The Perils of Following Your Passion

Self Comments

A common advice to college students or someone starting their career is to follow their passion. While I’ve always believed in this, this blog post is an effort to explore and understand the negatives. Below are 4 reasons why following your passion might not actually be good advice -

Early Lock-in - If you’ve to follow your passion, it implies that you’ve figured out what your passion is. For most young people, passion is usually inspired by the people around them and nothing unique to them. For example, consider Rafael Nadal - a tennis player who has won 12 major titles on clay courts. Here’s his interview when he was 16 -

I prefer indoor hard-courts and grass to clay (but I also like clay). My biggest dream is to win Wimbledon.

Now imagine if Nadal’s coach had asked him to focus on grass and indoor hard courts (which was not a crazy thing to do back in early 2000s). Nadal might have skipped the clay court season to prepare for Wimbledon and might not have gone on to win 12 Roland Garros. Instead, he let his passion develop based on his strengths and success.

The Grunt Work - If you’re passionate about Machine Learning or AI, you might think that a Data Scientist is the right career choice. However, depending on the company and the role, you might end up spending the majority of the time in data munging and cleaning. Jobs are usually a collection of different tasks - while you can be passionate about one of them, it might not be the most dominant one in your job.

High Expectations - The other disadvantage of having a passion early in career is that you’ve set sights on an ideal job. The expectations are really high when you start your ideal job and you’d soon find yourself in the evaluating mode rather than the experiencing mode. Chasing your passion can actually chase it away :)

Passion and Success - Are all passionate people successful? Or is it that we get to hear only from the successful people and they’re passionate about their work? A standard correlation vs causation problem. Ben Horowitz claims that it’s easy to love what you do if you’re good at it or have made a successful career out of it. For example, can you really love to ski if you’re terrible at it falling in the cold weather multiple times?

So, what’s the right approach here?

Develop Your Passion - The word follow implies that this passion is out there and one must follow it. However, Angela Duckworth claims that the phrase develop your passion by following your curiosity is more relevant - it implies that it is a quality that you develop and nurture as you grow in your career.

Don’t be yourself. Become yourself.

Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration - Passion alone won’t help you to get the job done. While it is helpful to keep you going on the bad days, its the hard work and dedication that helps you make progress. Be prepared to do the grunt work.

Resources -

  1. How to pick your career by Tim Urban
  2. The perils of following your passion by Adam Grant. Podcast
  3. Commencement speech by Ben Horowitz. YouTube Link
  4. “Follow Your Passion” is bad advice. YouTube Link
  5. Steve Jobs Commencement Speeach at Stanford. YouTube Link

Kaushik Rangadurai

Code. Learn. Explore

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