“Follow Your Passion, You’ll Make a Life”

The “Follow Your Passion” Fallacy

One of the biggest fallacies in the self-help department is the advice “follow your passion”, the implication being: “the money will follow”, the fallacy part of it all. My husband, in the know of my centers of interest, sent me an interesting article on the subject. http://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/worst-career-advice-do-what-you-love.html

Though this article is intended for entrepreneurs, in reference to a book by Cal Newport, anyone acknowledging that s/he can grow through her work, be it a calling, a business, a job or a hobby, can benefit from reflecting on it.

Practice, Practice, Practice and Passion Will Ensue

” Passion is not something you follow”. “Passion is something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world.”

The central idea, in this article, is that you are not born passionate for a job, but your passion grows as you keep on developing your skills on the long term job, towards a career and even a calling. [As an aside, this can also apply to relationships: anyone that has been married long enough knows this, but that’s another fascinating, complex subject all together. Maybe for another post.]

The article argues that buying into this fallacy is disastrous for entrepreneurs. It is true, that in an age of instant gratification, being told that you can make it real big as a yoga teacher with only a crash course in it, is both seductive and surely a recipe for disaster. It creates a new breed of entrepreneurs, that benefit the entrepreneurs, at the top of the pyramid, who support this fallacy. But is that the true spirit of entrepreneurship?

The Spirit of Entrepreneurship

The article advocates to work hard and the money will follow, besides your bringing something valuable to the world, in the pure spirit of American Capitalism. Even if this view is the reverse of the complacent “follow your passion and the money will follow” advice, it is still about money as a reward, as a sign of election of the worthy ones. (See The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber). That’s maybe why the part “the money will follow” is only implied in this article.

Magic-School-BusThe age group for entrepreneurs is usually below 30, and startupists, at least in the High Tech, usually, start in their adolescence. Entrepreneurs are the ones that “take chances, make mistakes and get messy” or “wet”, as Miss Frizzle, in The Magic School bus, has it. That this spirit of entrepreneurship is motivated by money or pure passion must be judged on a case by case basis. It’s usually a mix of both. What is sure is that entrepreneurs take huge risks in every way and the results may be disastrous or not, whatever the motivation, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook being the latest Icon. (See also the comments of entrepreneurs on this article). Something else seems to be at work, other than hard work or even passion. Could it be luck? Destiny? A great mentor? It is definitely a certain type of temperament.

The Spirit of Passion

My reasons, nonetheless,  for not buying into the “follow your passion” fallacy is more basic and maybe more profound than in the article above mentioned: how’s that for passion, I’ll ask, if you expect anything other than “doing what you love”, by following through on your passion? A passionate soul responds to a necessity, which is both the danger and the beauty of surrendering to a passion. “Follow  your passion and the money will follow” has probably killed countless passionate ideas, because they became tainted with an expectation for gain in terms of money or status. Unless your passion is for money, don’t expect to make money from your passion, not because it won’t happen or worse, as the article seems to contend, but rather because it may kill the spirit of passion which points to your life’s work.

Career passions may be rare, as the article has it, but passion, as doing what you love, is it’s own reward (just right passion). Maybe you’ll stay at your passion long enough to also make a living at it. In the meantime, you can make a life and that’s not so bad, while assuring a minimum of means of existence, like a paycheck, health, family ties, without which ascending the ladder of success, inner or outer, is very chaotic and even dangerous.

Working and Playing Through Your Passion

Sometimes passionate souls, those who have found their passion, visit too much passion (obsessive even destructive), or too little passion (depression, ennui ) . How can they find the measure of passion that is both life enhancing and  safe? Philosophers of old and of all sides, Western or Eastern, have warned against the dangers of passion and devised all types of doctrines to tame them to reach the ideal of ataraxy (imperturbability). These doctrines are usually ascetic, all or nothing.  Passionate souls,  seem indeed to need some safeguards from the excesses of their passion. Artists seem to be the most fragile, and they are not few those who fell for their art. Is there another way than asceticism to experience a sense of harmony while still leading a passionate life… and not less importantly: staying alive?

Know Thyself in Attraction

Each and everyone must know which side he is attracted to, and this side, serve he must with all his might.

Rabbi Ber of Lublin

Admitting that you have identified your passion or that you are a passionate soul, a less costly way than seesawing between too much or too little passion (Icarus Lessons), is to first realize that this passion is a means to an end (just right passion). That you chanced upon your calling at a young age or that you are a late bloomer, through hard work or not, that you already make a living at your passion or that you practice in your spare time besides your current areas of endeavor, that it costs you an arm and a leg or that you have found a sponsor to pay for it; what matters is that, at least, your life is enhanced by this passion.

Besides,there is often an inner conflict that prevents you from following through on your passion, so identifying, exploring, playing and working through this conflict can unleash your passionate soul. If you can find a way to live a passionate life without harm to self or other– what I call: being for me and caring about you–  then true happiness may ensue, be it through building a thriving business, being of service to your community or simply desiring to become the best you can be and see what happens. It’s all heuristics! If you are courageous enough and wish to grow through your passion, maybe self-realization will ensue.

Happy Heurisitics

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