The Worst Advice I Ever Received Was ‘Follow Your Passion’
It isn’t just ineffective advice; it can actually be harmful
My first steps into the working world were guided by the advice that had dogged me since my college graduation: To be happy, I was told, I needed to follow my passion. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what that was: I loved fashion but I was better with words than design, so my plan was to work in communications for a global fashion brand, translating an iconic vision for a broad audience.
But a few years later, after I landed a gig doing public relations at a brand’s fancy studio in New York, I was miserable. Behind-the-scenes, the ugliness and bad behavior soured me on the industry. As my interest and tolerance faded, I looked around for inspiration. What else was I passionate about?
The answer: a lot. In time, I launched into a dynamic freelance career working across varied interests: writing, acting, life coaching, modeling, and content creation.
It was a far cry from the vision I’d had as a newly minted graduate: that I’d find a singular, passion-fueled path that led straight to long-term happiness. But, the truth was, following my passion didn’t get me anywhere. Following my curiosity is what got me unstuck.
Research suggests that telling people to “find their passion” isn’t just ineffective advice; it can actually be harmful. In a paper published last year in the journal Psychological Science, the authors compared the “fixed” theory of passion — the notion that passion lives within us, already fully formed and waiting to be discovered — to the idea of “destined” love. People who have a “fixed” perspective on romance may believe in “the one,” the researchers write, which causes them to move on quickly when met with relatively small relationship challenges.
Similarly, the authors found that believing in the idea of a singular and innate theory of passion led people to move on too quickly from paths they found interesting but challenging: “Urging people to find their passion may lead them to put all their eggs in one basket,” the researchers wrote, “but then to drop that basket when it becomes difficult to carry.”