What principles should guide you when you are planning out the course of your life? If you are young and American you have been told, ad nauseam, to follow your passion.
Some tell young people to follow their bliss; some say that they should do what they love; still others tell them to follow their dreams.
The message is part of their education. It is part of their upbringing. And it is not just being peddled by therapists and schoolteachers. Rarely does a day pass when some billionaire explains to the young generation that he amassed his fortune by following his passion, his dreams, or his bliss.
From time to time I have denounced this value system. I believe that it is useless to the point where it will make lives more difficult and more complicated.
Writing on the Harvard Business Review blog, twenty-something entrepreneur Oliver Segovia explains to his generation that following your passion is a bad idea.
He opens with an anecdote about what happened to one young woman who set out to follow her passion. This woman searched her soul until she discovered her true passion. (It sounds just like the kind of introspection prescribed by therapists.) She then set out to realize it.
Segovia describes the process: “Several years ago, a friend decided she wanted to follow her passion. She loved the liberal arts and the academe. She was a talented graphic designer, a great writer, and was the president of a student club. But the prospect of working a nine-to-five job was never interesting. I can't blame her. After all, ours is a millennial generation, proselytized to pursue our dreams. So she spent seven years getting a PhD, writing an award-winning dissertation in the process. It was a wonderful ride while it lasted, and she was among the happiest people I knew.
“Then the recession hit. The value of university endowments crashed. Teaching and research positions were cut. She moved back in with her family, stopped paying off her student loans, and waited two years before getting a minor teaching role in a small research center. Throughout this time, she suffered the anguish of an uncertain future, became socially withdrawn, and felt a sense of betrayal.”
Segovia recognizes, more clearly than most, that his generation has been induced to worship the “false idols of passion.” His generation has been betrayed by those who would proselytize the values of the therapy culture.
If you have a job and have discovered that you also have a passion, I would also recommend that you do not bring it into your workplace.
Passion can easily consume your good character. Passion will make you insufferable. Passion will make you uncompromising. Passion will tell you that negotiating means selling out. Passion will make a poor team player and an ineffective leader.
If you are consumed by passion you will become self-righteous and self-absorbed. Be assured, if you allow yourself to be driven by your passion, it will definitely consume you.
When you set the course of your life by following an impulse that you discovered by introspecting, you are more likely to try to navigate your way through life’s difficulties by ignoring reality and consulting your gut.
Segovia does not limit his column to a critique of the therapy culture. He recommends an antidote. First, he suggests that you forget about your almighty Self. In other words, stop tormenting yourself about your lack of self-esteem.
Instead of rummaging through your mind, try addressing your attention to real problems in the real world. Ask yourself how you might solve them or how you might contribute to their solution. Then you can ask yourself what you bring to a job, how you add value to a product.
Ask yourself what you are good at. Where does your talent lie?
Do a strict and objective inventory of what you are good at. You might add a list of those things you are not very good at.
See how your skills correlate with the problems you are trying to address. Then, try to evaluate the futures market for those skills.
The more you think about how to correlate your skills with the market’s needs the more you will overcome the negative influence of those who told you to follow your passion.