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Why “Follow Your Passion” is Horrible Advice

We all want to impart the best advice possible to our children, because we all want our children to lead successful, happy and contented lives. We want better for them in every way. It’s human nature.

But this desire for the best for our children can sometimes manifest itself in new age parenting tactics and advice that can only be described as foolish.

Granted it’s foolishness wrapped in the best of intentions – but that’s just a pig wearing lipstick.

There are lots of examples of such parenting tactics out there today (the ones that have so efficiently resulted in an entire generation of “snowflakes”) – but one I take particular issue with is the new age mantra every parent seems to spout to their kids as though it’s the long lost secret of life.

“Follow your passion”. Or the slightly modified version “Do what you love, don’t settle for anything less.” I feel like this advice is most often followed up with a YOLO (you only live once), and I’ve mentioned how I feel about the whole YOLO philosophy.

Although follow your passion seems like pretty innocuous advice on the surface, when you look a little closer, it’s straight up poor messaging to our kids and it’s an equally poor approach for ourselves.

First of all, “following your passion” is not always an option, and it shouldn’t be our kids top priority when they are entering the job market. Not at first anyway. More often than not “find a job, work hard, make money and live on less than you make” would be much more valuable words of wisdom.

Follow your passion is akin to giving our kids permission to drift aimlessly and unproductively through life until they find their “one true calling”. The reality translation of this mantra is “It’s all about you”. It also has the underlying message that money doesn’t matter. Which is a belief that sets our kids up for discontentment and financial disaster.

While I think it’s great to love and find purpose in what you do, and that it’s incredibly important to pursue and reach a place in life where you are doing exactly that, I also firmly believe that having the financial means to allow you to do so requires a lot of hard front end work, planning, and likely some period of transitioning from a job that pays the bills, to a job that enables that degree of fulfillment.

And, at the end of the day, work is still called work for a reason. You’re probably never going to love every minute of it.

In situations where we as parents have the means to financially support our kids while they search for their “passion”, and we end up doing so, we are serving only to rob them of valuable life experiences, and instil a false sense of entitlement. After all, it’s awfully hard to appreciate your dream job if you’ve never acquired the perspective and experience from the less than ideal jobs along the way. Odds are, even if they lucked into their dream job right out of the gate, they’d never realize just how good they have it.

Secondly, telling someone to follow their passion makes a primary assumption that they have a specific passion for something, that they’ve put sufficient thought into identifying what that passion is, AND that it would translate to an employable field for which there is a current market.

Let’s do a quick test – off the top of your head name your number one passion, that would also work as a career that will pay your bills. GO.

………I’ll wait.

My bet is that the older you are, and the more life experience you have, the more likely you were able to answer that question in a reasonable amount of time. While many others were probably not able to come up with anything at all.

Until a couple years ago, I would have struggled to answer the question myself.

Passion often gets confused with excitement or interest. You can experience something and be extremely interested or excited about it, and that’s great. Maybe you’ll dabble in it for a little while until you get bored and move onto the next thing that peaks your interest, or maybe you will stick with it and develop it into a passion.

But passion is not some pre-existing condition you “have”, nor is it something you blindly stumble across. Passion is something you intentionally cultivate over time, and it is built on a foundation of expertise, purpose, and fulfillment.

I’m not saying there aren’t any people out there that have discovered something they are passionate about at an early age. There are legitimate child prodigies out there that have an innate natural talent/expertise and cultivate their passion early in life. For those kids encouraging them to explore that passion is likely appropriate advice.

But for the other 99% of kids (and adults) out there, telling them to follow their passion does nothing except make them feel insecure about the fact that they might not have any idea about what they are passionate about. It can also turn our kids into total flakes, who briefly try things that interest them, but when they don’t absolutely LOVE doing the required work every second of every day, they jump ship without gaining any meaningful experience or insight into their skill sets, or what brings them a sense of purpose.

If we teach our kids to only look to follow their passion in life, we simultaneously teach them to only look inward for satisfaction, and to ignore opportunities that could very well lead them into their most fulfilling experiences.

So instead of telling our kids to follow their passion, why don’t we guide them to try new things, even if on the surface it doesn’t always seem like something they would LOVE. Experience it anyway, give it a try, learn what you like and don’t like about it. Just because you don’t love it, doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it.

They can then use that learned information to hone their self awareness, identify skill sets, and make future choices, because sometimes our passions can be cultivated in the least expected places.

Bottom line – we should be telling our kids (and ourselves) to go out and pursue opportunity. We can use those opportunities to not only cultivate our passions, but to build the financial stability to allow us the freedom to pursue those passions in a financially and socially responsible way.

That advice may not have the same catchy modern parenting vibe, but it’s the advice we, our kids and the rest of the world, actually need.

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2 Comments »

  1. This is exceptionally well-written, well-thought and spot-on advice. My expertise is in career development and management and I could not have said it better.

    Like

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