5 reasons to stop ‘following your passion’ — and what to do instead

Nov 18, 2021

It’s time to call it out. ‘Following your passion’ is poor career advice. Here’s why…

Way back in April 2019, I wrote one of my most popular articles to date. It’s titled: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up? How to find your passion’. You can check it out here.

This post still gets consistently high views over two and a half years after it was first published.

Which tells me it’s a topic people are thinking about…

Plus, I work with many clients who want to ‘find their passion’ or dream job. So I know it’s a BIG challenge people face.

I stand by the practical tips shared in this article. They will support you to explore potential career paths and jobs you’re curious about. You’ll discover how to identify what you want in your career and find work aligned to your strengths, skills and interests.

But I’m noticing a lot of individuals putting pressure on themselves to ‘find their passion’ or one dream job. And all it’s doing is overwhelming them and keeping them stuck.

So I want to change the dialogue around ‘following your passion’.

Is it important to do work you love? Yes!

Is it possible to find work which lights you up? 100% — which is why I state it in the tagline of my signature coaching program. It’s my mission to help every person find a fulfilling role and career they enjoy.

But the advice to ‘follow your passion’ can be unhelpful — and often, discouraging. Here are five reasons WHY — and what to do instead.

#1 — YOU’RE BEATING YOURSELF UP

In the article mentioned above, I share examples of people who knew from an early age what career they wanted to pursue. I discuss how having clarity on what they wanted shaped their decisions and actions. And allowed them to turn their dreams into reality.

But what if you’re unsure about your career direction? You’ve been going round in circles for years trying to figure out what you want to do. You’re comparing yourself to others and beating yourself up as it feels like everyone else has a clear plan.

What to do instead: If this is you, realise you’re not alone. The individuals who always knew what they ‘wanted to be when they grew up’ are in the minority.

Most of us have no idea — or what we thought we wanted changes. It’s common to be clear on your career path in your early 20’s but 10, 15 years later for it to no longer feel aligned. Or if you’re anything like me, you’ll pursue many different careers before finding the right fit!

#2 — THINKING YOUR PASSION HAS TO BE YOUR JOB

The problem with ‘following your passion’ is it puts pressure on you to turn your interests into your work. You may start to believe you have to find the one thing you’re passionate about. Then pursue it as your next job or future career.

But not everything you love has to become your career!

What to do instead: Let go of the belief your passions have to be your job! Give yourself permission to find fulfillment and enjoyment in your interests outside work too. Especially in the early stages of exploring what you want in your career.

#3 — YOU FAIL TO CONSIDER WHAT YOU WANT

Are you focusing on job titles or finding your ‘dream role’ upfront? You’re trying to identify your one ‘passion’ or future career path — then match yourself to it.

The problem with this approach is it fails to address the core issue. Figuring out what you want.

This is why people leave jobs in search of the ‘right role’, then find they still aren’t satisfied. Without a level of self-awareness of what drives you and what you want for your future career, your work won’t be fulfilling or sustainable.

What to do instead: Flip your focus from trying to ‘find your passion’ to understanding what you want, first. Take the time to get to know yourself and your priorities in work and life.

The framework I teach begins by reflecting on who you are: your purpose, values, unique strengths and interests. As well as considering your future vision, financial and lifestyle goals. Then you can look for a job or explore new career paths aligned to this — which you’re passionate about!

#4 — IT LIMITS THE POSSIBILITIES

Your brain can only show you what it knows and has experienced. This is the function of the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The part of the brain which controls the information we receive.

When you start with trying to ‘find’ your passion or dream job, you limit yourself to who and what you already know. This can lead you to make the wrong decision or discount potential opportunities.

If your circle consists of people you’ve studied or worked with, you may not believe it’s possible to pursue a different career path. Because you don’t know people doing the things you long to do! You could also restrict your job search to roles in your current profession or only use the methods you know — like job boards.

What to do instead: Rather than trying to ‘find your passion’, follow your curiosity. Give your brain the evidence it needs to see what’s possible.

Pay attention to the things you’re drawn to in your daily interactions. What sparks your interest? Tap into your network, find a mentor or talk to people doing work you’re fascinated by.

Get curious and follow what lights you up. Whether it’s an article, podcast episode, attending an event or workshop. This way, you’ll unearth new possibilities you’d never have considered.

#5 — IT KEEPS YOU STUCK IN ANALYSIS PARALYSIS

Are you spending hours Googling potential career paths in search of your passion? Or scrolling job boards hoping by some miracle your dream job will jump out of the screen? While it’s important to reflect on what you want, too often people get trapped in ‘research mode’.

It’s scary to put yourself out there and try something new. Your brain wants to protect you and stop you stepping outside your comfort zone. This is why researching what you want feels safer than taking action — but it’s keeping you stuck!

What to do instead: Clarity comes through action. Find practical ways to test out new skills such as volunteering or taking on an extra project at work. Consider starting a side hustle or passion project outside your 9-5.

Have career conversations with people doing work (or aspects of work) which you’re drawn to. Find out about their role, organisation, industry and career path. You’ll see what’s possible and will open yourself up to new career opportunities too.

Notice what piques your interest. Then keep taking consistent, aligned action in this direction.

The pressure to ‘follow your passion’ can feel overwhelming and keep you stuck. A better approach is to follow your curiosity and take aligned action towards the things which spark your interest. This perspective shift has helped my clients get clear on what they want in their career — I hope it supports you too.

Want help to figure out your next career steps?

Let’s chat! Book your free 30 minute consult HERE to get started.

Stacey Back is a Career Strategist, Leadership Coach + Founder of Profile Careers. She helps high-achieving corporate leaders and business owners at a mid-career crossroads find the work that lights them up, increase their income, impact and create a career + life on their terms.

Stacey also supports professionals to transition from their corporate job into their own consulting business. She works virtually with individuals based across the globe.