You hear it all the time: “Follow your passion!” “Follow your heart!“ or “Follow your dreams!” But what exactly do those catchy phrases actually mean and, more specifically, what do they not mean?
As a brand strategist, I help ambitious solopreneurs use their strengths and knowledge to pursue work they love. To do this, I give them encouragement to share that unique thing that not only lights them up, but also simultaneously highly benefits a unique group of people and makes the world a better place. I also gently infuse a dose of reality when it comes down to what it actually takes to do what they want to do, with the intention of busting open some of their pre-conceived notions about the ever-so-popular phrase, “follow your passions.”
There are several common assumptions I have encountered about “following your passions.” Some are completely romanticized ideas and others play on the fear, limitation, and scarcity mindset, but the assumptions in either category are indeed myths.
Below are seven of the most common myths about “following your passions.”
Myth #1: Pursuing Work You Are Passionate about Is Selfish and Egoistic
Many of my clients express feelings of guilt about pursuing work that has more meaning to them or that uses their passions. They have voiced fears that their dreams of finding more rewarding work are ego-driven. A common theme that emerges is, “Why should I be able to do … ? or “Who am I to … ?” Well, I say “Who are you to not?”
There is a common fear that spending time focusing on your passions is greedy and selfish to others, when in fact the opposite is true.
Studies have shown that pursuing and engaging in activity that you are passionate about increases happiness and well-being. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies suggests that having two “harmonious passions” is even more beneficial than just one!
And the benefits don’t stop at you: when a person is fulfilled and happy, it is actually beneficial to the people around them as well. In a study conducted by Harvard researchers, they found that when a person becomes happy, a friend living close by has a 25 percent higher chance of becoming happy themselves. A spouse experiences an 8 percent chance of being happy themselves and for next-door neighbors, it’s 34 percent.
So not only can following your passions make you happy, it can also potentially make others happy too!
Myth #2: Passion Is All It Takes to Create Success or “Do What You Love, and the Money Will Follow”
Building a successful career or business by following your passion does not guarantee success or wealth, even if you are great at what you do. It does not mean you have the skills or knowledge that you need to bring that passion to your market.
As Michael Gerber points out so well in his book, The E-Myth Revisited, there’s a fatal assumption that so many would-be entrepreneurs make, and it’s this: “If you understand the technical work of a business, you understand a business that does that technical work.” The truth is quite the opposite—the technical work of a business and the business that does that technical work are two totally different things.
My advice is always to make sure you have a plan to bring your passion project to life. You should not only assess the various skills you will need to pursue your passion path, but also gain specificity about your niche and target market, and work directly with someone who has the knowledge or skills to support your endeavors.
Being highly passionate and great at what you do is an asset, but it simply does not guarantee your success.
#3 Doing Work You Love Starts with Following Your Passion First
William MacAskill, cofounder of 80,000 Hours, a non-profit focused on helping people to find satisfying careers in which they will have the largest social impact, interviewed hundreds of people across a wide range of careers. He found that trying to pursue some preordained “passion” is the wrong way to find a career you enjoy that makes a big difference to the world.
Why? Well for starters, most people’s passions just don’t fit well into the world of work. The better option is to find work that feels engaging and can eventually grow into a passion. MacAskill breaks engaging work down into five factors:
Sense of completion
Feedback from the job
Sometimes a passion grows from your engagement and mastery, but just as a love can grow deeper and more complex with time, so can your passion for any activity in which you are deeply engaged with.
#4 One Day You Will Arrive at Your Passion
I have spent countless hours with clients who are trying to figure out what passion they want to pursue, assuming that once they find that passion the work will be done. The real truth is that following your passion is a journey and there is no real destination. The passion path is one that unfolds each day with a new you and a new world. Following your passion has no set path, no curriculum, and no structure; don’t expect to get anywhere that you will stay for too long!
#5 Once You Follow Your True Passion, You Will Never Doubt Your Direction
Deciding to pursue a passion should include a well-thought-out plan, but just because you make a plan and decide to engage in your passion doesn’t mean you will be free from doubt and fear. In fact, taking risks increases uncertainty and gives doubt and fear more of an opportunity to arise. Author Seth Godin says, “Art is the act of doing work that matters while dancing with the voice in your head that screams for you to stop.”
Know that it’s totally normal to experience moments of doubt as you follow your passion. Create a practice that helps you deal with this. Find a support group, hire a coach, or commit to a daily meditation practice.
#6 Once You Follow Your Passion, You Will Be Happy
Please do not put off your happiness for any other day but today! Following your passion can be deeply rewarding, and as discussed earlier, it may increase your well-being, but do not follow your passion in hopes that it will be your happiness pill.
Following your passion is a long road with no real destination, don’t make the mistake of telling yourself “I will be happy once __________.” Find your happiness in the present moment, in the simple luxuries of modern life, and in the small moments with the people in your life NOW.
#7 You Won’t Make Any Money Following Your Passion
Converse to the belief that if you follow your passion, the money will always naturally follow is the limited belief that you will never make money doing something you love. There is a ton of people out there busting this myth each day—that is a reality.
Rest assured, you can make millions of dollars doing something you are passionate about if that is what you choose to do. But remember, abundance and wealth have much deeper meaning than just making money. True wealth comes from deep relationships, time freedom, love, adventure, and contribution, which are all possible with a determined, focused, and realistic view of what following your passions is all about.
Personally, I chose to follow my passions, and I wouldn’t trade what I’m doing now for anything else. I count my lucky stars every day that I get to lead others in creating a life they love.