Head or Heart? Ice or Fire? Is It Right to Follow Your Passion?
Posted on October 28, 2019 | By Peter Corijn

Recently in LinkedIn posts, there have been some articles arguing that the “follow your passion” mantra turned out to be pretty bad advice. Well, it depends says Peter Corijn, CEO of VUCASTAR, a consultancy focused on enabling mission success. "It can be a great idea to go for what you love, provided three conditions are met," he says.

 

  1. You can build great competencies.
  2. There is a market for these skills.
  3. You accept the consequences of your choices.

Passion is a must: it’s the fuel of great skill development

It requires endless repetition to become good at anything. Only those with sufficient passion can bear the thought of yet another week of getting up at 5am for 2 lonely hours training in a cold swimming pool (whilst your roommate is snoring off a hangover from last night’s wild party). Passion provides the required resilience to support the sacrifice.

Do remember: for anything you want, there is a girl or boy somewhere on the planet training 25 hours a day to get to the same goal.

Markets are different. Some passions are harder to follow than others

Your tremendous enthusiasm for pottery from the proto-Mesopotamian period in Ancient Iraq is harder to market than tax law skills. Some industries pay well, some bad. Tennis pays spectacularly better than karate; no matter how amazing you are at chopping wood with karate kicks.

It’s easier to have a passion for accountancy than for Formula 1. For starters, accountants have plenty of employment options. F1 only offers 20 seats and careers can be short.

You might be attracted by the dazzling salaries that are paid in racing. That is: if you are Lewis Hamilton (57 million $). However, many drivers are paid in the 200,000$ range. Still pretty nice for some serious fun on the circuit, but hardly a sum most CEO’s and C suite members would get out of bed for. Actually, the bottom paid 3 drivers earn 0.5% of what the top 3 drivers earn. Even that requires you to be one of the best 20 drivers in the world.

It’s the same curve in the music and publishing industry; just worse. Bestselling author John Grisham rakes in 21 million $ each year. The vast majority of artists struggle to make ends meet. Thrillers sell, poetry is a financial cul-de-sac. As an accountant, you can be “a good performer” and make a good living. As a writer or driver, you need to be absolutely extraordinary.

Putting bread on the table and providing for your kids schooling are perfectly good reasons for a career choice

Today it seems like we need to be constantly happy or psyched about what we do. Everything should be, nay: MUST BE, deeply spiritually moving and soul enhancing. Brilliant if you can pull that off. But on the off chance that you can’t (or at least not every day): caring and providing for the people we love is a worthy cause. That passion will pull you through many a tedious day.

Choices have consequences. Just be aware

In the Dexter TV series, his sister complains to her shrink that she always seems to fall for the wrong men (somewhat of an understatement. Some guys turned out to be psychotic serial killers). She asked what she should do. Answer: make different choices.

Choices matter. The “study or do whatever you want as long as you have a passion for it” advice given to kids is flawed. The starting salary for an economics graduate is double that of a graduate in social sciences. Money does not make happy. But neither does not having any.

No issue if you do not care about any of that. Just know that it is so.

Give your dream an “all out chance” but be honest with yourself:

Not to follow one’s heart leads to painful regrets. It does make sense to go for a dream. It’s certainly better to look back and say: “I gave it my absolute best” (even if things did not turn out as hoped) than to have never even tried.  Still, know what you get into and make a candid self-assessment.

If you are a short male, your chances of success in Olympic swimming are close to zero. Not because you do not train hard or aren’t motivated, but by the genetic advantage 2meter tall competitors enjoy.

In other words, take a realistic view of what it takes to succeed in a given area. Analyse your strengths and weaknesses. Ask feedback from those friends who will tell you the truth. Then go for where your strengths lie.

You might also want to set success criteria, “K.P.I”s (key performance indicators). If you do not progress towards certain important standards of performance, reconsider the road taken.

Do not be fooled by “the winner’s fallacy”, the ex post ante

When self-help books are written about self-made billionaires, they all highlight that these people worked hard. They did. But plenty of hard-working entrepreneurs ended up in a ditch. Often, the real reasons for success are not even mentioned. Few say: “man, I just got lucky”.

The bass player of Kiss was honest when asked: “if Kiss had not made it, what would you have become?”

His answer: “Would you like French fries with this sir?”

All of the above might be far too sobering advice for your taste. That’s fine. In the end, only you can decide what’s best for you.

Yet, if you wanted my advice on the head or heart question: USE BOTH.

And if head and heart disagree, follow your heart.