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Career Success
FEB 14, 2020

How NOT to Kill Your Passion

By Gabriele Angelika Pflaum

“Follow your passion and you will be happy.” Applause and cheers cracked through the air of the auditorium, and the speaker gave a last encouraging smile before bounding from the stage. At that moment, all of us millennials were dreaming what it would be like to drop everything to pursue our passions full-time.

I was one of them.

Alongside my studies, I threw myself into my passion: writing. All I needed was time and dedication, and my hard work would one day pay off.

And it did. A few years later, I signed my first publishing contract. I was walking on clouds. The time was here. I had succeeded. From now on, the road could only lead to success.

When reality hits, it often hits hard. In my case, it drenched me like an Ice Bucket Challenge in winter: cold, unwanted, demoralizing, and a sure way to get sick.

Deadlines were set, grueling editing required, and I found myself spending hours at a desk staring at a screen. Gone was the joy of sitting down to write. Gone was the excitement of immersing myself in my own world and watching a novel unfold before my eyes.

To add insult to injury, my book did not hit the shelves as a best seller. Neither did the next.

With each passing day, my motivation dwindled. Maybe I wasn’t writing the right thing? I began researching what novels would sell, then stopped myself short. What was I doing? Was I really considering writing something I didn’t care about just to make money?

I realized my passion was dying right in front of my eyes. The harder I worked to revive it, the closer it grew to becoming something I dreaded.

Should we really be trying to emulate success? 

When we hear success stories, we often look up to the few individuals who have made it big by doing what they love:  Bill Gates, Walt Disney, and J.K. Rowling, among others. We focus on the thought that if we pursue our dreams, we may go through a period of hardships, but it will all be worth it in the end, as success is guaranteed.

“‘Success Story A’ did it, and look at them now!”

To this point, Evernote co-founder and former CEO Phil Libin brings us down to earth when he says, “You can’t learn anything from Elon Musk [or] Mark Zuckerberg … They’re brilliant people, but you can’t look at their experience and generalize from it because these are one-in-a-billion experiences.”

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where we find a very important point. We are not Success Story A. Neither are we Success Story B. Maybe we’ll be Success Story X, Y, or Z, but the truth is, that’s a slim minority. 

That raises the question: just how many people actually succeed in pursuit of their passion? And how many people kill their passion in pursuit of success?

Yes, following your passion into a full-time job is amazing…in theory. But the road to any level of success is a bumpy one, and most of us need to get out of the car once in a while to stretch our legs. If the road itself is how you stretch your legs, you may find yourself feeling trapped.

Here’s what I learned the hard way:  

1. Your passion is your getaway. If it’s suddenly everywhere, you may find yourself going nowhere. When your passion becomes your job, the relaxing effect it once had can easily disappear.

2. Your passion will probably not pay the bills. Let’s be honest: your passion may turn out to be a terrible business idea, regardless of the market or current business environment.

3. Your passion can change. Human beings are known for changing their minds. Passions move; they evolve. Tomorrow, you may not love what you love today.

4. Your passion may not be your talent. Being good at your passion is not a given. If you’re not good at what you love, pursuing it as a career is probably not the best idea. It may just land you back at point #2.

In his two-minute mentorship clip on Amazon Insights for Entrepreneurs, Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank panelist Mark Cuban may have said it best: “One of the great lies of life is to follow your passions.”

Instead, he tells us, for a career we should focus on our strengths. What are you good at?

Don’t fall into the pit I did. It took almost killing what I enjoyed to make me realize that I needed my passion much like salt in food: a pinch at a time. Thus, I have integrated little bits of it into my life. Now I am a part-time author writing for different platforms while maintaining a full-time career I enjoy.

It truly is the best of both worlds. And how did I get here? By treating my passion as exactly that – a passion. And I suggest you do the same.

Nurture it. Grow it. Enjoy it. Don’t kill it.