The Passion Myth

The Passion Myth: ‘Find your passion and follow it’

The Career Truth:Career direction must satisfy many factors not just one


Has anyone ever told you that you should simply pursue a career that you are passionate about. Chances are that you have, but you have perhaps wondered how practical this advice is really? The ‘Passion myth’ has misled people for decades and causes confusion for many people trying to decide about career direction. This advice is commonly handed out by well-intentioned people, but decades of using this advice has been associated with many dissatisfied people that are forever hopping from job to job trying to find the holy grail of a ‘perfect job’.

The reason for this is that having something that you are passionate about to use as a successful start-point for your career is rare. In fact, Robert Vallerand and his Canadian research team found that out of 539 university students who identified something they were passionate about, only 4% had a passion that could be used for as a basis for a career. Often things we are passionate about such as hobbies or recreation do not translate well into a job or occupation.

Harvard Professor, Cal Newport, in his book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” summarizes that, feeling passionate about your job is one possible end-point or a result of a having built a career around something worthwhile – not the starting point. Newport also points out that decades of perpetuating the Passion Myth has had negative consequences when, “… the passion hypothesis convinces people that somewhere there’s a magic “right” job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately recognize this …The problem, of course, is when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow, such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt”

We sometimes meet people who seem extremely passionate about their job – this is either because they are someone who gets passionate about any job they do or they are one of the few who have either stumbled upon or have built a passion for their job. We are often envious of people with passion, but we should not make passion the ultimate goal of our careers – there are people around who are passionate about their careers, but unfortunately, are very unhappy about their overall life because their career isn’t providing the financial stability, job opportunities, autonomy, independence, work-life balance etc. that they need  to be happy and fulfilled.  There are better and more realistic career goals to aim for.

One of the reasons we are so easily taken in by the passion myth is that there are hundreds of factors influencing our career direction and it gets very confusing to know what else to do – so we grab onto an emotional response to ‘feel’ whether it is right or not.

In contrast, the most important truth we need to know about careers is: ‘Your career must satisfy many factors – not just one’ (i.e not just passion). Much career and developmental research over the past decades concludes that multi-factor system approaches to choosing career direction are in fact what happens in real life.


Related media:

Video – So good they can’t ignore you by Prof. Cal Newport talking to Google staff (start at 7m 30s)

Book – How to Find Fulfilling Work by R. Krznaric

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