Don’t follow your passion

Posted: May 23, 2023 by chrisharper in Uncategorized
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By Christopher Harper

Most students and college administrators wouldn’t like my message in a graduation speech.

Don’t follow your passion. Instead, prepare and perspire.

Had I followed my passion, I would have been the lead singer in a rock ‘n’ roll band. I almost certainly would have failed, although I am a member of the South Dakota and Iowa rock halls of fame.

Instead, I planned for three options: an immediate career in journalism, graduate school in journalism, or a doctoral program in English literature.

I planned my future for at least five years out. Fortunately, I chose correctly. Graduate school in journalism led me to contacts at prominent news organizations and provided a credential I needed 25 years later when I joined academia.

In a Forbes article, Julia Korn explains why following your passion is probably the worst advice someone can give a graduating high school or college student.

According to researchers at Stanford University, the “follow your passion” recommendation can be detrimental to an individual’s success due to narrowmindedness and dedication to a single passion. See

Here’s why “follow your passion” is terrible career advice:

–It assumes we will only have one passion in life. People are dynamic and have more than one specific life interest. It can be limiting to select merely one passion, as it leaves no space for other passions yet to be uncovered. 

–It assumes passions don’t change with time. Humans continually evolve in every stage of our lives. What we once loved may now be a fond (or not so fond) memory.

–It assumes we already know what our passion is. Many people cannot confidently state a specific passion and how it can tie to a career. Most people need time, education, and exposure to different jobs and companies before they can concentrate on a passion.

–Just because you are passionate about something doesn’t mean you are good at it. American talent shows are a great example of this concept. If you aren’t good at your chosen passion, you’re unlikely to rise quickly in the professional rankings. In the long run, you may ultimately be hindering yourself.

–It’s a privileged message not afforded to all. Perhaps money is not a necessity for you. However, for most of the working force, money drives what profession you choose until you can establish yourself enough to make alternative decisions.

Korn suggested: “Commit to learning and re-learning what energizes and drains you. By dedicating yourself to what sparks your interests and what doesn’t, you can more easily align with a successful career path that highlights your true talents.” 

I would add another perspective from Thomas Edison: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

  1. dorsai123 says:

    my advice is too develop a passion for what you are good at … and the measure of good is grades in school or the salary an employer is willing to pay you … (i.e. you don’t get to decide you are good at something it has to come from an outside source) …

    also be passionate about your hobbies if they bring you joy … just don’t try to make a living at them …

  2. Pod Hamp says:

    My advice: get a degree in something that someone will pay you for, i.e. medicine, law, business, engineering, nursing, computer science, and so on.

  3. Donald Pay says:

    Prepare and perspire is good advice no matter what path in life you go down. The five year plan sounds a little too communist for me, but if it worked for you, that’s great. I agree with the idea that most people have more than one passion. That’s why I had multiple jobs in vastly different career fields. The term “life long learner” is kind of trite, but being one makes it much easier to switch fields and pursue different passions.

    You were a pretty good singer, so maybe you would have succeeded at your passion. When Mark Craney was banging on his drums with The Vandals back in Sioux Falls, who knew he would wind up playing with Jethro Tull.