Why You Should NOT Follow Your Passion

Start Earning Online – Lesson 4

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“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

You know who said that?

Confucius.

He was a Chinese philosopher who lived some 2,500 years ago. He said many a wise thing, but the above quote isn’t one of them.

To make amends, he grew some amazing eyebrows:

Confucius
Confucius and his mad eyebrows.

You may have heard the same advice in different words: “Follow your passion.”

Well, I’m here to tell you to ignore that advice.

Yes, really.

Forget passion.

Three reasons why…

1. To Follow Your Passion, You First Need To Find It

And that’s much easier said than done, right?

Most of us have no idea what we’re passionate about, or what kind of job we could possibly love so much that it never feels like work.

The danger is that we’ll invest tons of time and energy into finding our passion, trying all sorts of different things in expectation of a sudden eureka moment.

We see it unfolding like a movie, that moment when you’re engaged in some new activity and suddenly everything clicks and then you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that THIS IS WHAT I WAS PUT HERE ON EARTH TO DO!

"Eureka!"

To emphasize how silly this belief is, imagine if you believed romantic relationships worked the same way.

That is, you believed that you either fell in love with someone at first sight, or not at all.

Sounds ridiculous, right?

You might be physically attracted to someone immediately, or even feel some mysterious and powerful urge to go talk to them, but you won’t know for sure if you’re a good match until you go on a few dates, get jiggy, meet their parents, live together… etc.

See what I’m getting at here?

Just like very few people have their perfect partner fall out of the sky and into their arms, very few people have their perfect career do the same.

But even if that were to happen to you — if you were to find your passion (or your soulmate) overnight or otherwise — it’s not as if success would suddenly come easy.

That’s because…

2. Doing Meaningful Work Is Hard

Here’s a quote I prefer, by Thomas Edison:

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Just like you have to work at a relationship you care about, you have to work at a job you love. You can’t just cruise along and have everything fall into place.

I’ve worked on numerous passion projects over the years.

Building this website is the latest one.

I truly believe that building this site is the best way I could be contributing to the world right now — helping people achieve financial and location independence — and I enjoy the process of writing and sharing what I’ve learned.

All in all, I love my work.

And yet there are many days when I am massively resistant to actually sit down and do it.

Why is that??

Well, when you love something, there’s the fear that you’ll mess it up or that it won’t be nearly as good or as well received as you hope it will be.

And when you’re not afraid of something going wrong, you’re afraid of nothing going wrong.

Success equals transformation and some dark part of us wants us to fail because then nothing has to change.

We can go back to doing something safe and familiar instead of plowing ahead into unknown territory.

So yeah, doing work you’re passionate about ain’t easy. It’s often much easier (at least in the short-term) to do work you don’t give a shit about.

But doing work you’re passionate about isn’t just a tough road. It’s also a long road.

Which brings us to the third reason to ignore the advice of Confucius…

3. It May Take Years To Make Money From Your Passion

That’s if you can ever make any money from it at all, let alone enough to afford a decent standard of living.

And let’s face it: unless you’ve got a mattress full of cash to fall back on, you can’t afford to spend YEARS of your life turning your passion into a career.

Bills have to be paid.

Food has to be bought.

The occasional pint has to be enjoyed.

Not to mention the fact that many of the things we’re passionate about simply aren’t ever going to make us a living.

What if you’re passionate about carving matchsticks or collecting stamps or growing cacti?

What if you’re a teenage girl from Finland who loves nothing more than frolicking around on a fake horse?

Yup, this is a real thing.

Even if you invest years in becoming the best in the world at those things, it’s unlikely that anyone’s going to throw money at you. 2

Let’s take a moment and review what we’ve covered so far…

You should forget passion because:

  • If you don’t already know what you’re passionate about, there’s no guarantee you’ll figure it out anytime soon, no matter how hard you try.
  • Even if you do figure it out, doing work you’re passionate about isn’t any kind of cakewalk. If anything, working on something you’re passionate about is harder than working a regular job you have little interest in.
  • It can take years to turn passion into a viable business, if it’s possible at all.

Let me be clear here.

I’m not saying that you should drop your passion completely (assuming you know what it is). And I’m not saying you should resolve yourself to doing work you hate to make a living.

What I am saying may be best communicated by revising that Confucius quote to read as follows:

“Choose a job you like, can quickly excel at, and will be well paid for… and you will have a lot more options in the not-too-distant future.”

Let’s break that down.

Choose a job you like…

You don’t have to love what you do. Liking your work is perfectly fine.

The past eight years I’ve earned a living mostly as a freelance web developer. But I don’t love doing web development. It might have been my passion ten years ago, but the joy faded from it pretty fast.

Nowadays I like building websites. It’s something I know how to do and do well.

But doing freelance web development affords me a lot of freedom.

In large part because of that skill, I had the confidence to quit my 9-to-5 and the ability to travel the world for years on end.

Make money online from Tenerife
Me working online from a rented apartment in sunny Tenerife.

…can quickly excel at, and be well paid for…

As mentioned, passion projects often take years to pay off financially, if ever.

Some people glorify the struggle of living hand-to-mouth while chasing an elusive dream, like becoming a famous rock star or writer.

I am not one of those people.

Forget being a starving artist.

Put the dream on hold and learn some skills you can use to generate a reliable income within a few months. That means becoming good at something the world values and is happy to pay you for.

…and you will have a lot more options in the not-too-distant future.

Let’s say you can learn and deploy a new skill in the next three months that allows you to earn $1,000/month freelancing online.

That gives you options.

  • First of all, you suddenly have the option to work from ANYWHERE in the world. You can head off to a cheaper country with nicer weather, move closer to loved ones, or even travel indefinitely.
  • Hitting that $1,000/month mark also allows you to be more selective with the projects you choose to take on. You can start to diversify your client base and raise your rates.
  • Further down the road, as you gain more confidence and your business becomes more optimized, you can make more money in less time, eventually to the point where you can devote a few hours a day to working on a passion project, without worrying about how to make it financially viable.

See how that works?

By forgetting about passion and focusing on building skills that improve our options in the near future, we actually give ourselves a better chance of making our passion project an eventual success.

Let’s Review

When you’re just getting started working online, your main goal should be to build a steady stream of independent income, and to do it as fast as possible.

The best way to do that is to put your passion projects aside and focus on building a skill you can freelance. It should be something you like doing, can quickly excel at, and will be well paid for.

Now, you’re probably wondering which skill best fits that description for you.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to figure out in the next lesson.

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About The Author

18 Comments

  1. My passionate work is that using power point and make presentable something,
    if something else is better for me to do then i am willing to learn it.
    thank you.

    1. Hi Rhoan, I think it is a skill – you could add on to that how to pack on a budget. I think experienced backpackers or travellers know how but there are so many new travellers who are overwhelmed with this. Great idea.

  2. Interesting read Niall. And I have to agree with you. I pursued a career as a musician for 5 years in Ireland & the UK and while we enjoyed a moderate level of success, there was never the kind of money coming in that could sustain our lifestyles. We were lucky enough to have identified our passion, but over time it actually became a bit of a burden.

    By working at something you like (or don’t hate) and get paid reasonably well to do, can then allow you the spare time to go and ENJOY your passion. After all, that’s what you passion is for; enjoyment. Pursuing your passion as a career can be rather conflicting when deadlines and client expectations don’t match with your own.

    1. Hey Darragh,

      Yeah, I hear you on that. Part of me worries that when I eventually give up freelancing and go all in on my own projects, I won’t find them as enjoyable!

  3. Totally agree with everything you said. Being passionate about something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good at it. I know quite a number of people who are passionate about singing but the sounds they make are torture to our ears. So rather be on the safe side, the reality side.

    1. Haha, yeah. Watch any of those “Got Talent” TV shows and you see no shortage of passion but not so much talent 😛

  4. I spend a lot of time at my day job writing and editing technical reports. Between this, tracking and analyzing data in spreadsheets, and breaking work down into a plan (as project manager), I have managed to stay in the web development field for 20 years, after starting as a coder. Not sure which skills will translate most easily into remote work. Companies seem to prefer on-site PMs and Agile facilitators. . .

  5. Hi Niall,
    I love doing start-ups, preferably helping people to build breweries.
    It pays well when it pays at all, and it’s hard work. The hard part is finding clients who live where I want to work, say, Madrid or Valletta right now…so I’d like to learn digital marketing.

  6. Claire Elliott

    Great post Niall and the point about NOT following your passion is very valid as I’ve struggled for years to find mine and got nowhere 🙂 Much better to focus on something you can do and build skills and confidence and get PAID for it!

  7. Hey Niall,

    I was thinking about web development. It’s something I like and I was even passionate about it now and then. There is one highschool project that proves it. My passion is writing. However, English is not my first language and I don’t think I can do this well enough to get paid.

    1. Niall Doherty

      Hi Ioana,

      Web development is a great one. I actually came across a free guide for that today by a digital nomad I trust: https://www.subscribepage.com/how-i-learned-to-code

      As for writing, you can make a decent living with that even if English isn’t your first language, but it’s a lower ceiling there. It would be tough to earn more than $3000/month even with a lot of work as a non-native English speaker. Web development would be better in that sense.

  8. What Confucius actually said is “enjoying learning is better than to love learning, and loving to learn is better than knowing how to learn.” It’s a common misconception that he said anything related to work or loving a job.

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