Early Career Advice: ‘Follow your passion’ is just not practical guidance

Published: February 13, 2013


Seinfeld clip

In one Seinfeld episode, Jerry helps George work through various employment “possibilities” after George quits his job without another one lined up. Screengrab/NBC

I still remember when I was in high school sitting at the back of the class looking outside at the gorgeous sunny day. Thinking only one more year to go and then I was going to be out of here.

“Pavi, you need to pay attention to what I am saying,” yelled my teacher. “The courses you will be selecting next year will determine your career path.”

“But I don’t know what I want to do after high school so how should I pick my classes?” I replied. I wasn’t the only thinking this as there was an eerie silence in the classroom.

“Do something you are passionate about because you will be doing it for the rest of your life,” my teacher replied and moved on. If hearing that isn’t depressing, I don’t know what is. I have heard this advice given to a lot of high school and university students and I have never been able to fully understand it. If I had to sit down with a career coach at the age of 17 and explain what I was passionate about, it would be similar to this Seinfeld clip (courtesy of NBC) where Jerry Seinfield asks George Costanza what he wants to do with his life.

I follow Mark Cuban’s blog regularly. For those of you who don’t know him, Mark is a billionaire who owns several businesses, including the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA. He openly states that “Follow your passion” is easily the worst advice you could ever give or get. He’s not the only one to think this. Do What You Love and Starve is a very detailed article by Martin Nemko, author and career coach. I highly recommend you read this article. There is not much more I can add to Martin’s article, he nailed it.

While it is important for students and their parents to realize that you can’t turn your passion into a career that can pay the bills right away, the day may come when you focus on that passion again and make a living off it. That someday might be when you have more work/life experience and some equity.

Instead of passion I recommend students first start with the process of elimination and identify where they are weak. Once they have done that it will give them a better idea of their strengths. I myself was terrible in my shop and science classes in high school. I knew early on that I would not succeed in those fields no matter how much time and effort I put into them. I honestly couldn’t hammer a nail if my life depended on it and don’t get me started on chemistry and biology. It was during a high school work experience term at Walmart I discovered my interest and strengths were in business. From there I discovered that I enjoyed and was actually good (I think anyway) at Human Resources.

Once you know your strengths, take the time to figure out which careers are lucrative and in demand that match up with your strengths.

I can’t believe how many young people I come across that are strong in math but won’t purse career opportunities in that field. Some say it’s not their passion. According to the Change the Equation website, the past three years, unemployed people outnumbered online job postings by more than three to one. Yet for people who had a strong background in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), job postings outnumbered unemployed people by almost two to one. That’s right, there were two jobs available for every qualified candidate. So if math is one of your strengths but your passion is sports, stick to math and buy season tickets to your favourite sports team.

Pavi Toor is a Human Resources Manager and operates the site www.careersafterschool.com He can be reached at pavi@careersafterschool.com

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