Back in my younger and more naïve days, I delivered thousands of presentations about careers in the trades to kids from Grade 7 to Grade 12. One phrase that came out of my mouth regularly was “follow your passion.” I was firmly in the do-what-you-love-and-you’ll-never-work-a-day-in-your-life camp. Until I began career coaching with post-secondary students almost five years ago.
“Follow your passion” is common advice, but it’s misplaced. Kids who don’t have a passion panic when they hear it and assume there’s something wrong with them. I’ve worked with countless students who follow their passion right to my office, realizing that by the time they reach 22 years old, they aren’t passionate about the same things they were at 16. More than that, they’re often devastated, assuming they’ve screwed up their lives forever and spent thousands of dollars on an education they can’t use. They don’t yet have the life experience to realize that it’s natural for passions and priorities to change over time.
Underneath it all is the assumption that work should always be easy and enjoyable, that if you’ve picked the right thing, you’ll be in a flow state all the time. But that’s not true, is it? Every job comes with crap you don't want to do, whether it’s budgets, grumpy clients, micromanaging bosses, or boring paperwork. And a career is a lifelong endeavour. If you pour all your passion into your work, where does that leave your family, friends, or personal interests? And what happens when your passions no longer match your job? We’re setting our kids up with unrealistic expectations and a future ripe with job-hopping.
So what can we do instead of playing the passion card?
First, recognize that the more exposure your kids can get to different workplaces, the easier it will be for them to understand the intricacies of work. Encourage them to take advantage of a co-op, volunteer opportunities, job shadowing, or a part-time job.
Second, use curiosity as a baseline for exploration instead of passion. Everybody’s social these days. Kids can use YouTube and social media to explore careers and professional profiles. They can go one step further and conduct informational interviews. You can help set them up with extended family members or even your own colleagues to practice. (Totally terrifying, especially as a teen, but a necessary part of career exploration and a good habit to start early.)
Lastly, talk to them about doing meaningful work. How can they contribute to their communities and the wider world? Regardless of the work type, they can always improve processes for coworkers, help customers through challenges, or simply take pride in a job well done.
In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport argues that loving your job is born of expertise and autonomy, not passion. The way to guide our kids to satisfying careers is to encourage them to develop their skills and build quality professional relationships. Let’s focus our kids on those things and leave passion out of it.