Your Passion Doesn’t Have To Be Your Career

Just because you’re good at something, and enjoy doing it, doesn’t necessarily mean you ought to pursue paid work in that area. This is probably counterintuitive to everything you thought was true, right? We are constantly told, in vague inspirational-but-meaningless messages, to follow our dreams and give ourselves completely to whatever we are passionate about.

But your passion doesn’t have to be your career. When I use the word passion, I’m referring generally to a creative practice that you do because you feel that you are good at it, and because you love doing it.

Maybe you are following your dream and planning to make a living from it . Maybe you have already followed it and found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and you have crafted a burgeoning career from your true passion and honestly, congratulations if that is the case. That’s seriously awesome and you should be proud of yourself. Yet, what about all the people who are trying to make a living from doing what makes them happy and are failing, or are finding that doing it for money makes them unhappy?

My opinion on this has been notoriously hard to clarify, as it is something I have brought up during pretty much every season of The X Factor in the last five years, and has often fallen on deaf ears. (One year’s specific argument rested on the idea that Jedward were no less entitled to a singing career than any other contestants – you can likely imagine why people didn’t agree, but I stand by my assertion.) You’re good at something, you’re passionate about it, you work hard at it. Okay. The world does not owe you a living doing that thing. I anticipate that many people will disagree with this, and it is this closely-held belief that being good at something means you ought to make money from it that doe-eyed hopefuls trundle into X Factor auditions year after year.

So you’re thinking well I’ve worked really hard at this thing and I’m really good at it – where is my career?

People can be good at baking and yet not bake for a living. People who are excellent writers may work in industries where writing is not a large aspect. People might have a fantastic singing voice and never earn a penny from singing for their supper. This might be because they chose to take a different career and leave the thing that they are passionate about as a hobby, or even a way to de-stress after a hard day at work. Or it could be because they tried really hard to break into an industry where they make money from doing that thing they love more than anything else, and couldn’t. It could even be that they did find a paid job doing that particular thing, and sadly discovered that they no longer enjoyed it once it became their living.

Of course it’s always preferable to like the work that you do for a living, and care about it to some degree. In no way am I suggesting that we should all purposely take jobs in which we are uninspired and miserable. I’m just saying that it’s not fundamental to a worthwhile career, or a worthwhile life. Whether you never wanted to make a full-time career out of your passion, or you tried it and didn’t quite make it, that’s okay. What’s more, just because you’re not making a living out of it now doesn’t mean you never will. If you continue doing it in your spare time, just for the love of it, you might be able to return to it as a career option in the future.

(CC BY 2.0) Photograph by Sean MacEntee

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5 thoughts on “Your Passion Doesn’t Have To Be Your Career

  1. I think this is a fantastic post and totally true. I work with a lot of people who want to be writers, or theater directors, etc., but it’s just so difficult not only to find work but to find paid work. So they do that on the side, earning a bit of money, and sometimes it works out! One of my friends spent loads of time on the side trying to get published, and now he has so much work that it’s hard to keep both jobs. I definitely think people set unrealistic expectations for life. There’s no way everyone can be a writer, or actor, or whatever. No one wants to have to go to a desk job, but almost everyone has to. So I think it’s great when people just deal with it, but don’t give up on their passion at the same time just because they aren’t one of the very very few who are lucky enough to be paid for it.

    • Thanks Sara. It’s true that the lack of opportunities for paid work in some areas might hinder people’s careers sometimes. I definitely agree that people set unrealistic expectations for life – people sometimes think I’m a pessimist when I say things like this, but I honestly don’t think I am. I just know that not everyone gets to do exactly what their heart desires, and every time we’re fed messages that suggest that ‘following your dream’ is the only possibility it just piles disappointment on top of disappointment.

  2. yes, well said. I knew an artist who said she had to paint a lot of blue paintings as blue pictures sold. seemed a shame to paint what was wanted, rather than what she wanted. another friend was a great violinist, but gave it up for a career in science, so he could continue to enjoy his playing rather than have it be ruined
    other passions just dont make money, so a living has to be made other ways.

    • Yes, that might be what cheapens the experience for some people. When you make your passion your main source of income, you’re essentially relying on the market demand, which removes some of your options for creativity and independence. This works for some people, but maybe not for others.

      On a smaller scale this is something you can see a lot in blogs that have grown into money-making ventures – if you read back through the archives of some blogs, you can almost pinpoint when they started making money and the content became less natural.

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