Why Following Your Passion May Be the Worst Advice You Ever Received

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You've probably heard the advice go after your passion in life, do what you enjoy doing, and the money will follow. That advice may be both the best, and the worst advice you have ever received.

Let me explain.

My daughter Emma loves to sing; it's her passion. She is an incredibly talented and accomplished performer. She was voted best performer multiple times during show choir competitions in high school, consistently earns top roles in various plays, gets standing ovations and has even performed at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Emma (Left) performing in The Pirates of Penzance

I can remember a time when my daughter was not quite as talented as she is today though. She wasn't horrible, she always had some natural talent and loved to sing, but let's just say she had some room to grow.

I wonder what would have happened if one day when she was wailing away off-key I had told her she sucked and should focus on doing more practical things because she didn't have the “natural talent” needed to go after music as a career.

Instead, I encouraged her to follow her passion. We enrolled her in lessons. She got better and better and took every music class she could in high school and continued getting better. I helped her create a website, and soon after she started getting calls from people wanting her to give them or their kid's lessons. She's now got a vocal studio that is doing well and is performing in local plays.

I'm glad I encouraged her to follow her passion, and believe doing so will lead her to a much happier and more fulfilling life than she would have otherwise had.

So why do I say it may be bad advice to follow your passion?

Let's change the scenario a little. Imagine if Emma had been thirty with three kids, hadn't been performing for the last few decades, and was living paycheck to paycheck when she decided that music was her passion.

Imagine what would happen if she quit her job after hearing a motivational speaker talking about the benefits of following your passion and started trying to get performing gigs.

Motivational Speaker talks about following your passion
Um…before you hit start…

It shouldn't be too difficult to figure out what would happen. Without the skills honed from years of practice, with kids relying on her income and no financial cushion, Emma would wish for her old job back within two months. She would crash and burn long before she got good enough and developed the relationships she would need to start making money.

The reality is that it may take YEARS before you get good enough at what you are passionate about that people will be willing to pay you.

Some things may never be profitable. If you are passionate about watching NetFlix and drinking beer, for example, it might be a bit difficult to make a career out of that.

Couch potatoes
You might enjoy being a couch potato, but it probably won't pay the bills

If you give up everything to follow your passion, yet do not have the skill necessary to make a living out of that yet and don't have a financial cushion, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Even if you have the skills, if you are trying to start up a business, it takes time to get enough paying customers to cover the bills.

Why Following Your Passion May Be the Best Advice You Ever Received

So am I telling you not to follow your passion?


Contrary to the article title, I think following your passion is a great idea. When I'm coaching people, I help them find and encourage them to follow their passion. Unlike other coaches I've seen, what I don't do is encourage them to quit their day job until they are well on their way to being able to sustain themselves with their passion.

That's why when my daughter asked what I thought she should do when she started struggling, I encouraged her to find a regular job until her vocal studio took off enough to pay the bills.

Without that regular job, which she was not passionate about, covering the bills, she would have had a very rough time financially. As it is, her vocal studio is rapidly overtaking her other job in terms of earnings, and it has already become one of her primary sources of income.

We All Have Natural Talents & Passions

We all have certain natural talents. Look at someone like Michael Jordan or LeBron James. They had natural talent and were born with certain physical features and a passion that made them great candidates for their chosen careers in basketball.

LeBron James
If LeBron was 5'2″, no one would pay him to play basketball

If LeBron was 5'2″ tall instead of 6'8″, no one would have paid him $35 million to play basketball. There are certain gifts that each of us are given, and I believe there are certain passions that each of us are given as well.

Passion Lets Us Work Harder, Which Will Eventually Make Us Great

The passion these guys had for the game allowed them to go way above and beyond to practice all the time and become superstars. They love the game, so they play it all the time.

The passion my daughter has for music means that she sings all the time which makes her better and better.

The reason why following your passion may be the best advice you've ever received is not because things will come easy and you won't have to work at it. It's because when something is a passion for you, you will work at it without being told. You'd do it even if you didn't get paid, and that is why you will become great.

But Don't Quit Your Day Job Quite Yet

Don't give up on following your passion.

Practice it.

Embrace it.

Eventually, you may even be able to make a living from your passion. But don't believe the lie that following your passion means that life will be easy or that money will start flowing the moment you start.

About the Author 

Don Smith

Happily married with five kids, Smith founded this site, owns a technology company in the Midwestern USA, is a former bank director, and loves playing soccer, hiking, and mentoring.

  • Good message Don and I dig your choice of Lebron image. Kyrie Irving is guarding him; I have followed Kyrie since he was a skinny little 16 year old playing basketball in New Jersey. He is a good kid, talked to him a few times. He also literally out-practiced everybody in the world, when he was a teenager, and did not make a dime from his gig. He followed his passion but did not have a fam or bills, so he was OK. Now he makes $70 million a year but only after practicing b-ball for 10,000 hours as a teenager.

    • I agree that’s the key Ryan, practice makes you better. If you’re passionate about something, you’ll practice it. It’s like your blogging, you’re good because you’ve done it a lot.

      LeBron was the same way, I read a story years before he went big where Jordan said this guy is going to be great because LeBron was on the court practicing hours before everyone else showed up and hours after they left at a basketball camp.

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