Don't follow your passion. Sounds weird, but hear me out and I am sure you will agree

3 months ago

Don't follow your passion. This might seem like weird advice but hear me out. People are told these days: "Follow your passion". But what is passion? Where does it come from? And why haven't I found my "one true passion" yet?
The problem is that this word "passion" lumps way too many things together. A passion is something that you are good at, the society wants and you get paid for.

But there are things in your life that don't fit all those. You might enjoy making intricate origami, or create languages for fun, or draw pictures of pigs. You might be able to find a market for those skills, but more likely it will just be a hobby. You gotta make money. That's just how life works. So you get a job that pays the bills. Is there more to life than just paying bills? Of course! You can get a well paying, fulfilling job. But it requires much more than "follow your passion".

The problem with that phrase is that it is often said by successful people. Obviously Bill Gates loves computers and he makes money from it. Is that your path? Maybe you don't even like computers! How do you get that job of your dreams?

Well, you are in luck. At this moment of human history, you are more able to choose your destiny than at any previous point in history. Life demands that we find ways to feed ourselves. In prehistoric times that meant hunting and gathering. In tribal times it meant helping your tribe hunt and gather. In medieval times it meant farming the land (unless you were lucky to be a noble).
In my parent's day, it was "get a job and work your way up". Maybe you didn't want to be a bookkeeper, but it was good money. You found a job and you stayed there. But then people started saying "why can't I do something I like?" So they worked hard and tried to work out how to make a living as an author, video game maker or filmmaker. Some of them succeeded.

If you had asked them how they became successful, they would have said "I followed my passion". There is a problem called "survivor bias". Survivors often don't know what they did to be successful. They were either unconsciously competent or lucky. They will most likely give terrible advice.

The first wave, the "get a job" types, were successful because they fulfilled a societal need such as becoming a bookkeeper, car maker, or electrician. The second wave built on the first wave by working on something they like that society wants.

I think we are on the verge of a third wave. You can earn money fullfilling a societal need while enjoying yourself!

So, let's talk about why "follow your passion" is dangerous and then finally, what you can do to become one of the third wave.

"Follow your passion" presupposes something burning inside that just makes you want to say "languages are awesome" or "the world needs more video games" or even "why are there not more books in xhosa?"

What if this is absent? What if you don't have it? Here's a dirty secret. All those people are lying. Well, probably not intentionally. None of them followed their passion. That is a post hoc explanation like those acronym explanations of words like For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.

What really happened is they had a skill that could be used to fulfill a societal need. What happens when you do something that rewards you? Well, how do you feel when you get a raise at work, you get a compliment, you finish a level in a video game? You feel good.

Maybe you never even realised it before but you like computers, puzzles, video games, etc... It might have been a pre existing predilection or maybe it is new. But the point is, reward draws interest. You feel good when you do it and you enjoy the reward. You get more into it and before long you can't stop talking about Proto Germanic. You got here by doing puzzles, reading books, learning about German but now you are really enjoying it. You have a passion. You need to tell the world.

This process takes time. I honestly was not passionate about programming until I had been doing it for 9 years. I became passionate about languages even more quickly. But the key thing is that I was doing those things already before I became passionate. Passion is the RESULT, not the CAUSE of success. That is why "Follow your passion" is so dangerous. They might as well as "Go out into the world and be successful". Wow! What good advice /sarcasm

Ok. Now you understand how passion works and where it comes from. How can you get it and what can you do with it? Let's deal with those.

Passion is the result of hard work and success, not the cause of it. The hard truth is that you have to try lots and lots and lots of things and keep doing things. Choose things you enjoy. No need doing horrible things you hate. Do those things and keep doing those things.

You will be building up a skill. You will soon be able to look back at where you were and say "Damn! Look where I used to be". Do things and keep doing things. Maybe the thing you have chosen will become a passion, or maybe it will remain a hobby. But you will have added something to your life. And we all know that life is weird. Who knows how these things will impact your life. Do things and keep doing them.

Ok. The moment we all have been waiting for. How do you have a great job doing what you love that makes money? Use your skills that you have been building up by doing things to fulfill a societal need. Since you now have a large inventory of things you can do, you can choose one to pursue. Try selling your art. Try making your own tshirts. Or if you are like me, make a group to post language memes, be surprised by the growth of it and then capitalise on that to make a living for yourself.

If the first thing doesn't work, try the second and then the third snd then the fourth. Keep building your skills, keep trying. on yourself, keep building your skills and keep trying to fulfill those societal needs. And forget about passion.

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