The Truth Behind “Follow Your Passion”

September 20, 2009 § 1 Comment


Throughout my days in university, my habit of reading gained lots of momentum. My reading material was mainly focused on non-fiction, self help books. Once you discover that you can decide what your life to be like, you’d naturally want to improve every single aspect of it!

I found most of the self-help books helpful indeed: learning about the importance of a positive outlook towards life, the importance of setting goals, and having a healthy view towards money. One common theme mentioned in many self help books however, is the idea that “follow your passion, and the money will follow.”

I have been thinking long and hard about it, even as the months toward graduation crept closer. The few work experiences and internships I’ve had taught me one thing about myself: Any work I do that I don’t connect with emotionally, or derive satisfaction, I feel dull and get bored easily.

“What exactly is my passion?”

“Does it mean I don’t have to work in something I don’t like?”

One thing that I believe paralyzes many of us is the paradox of choice when it comes to careers. What is the Paradox of Choice?

In essence it is the idea that “having and making choices is essential to our wellbeing, but even though our modern lifestyles are more than ever filled with abundant choices, we are not benefiting from this abundance at all, psychologically.”

Relating this to career choices, The Paradox of Choice author Barry Schwartz says:

Part of the downside of abundant choice is that each new option adds to the list of trade-offs, and trade-offs have psychological consequences.

Baby boomers didn’t have the staggering amount of career choices like we do now. They took whatever was best amongst their few options. When my mom graduated from high school, she was happy to be offered a position with the Public Utilities Board. Government jobs were considered well paying and secure, and they weren’t usually offered to graduates of Chinese high schools. She took it. Clearly, career choices were made with a different set of considerations back then.

While it is important to take a leaf from the Baby Boomers book regarding making career choices, I think a new mindset  is needed for these times.

I must admit I don’t have clear answers yet. But I do think many who have trodden on the path less taken have left clues from which we can make informed decisions.

I found similarities in the advice given by two writers (amongst many others) whose advice I trust the most:

  • Tina Seelig, executive director for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, and author of What I  Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course In Making Your Place In The World
  • Randy Komisar, partner at Kleiner Perkins, Virtual CEO and author of The Monk And The Riddle

Tina Seelig:

How many people have told you that the key to success is to follow your passions? I’d bet it’s a lot. Giving that advice to someone who’s struggling to figure out what to do with his or her life is easy. However, that advice is actually simplistic and misleading. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of passions and think it’s incredibly important to know what drives you. But it certainly isn’t enough.

Passions are just a starting point. You also need to know your talents and how the world values them. If you’re passionate about something but not particularly good at it, then it’s going to be pretty frustrating to try to craft a career in that area. Say you love basketball but aren’t tall enough to compete, or you’re enthralled by jazz but can’t carry a tune. In both cases you can be a terrific fan, going to games and concerts, without being a professional.

(Quoted from Tina’s blog, read full post here)

In many interviews done, Tina often mentions about the importance of being willing to try many things, and not be afraid to fail. When Tina graduated from college, she decided to take some time off away from home, instead of starting her career immediately. Time spent away helped her realize what kind of lifestyle she wanted to lead.

Randy Komisar:

“I thought back to my own (time) as a student … and I realized I was passionate about everything! I loved everything…How I addressed the question (about passion) was that, rather than thinking about THE passion, free yourself to think about a portfolio of passions. And the task is to marry that portfolio of passions to the opportunities in front of you.

Randy then talks about looking at the opportunities immediately ahead of you, rather than thinking about the “ultimate horizon” you want to reach, in the distance. (Watch full video here).

Randy’s point about finding the sole ultimate passion rings true for me and many of my peers. Unless you’ve already figured out your passions before the age of nine, you’re ultimately better of combining multiple interests while seeking opportunities that allow these interests to benefit others.

It is refreshing to hear about others’ life perspectives: what they were glad they did, what they wish they did.

My career strategy for the near future:

My passions are currently related to Volunteering (ecotourism, english teaching), Traveling and Social Media. I’ll seriously consider any opportunities that fall my way with regards to these interests.


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