Follow Your Dreams is Worst Career Advice Ever

by TessaSchlesinger

by Tessa Schlesinger. Follow your dreams, do what you're passionate about. But if you follow your dreams, you'll be homeless in no time. So what do you do?

I first heard the phrase 'follow your dreams' when I came to America in my mid-fifties. I then went back to college and every time I asked the career counseling office which courses would guarantee me a job, they would ask me what my passions were. As I had no passions and as I have never had any deep driving interest to do anything, needless to say, I selected completely the wrong courses, and at the end of four years, walked out with a completely worthless degree, because a) there was no work in that field and b) there were so many people competing for the same job that someone heading for sixty was not going to be considered. So read on. Do you follow your dream or do you follow the market?

Passion or Practicality?

Following your passion

For the purposes of this article, I'm going to give some examples of the type of dreams people have and what their outcomes would most likely be. I think this is the best way of demonstrating just how insane the advice, 'follow your dreams' is.

Of course, I'm fully aware that the reasoning behind the 'what is your passoin' question is that if you have to work for a life time, it's best to do something you like because otherwise you would hate your job. It somehow never occus to the kind of people who advocate following your dreams that the result might be that you never find a job. However, I'm hoping to demonstrate my point by showing just how rediculous this advice is. Of course, I will mix it with real life scenarios where following your dreams and 'doing your passion,' actually works. You'll also understand why it works, and why some people are just plain lucky that their dreams are doable and that it earns a good living.

Is it Practical to Follow Your Dreams?
Who knows? Maybe my rock star dreams would have turned out to be solid and enduring, in which case I might have been singing my heart out under the spotlight in your hometown this weekend.

Following Your Dreams
Whatever the gurus might tell you, it’s not all that easy to make money from some passions. If you love watching TV, you might just score a job as a TV critic for a newspaper … but that’s not going to work out too well if you hate writing. Hopefully, you’ve got some interests and strengths that are relatively easy to turn into a career.

Don't follow your dreams. Follow your effort.
I hear it all the time from people. “I’m passionate about it.” “I’m not going to quit, It’s my passion”. Or I hear it as advice to students and others “Follow your passion”. What a bunch of BS. ”Follow Your Passion” is easily the worst advice you could ever give or get. Why ? Because everyone is passionate about something. Usually more than 1 thing. We are born with it. There are always going to be things we love to do. ...Those passions aren’t worth a nickel.

Why 'follow your passion' is bad advice...
Do you want to love what you do for a living? Follow your passion. This piece of advice provides the foundation for modern thinking on career satisfaction. And this is a problem. I've spent the past several years researching and writing about the different strategies we use to pursue happiness in our work. It became clear early in this process that the suggestion to "follow your passion" was flawed.

My dream is to become...

Become a Big Game Hunter in Africa

After watching the epic movie of Alain Quatermain, you decide you want to become a big game hunter. In fact, what you'd really like to do is go four times a year to the various countries, hunt as many of the big five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and cape buffalo), then skin them, freeze the meat, and sell everything off to the highest bidder. As there are now only a few hundred rhino and elephant left, this will make for awesome profits. You'll be rich in no time. More to the point, you love guns and hunting. They are your absolute passion. This would definitely be your dream job, and as everybody says to follow your dream, why not?

Well, I'll tell you why not.

Firstly, it's illegal. And you may well find yourself in jail, and African jails are not pretty. Secondly, some of these animals are nearly extinct, and while this doesn't seem to matter to you overmuch, it matters to a lot of other people. Thirdly, just because it's your dream, it does not give you a moral or ethicl right to do it. Some dreams should just remain dreams.

My dream is to become

Become a Missionary Doctor

You've got the grades. Your parents are willing to put you through school as they have had a college fund for you from birth. The university of your choice has accepted you. You're a hard worker and all your life you've wanted to help people. You can think of no better life ambition than becoming a missionary doctor. You realize you won't earn as much money as other doctors, but you're not in it for the money. You're in it because you care very deeply about humanity and it's an opportunity to spread God's words. As an ardent believer, this is absolutely your dream and passion.

Go for it! Nothing is stopping you. It works in every way. Doctors are needed everywhere. You'll be doing good and you'll be happy. You'll also be making a lot of other people happy. So go for dream. It's more than doable!

Do What You Are Good at!
Do What You Are Good at!
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My passion is to become

Become a world famous opera singer.

Ever since watching Pavarotti perform, you've wanted to become an opera singer. The only problem is that every singing teacher has looked at you with despair and told you, some more bluntly than others, that you can't hold a note and that a singing career is not for you. They have told you that your voice is so flat and uninteresting that you wouldn't even qualify for rap. Their best suggestion to you is to do something else. 

But you're absolutely convinced this is the right thing to do. Every time you speak to anyone, they tell you to follow your heart. Of course, they haven't heard you sing, but they're convinced that if you do what passion tells you to do, sooner or later the doors will open. Of course, you've been doing singing classes for five years at community college now, and you've failed virtually all your classes, so you're still effectively in year one.

I kid you not. This really happened. The young lady in question told me, "How dare the professor tell me that I can't sing. It's my dream and my passion and no longer how long it takes me to get there, I will get there.'

Of course, in this case, it doesn't really matter. She's a trust fund baby, so finance will  never be an issue.

My real passion is drawing and I want to become

Become a graphic artist

Ever since you were a kid, you've been able to draw all sorts of things. Your family and your friends were always telling you how good you were at drawing anything. And you really love to do it. During school, you did all the art classes you could and you always got As for them. You weren't so hot at math, but you weren't exactly planning to become a mathematician. Just as well that wasn't your dream.

During the last year of high school, you put together a portfolio, auditioned for art school, and you were accepted. While studying art, you did a double major - fine art and graphic art. You graduated cum laude and subsequently found a job with America's top ad agency as a graphic artist. They're paying you a good salary as well.

You're certainly for following your dreams. You believe it's the best advice you ever got.

Actually, there are all sorts of dreams out there. You're just lucky that your dreams matched your talent, and that there is a good market for your particular talent.

My absolute passion is to become

Become a bus driver

Ever since I was little, I have imagined driving a bus. My mother used to take us everywhere by bus because she didn't drive. My dad was a truck driver but I didn't really like driving trucks. I went with him a few times and it was so lonely - all those long empty roads. On the other hand, the bus driver has people around him all day long. Also you develop a relationship with your regulars. I know that because my mother was a ;'regular' and she developed solid relationships with several bus drivers through the years. In the end, after my dad died, she even married one! So I defintely want to be a bus driver. I mgiht even meet the girl of my dreams that way!

Why not? You're a good driver. Your father taught you how to drive a truck and you got all the necessary licences early on. When you are interviewed, you'll find things working for you. Your passion for driving will be unusual because, mostly people who drive buses, simply cannot find anything else, and the pay is fairly good. So you'll come across well.

Absolutely, follow your dream. This one can work.

My dream is to become

Become an international bestselling novelist

You started reading Harry Potter when you were fourteen. It was difficult going initially because you're not such a fast reader, and it was only after you saw the movie that you got the book. However, once you read the first book, you read all the others as well. It took you two years, but at the end of it you were convinced of two things - the first was that you wanted to be an inernational best selling novelist like JK Rowling and the second was that with the money you received from your books, you wanted to build a Harry Potter Theme Park.

Of course, the fact that you're semi-literate doesn't worry you in the least because everybody always says to follow your dreams. Yes, you did drop out of school at sixteen but you 'didn't do nothing wrong' by doing that. 

So you join all the writing websites and the fan fiction sites. You get some people telling you that you can't write to save your life and others telling you that they love what you've done with your characters and that you're a great writer! So you write two books and submit them for publication. The rejections are not polite as the publishing houses all suggest that you don't quite your day job.

You don't know who to believe so you go for professional counseling. You explain to her that you've been told to follow your dreams and your dream is to become an international bestselling novelist but the publishers tell you to try something else.

The counselor takes one look at the writing you brought with you and suggests that you go for basic literacy training and that for the foreseeable future you find something else that brings in the bucks.

My passion is to become...

Become a small business owner

You've been wheeling and dealing since you were a small kid. It comes naturally. You got it from your father who is the world's biggest wheeler dealer. If there's a deal to be made, he knows how to make it. Only, sometimes, you've suspected that some of the things he's done aren't qutie kosher and you don't want to take that route. No, you want the real thing. You want to go to university, get a CPA, then after that, do an MBA, and after that, you want to join one of the big corporations and learn everything inside out, and after that, in your mid thirties (about there), you want to start your own business. You're not quite sure yet which field, but business is business, you don't really care.

As it happens, your father doesn't have enough to put you through university and your grades weren't as good as you would have liked them to be. But nothing is going to stop you. You apply for financial aid and you get a job at McDonalds. Together, they'll pay the bills. You register for community college, work your butt off for the next two years, passing your associates with high honrs (that's what passion does for you), and you get accepted into university. You're on your way.

As far as you're concerned, all it takes is passion, and you'll tell anybody to follow their dreams. Everything is possible.

I have always dreamed of becoming...

Become a ballet dancer

Ever since you were  three or four and saw ballet dancers on television, you wanted to become a ballet dancer. So you begged my mother to let you go to lessons, and you absolutely loved it. There were some people in the class who  were a lot better than you were (and some who were worse), but you didn't let that put you off your dream. When you were thirteen, you did your teacher's exam. You were devastated when you failed. You coudln't believe it. All that work!

Still, the teacher said you could try again, and, of course you did. They all said  that if one wanted to achieve something, one has to just keep going no matter what the disappointments were. You just had to work a bit harder. So you did, and you were over the moon when you passed your ballet teachers exam the following year. 

After that, you started the real training. Unhappily, when you auditioned for ballet school, you didn't get in. You were a  bit bitter (and jealous) about that. That girl, Kitty, who had been in your class from day one, seemed to be connected to the God of dance. From day one, the teacher oohed and aahed. She got honors and distinctions for every exam, won every bursary. Worse, she got into ballet school when she was sixteen, auditioned for a professional company when she was eighteen and was dancing lead parts by the time she was twenty one. It was her dream to dance as well.

By the time you were twenty one, you were working at McDonalds and using every penny you earned to pay for very expensive lessons with the very best professional ballet dancers. You kept auditioning for ballet companies but they always passed you by.

When you were twenty two, you decided you might as well start teaching ballet as time was passing and even if you didn't get your first love - dancing professionally as a ballet dancer - you were qualified enough to teach.

About a year into teaching, a young girl walked into your class. It was the first day of the new year and all the little kiddies had never danced before. This little girl - Lynn - danced like a dream. and that's when it hit you. 

Kitty had had a talent and you hadn't. For Kitty, her dream came true because she had the innate ability to dance at a world class level while you didn't. You wree so upset as you watched this little girl that it was alll you could do not to burst into tears.

After the classes were finished for the day, you went home and cried. You cried for two weeks, and then you asked yourself what else you could do...  And you never believed in dreams again.

I have passionately always wanted to become...

Become a Vet

You always loved animals. As a kid, you had cats and dogs. You were always playing at being a vet. You used to pretend that they were ill and you were fixing them up. You don't know where you got that idea but you guess you just loved your animals. Maybe it was because your mother always watched ER and, instead of healing people, you just wanted to heal animals because you loved them so much.

Actually, the idea of becoming a vet didn't really occur to you to become a vet. It was when a teacher asked you what your passion was that you realized your passion was caring and healing animals. It really hit you! After that, your entire attitude towards school changed. You knew that you would need really good grades to get into vet school and so, rather than play so much with your animals, you spent more time studying your school work. You think you became a total nerd during your  last few years of school.

Still you got into university (barely scraped through) and went onto studying to become a vet. You graduated and found a job in a small practice. After six years with them, you opened your own practice. You are so happy and you absolutely advocate following your dreams to anyone. That way they'll be happy for the rest of their lives. You have to do what your love otherwise you will never be happy...

Were You Given the Advice to Follow Your Dreams and do what you're passionate about

Music is my passion and I wanted to become...

Become a guitarist in a band.

From the day you first saw a rock band, that is all you wanted to do. Initially your parens were all with you because they liked the idea that you were interested in something. It also helped that you were fairly good with it and you could hold both a rythm and a song. So they had no issues with you playing. By the time you were thirteen, you were pretty hot - both with the music and with the girls. Your school work started falling off, and that's where your parents started becoming most concerned. 

You understood. You knew it wasn't for everybody and you'd heard the contempt for drugs and everything else that went with the music scene. You weren't like that, of course. You understood it was a hard road and not everybody made it. But you were sure you would.

And so you kept dreaming. You finished high school, got a job at a carwash place and at night practiced with your band. A year later, your group got a once a week gig. At twenty five, you met a lovely lady and fell in love. You weren't earning enough but she dreamt big for you as well.

By the time you were thirty, you had two kids, your wife was stressed from earning the major share of the income and was telling you to get a real job. And it was about this time that you started realizing that following your dream wasn't all it was meant to be. Sure you still loved music, but when it didn't pay the bills and when there were money problems in the relationships and when you couldn't provide for your kids the way your parents had provided for you, well, it wasn't that good following your reams.

It wasn't that you hadn't been warned. How you wished you'd listened to your dad and being an accountant or a lawyer or something. It doesn't seem so bad from where you are standing now...


Evidence for NOT following your dreams...

To quote Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, "The first strike against this advice is the lack of scientific evidence. Motivation and satisfaction in the workplace is a major research topic, as happy employees are better employees... The second strike against this advice comes from the anecdotal evidence. If you study the career paths of people who end up loving their work, you'll find that clearly identified pre-existing passions are rare."

Essentially, the advice to follow your dreams or live your passions is coming from three different types sources, none of which is objective or based on any sort of general evidence.

  • The first is from people who have followed their dreams and being fairly successfully. However they've omitted to realize that there were other factors at play and if it had been a different dream, it probably wouldn't have worked out as well.
  • The second is from people who are doing something they absolutely hate and they, therefore, think they should have done what they absolutely love. Actually, a sense of enjoyment of work comes from competence in your job and appreciation of your skills by those around you. Good pay doesn't work too badly either. 
  • The third source is just pure indoctrination by the media. When one hears something over and over again and doesn't have the ability to think independently, then one believes everything one hears. 

The bottom line is if your dream is doable and practical, by all means do it. Otherwise do something where you are highly competent and you find easy, and where your skills are required and well rewarded. People who do this are happy in their jobs. It has nothing to do with passion or following their dreams.

Updated: 03/21/2013, TessaSchlesinger
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