow your effort,” says Cuban.
“I am going to give you one other secret: The one thing in life that you can control is your effort,” he adds.
Take small steps to improve, learn, and grow, and put some structure around it. You’ll get more enthusiastic the more effort you put in. The more passionate you will become. And in the end, developing talent and experience will help you turn a passion into a new job or business.