4 Myths About Career Passion

The most common myths that prevent people from stepping into their potential.

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Curt Rosengren

I make my living helping people figure out how to create careers that light them up, so I end up having a lot of random conversations about career passion. While the idea is appealing to everyone (because who wouldn't want to love their work?), it can also kick up a fair amount of skepticism.

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No doubt some of that skepticism is fueled by an overdose of happy-thought gurus who are long on fluff and short on realistic implementation. But a big part of it is also tied to an all too common misperception that pursuing passion is little more than unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky dreaming. That misperception is fed by a number of widespread myths. Here are four of the most common myths that prevent people from stepping into their potential.

Myth No. 1: Pursuing your passion is selfish and self-indulgent. Too many people fall prey to the notion that if it's fun, it must be selfish. And of course we can't have that! Better to stick our noses to the grindstone and grit our teeth. (What's up with that?) Is creating a career where you feel energized and engaged in your own best interest? Of course! But finding work you love is also one of the best things you could ever do for your loved ones.

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Imagine the difference between someone who grinds through the day in a job that sucks the life out of him and someone who actually gets energy from the work she does. Which one would you want to be around at the end of the day? Which one is going to be a better wife, husband, parent, or friend? When you love what you're doing for such a significant portion of your waking hours, the positive ripple effect on your family, your coworkers, and even just random people you encounter can be substantial.

Myth No. 2: You have to be "realistic." People say, "Sure, I'd like to pursue my passion, but when it comes to work, you have to get realistic. I have responsibilities. I can't just go chasing after fun." After all, work is called work for a reason, right? You don't get paid to have fun—or so many of us believe. There's often an element of this myth at play in myth No. 1. ("I can't be selfish and have fun because I have to get serious and take care of my responsibilities.")

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Don't get me wrong. I agree wholeheartedly that, yes, you do have to be realistic. But it's important to be clear about what realistic means. For many people, what they really mean is "Here's a wet towel I'd like to smother that dream with." Realism becomes another word for unquestioned pessimism, and it becomes a great (and often unfounded) reason to say no. 

There's nothing wrong with taking realistic stock of the situation and acting accordingly. In fact, the likelihood that you will succeed goes up exponentially if you do. I think of that as "positive realism." "Negative realism," on the other hand, takes stock of the obstacles and simply stops. It doesn't say, "OK, here are some of the challenges blocking my path. Now, what are some possible ways around that?" We're amazingly creative, we humans, but when we buy into negative realism, we allow ourselves to be trapped in a tiny box of possibility.

Myth No. 3: Do what you love, and the money will follow. Sorry, folks. "Do what you love, and the money will follow" is actually the abbreviated version. The full version is "Do what you love, work really, really hard, be patient, be persistent, be open, work really, really hard some more, and the money will follow." Not quite as catchy, I know, but much more accurate.

When you set things in motion in the direction of your passion, things do have a way of happening. Doors open you would never have known were there. Opportunities come up you would never have imagined. But it's not guaranteed. Just because you're doing what you love doesn't mean you're snorting magic fairy dust that will automatically turn the dream into reality. You have to get there the hard way, just like anyone else.

Myth No. 4: I'm limited by the rules. This one makes me want to scream. When I hear a variation on this theme, I always have to resist the urge to look at them and bleat, "Baaaaaaaah!" Sheep! Whose rules?

"The rules" create a needless barrier between you and your potential. I frequently hear people look back with regret on the career path they chose, saying it ultimately left them feeling unfulfilled and stuck. They got sucked in by external rules and expectations about what success looks like, what is respectable, even what kind of life they should live. And not so surprisingly, they ended up living someone else's life. When you follow cookie-cutter rules and take a cookie-cutter approach, you'll get cookie-cutter results. Pursuing your passion is inherently about creating your own path. It's about breaking out of the ruts and saying, "No, guess what? These are my rules. This is the way it's done."

A real-world perspective: If you want to succeed in pursuing your passion, you have to be realistic, and you have to work hard. You also have to question assumptions and be creative in figuring out ways to make it happen. You have to ask the hard questions and sometimes make the hard choices. It isn't pie in the sky. Making it happen is a very down-to-earth, nuts-and-bolts process requiring you to develop a deep awareness of both yourself and the world around you.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As a speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About Work, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.