As both a photographer and a software developer, I find that passion has fueled a lot of my creativity and subsequent success. Without it, I would likely find life to be an endless cycle of monotony. So when I see an article that at first glance is an antitheses of this philosophy it often catches my attention. Mike Rowe, of "Dirty Jobs" fame, has a lot of practical, realistic, and down to earth commentary. Generally good stuff. Recently, he’s been getting a lot of traction for a response to a commenter on Facebook where he calls out the inherent flaw in the advice of “follow your passion.” He alludes to how it essentially can lead to ruin, and counter to the suggestions of many a motivational poster, passion has a greater chance of creating the next leach on society rather then the next Steve Jobs. It would seem there is a problem in this country with too many folks blindly following a passion that they have no inherent skill for, and of which success is extremely unlikely. Yes, I’m taking the liberty of some rather creative paraphrasing but feel free to read his commentary and come to your own conclusion .
Maybe it would make Mike feel better if we included some small print on those “Follow Your Passion” posters that cause him so much nausea. Small print by the way that I think most people already acknowledge, that passion without hard work is the true recipe for failure, and passion alone does not equate to instant success. In all fairness, he does mention the importance of balance, but I believe it's at the cost of downplaying just how powerful a force passion can be. He’s correct that passion alone will not get you far, but the hard work and tenacity that often accompany passion can overcome quite a bit including some deficit in a particular skill. I’ll use myself as a case in point. I’m dyslexic. I didn't know it growing up, but I knew that I couldn't do some things as well as others. The academic tasks of those early school years of spelling, reading, writing, math, and any type of sequential processing logic didn't come easy for me, but from a young age I grew up with a true passion for computers (think TI-88 haha). Flash forward to today and I've been a very successful software developer for 15 years now. I've been able to work hard to achieve my passion despite the inherit challenges I have in lacking some of the natural skills that are often associated with computer programming. Because I followed my passion, I excelled in my career despite those weaknesses. I'm now in the process of combining my passion for photography with my passion for software development in a new company. ALL that would never have happened if I had taken Mike's advice, or the likely advice of every school teacher I ever had! You just can’t easily discount the powerful combination of passion and hard work and I would argue even when you DO fail (which I did my fair share of) you gain more then you lose by making the attempt.
Many people probably experience a “come to Jesus” moment in their life when reality and dreams don’t quite match up (or down right conflict). In the case of many photographers, it's the moment when they truly except that they will likely not turn their passion into the career. It’s a hard thing to experience but as irony would have it the experience can be both soul crushing and soul freeing at the same time. Regardless of failure or success, to go through the process and having the chance to measure and discover yourself will benefit you for the rest of your life. To cheat yourself of that experience because someone convinced you that having a passion that seemed unrealistic was a bad thing, and having all of that mixed in with a hefty dose of regret just for good measure, would be very sad indeed. Life can take you in some very interesting places even when you fail. As "they" say it’s not always entirely about the destination, but the journey of which can be just as important.
Many blame the lack of hard work in today’s society on the “Participation Trophy” culture where everyone expects something for nothing, but I think they have it largely wrong. I think the perceived lack of motivation is because people are losing the passion that fuels success. What truly keeps me up at night is that this is happening at a younger and younger age as our school systems slowly and systematically drain creativity and passion from our students so they can be tested and evaluated ad nauseam so they can better be molded into a “more productive member of society.” I think if everyone had just a little more measure of passion, a little more willingness to take a risk to achieve their dreams which are fueled by passion, that many of us could indeed find more happiness and satisfaction in our lives and our careers.
I realize that Mike Rowe is not saying that passion is a bad thing and suggests a healthy mix of reality along side - not bad advice. I think his commentary would resonate with me more by emphasizing the fact that you can find passion in unexpected places and with unexpected careers - not that passion can take you down a dead end futile road. I truly don't believe that having too much passion is keeping unemployed\under-employed workers away from those well paying untapped skilled trade jobs. I would argue that it's probably not anywhere near the top. His commentary ends with a disclaimer essentially saying “Your Mileage My Vary." We both agree on this. Passion does not equate or guarantee success, but I think you’ll always make it farther with passion then without it. Especially when success can be measured by the barest of fractions that extra mileage just might mean the difference. Mike has a ton of great advice, has a great organization promoting skilled trade jobs (MikeRowWorks) that makes a lot of sense and I look forward to his commentary as he continues to share but in this case his message is just about as misleading as those corporate motivational posters.