Bah, Passion

It's possible that following your passion will lead to poverty.


The most common career advice is, "Follow your passion. Do what you love and the money will follow." Of course, every star interviewed in the media says that. They followed their passion and it worked out just peachy for them. But for every Beyoncé or Bono, there's a stadium full of people who never made enough money from singing to pay for their singing lessons, let alone to make a living that doesn't require a diet of ramen and cat food.

Alas, most people who do what they love starve. That's because most people love one of just a few things: creative arts, the environment, fashion, media and sports. When 10 zillion people are competing for 10,000 jobs, there's going to be a lot of starving artists, environmentalists and broadcasters.

Dreamers take "interim" jobs, such as Starbucks barista, taxi driver and waiter, while waiting for their career to take off. Most of them are waiting for Godot.

The good news is you're more likely to be happy in a less-crowded career. In the end, what makes most people content is work that's moderate in difficulty and quantity, good pay, job stability, a nice boss and co-workers, opportunities to grow and a reasonable commute. You're more likely to find those attributes in your typical office job rather than in trying to be the next Oprah.

Even if you manage to find the holy grail, a job in your area of passion, you may be more miserable than in a less-cool career. For example, most actors spend most of their time waiting: waiting for the next audition, waiting for a callback (which often doesn't come), waiting for their cue to go on stage at rehearsal, waiting to go on stage during the performance. They're endlessly insecure because there is zero job security and less security with every passing year and every new wrinkle.

If you're an environmentalist, it seems that half the public is passionately green. Environmental nonprofits get hundreds of applicants for each job, which, despite their protestations of caring about workers, enables them to get you to work as a volunteer or for McWages. Most of those jobs don't get you closer to your beloved snail darter than a pile of accounts receivable bills or the spreadsheet for the next fundraising gala. And they'll expect you to work Dickensian hours. ("Don't you believe in the cause?!") They know that if you're not willing to work workhouse hours for poorhouse pay there's a horde of wannabes waiting in the wings – with spouses or parents who'll support them – who will jump at the chance.

So next time you hear someone tell you to do what you love, ask him or her: "Are you doing what you love?" If he or she says yes, then ask: "What followed your passionate decision, money or poverty?" If the answer is "money," he or she is probably lying.

Passion. Bah, humbug!

Editor's note: This is the first installment of a weekly "Bah" series, where Marty will reveal his inner Scrooge and give some no-nonsense straight talk about career issues.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach." His latest books are How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. He writes weekly for as well as for More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on

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