Passion is Overrated


How many times have you heard of the well intentioned but misguided advice: “Do what you love and the money will follow”?

Had I taken the advice literally, I would have starved. Why? Well, I enjoyed (and still do) sleeping, idling, daydreaming, watching TV, snacking, and a host of other things that, erm, don’t generate much income, if at all.

Money will follow meh?

Come on. Tell me, as a student, how much do you know about the world? 99% of what you enjoy won’t be good for your future career. Ok, the 99% figure may be exaggerated. But by just a little.

Yet, when VIPs with successful careers give advice, they always say they’re passionate about what they do, and you should too choose what you’re passionate about. And the money will follow.

What they do not say is how they chanced upon the right industry, or heeded advice from knowledgeable relatives to choose that industry, or were catapulted to the top by people they know. Or that they were simply lucky to be at the right place at the right time, and were given the opportunities to prove themselves.

So, teachers and parents, do your kids a favour.

Give them the advice: ask them to find out about the different career options, the various industries, their pros and cons, the opportunities, whether the industries suit their aptitudes and strengths, the average pay, the median pay, the top quartile pay, the top earners, the bottom earners, and then armed with as much information as possible, choose what they think they’ll enjoy most given the constraints.

Not easy.

But at least it’s much better than “follow your passion”.

[Edit: On the other hand, there’s Steve Jobs saying “you can’t connect the dots forward” and “you’ve got to find what you love” in an excellent graduation speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005. Watch his speech below.]


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  1. Of your “vices”, I enjoy idling and daydreaming. I wouldn’t consider these passions though.

    But it explains the job I end up doing somewhat well (always could be better). I am currently doing what most would call business process re-engineering, to daydream of new ideas to help people generate more idle time to daydream themselves (e.g., think of high-value add).

    No, I do not think I will be a VIP soon giving speeches on career but I am earning what a statistically average Singaporean would envy and an elite will accept as minimum wage.

    The goal seriously is to be happy because you are going to spend a significant portion of your life working. If you are paid too low, you would be unhappy throughout your free time and work time. If you are paid below average (like almost everyone else, including the second highest paid person), you may be unhappy from time and time and hopefully your interest will work will make you on the average more happy than upset, frustrated.

  2. Must be the jet lag, the last sentence should read as “you may be unhappy from time to time and hopefully your interest in work will make you on the average more happy than upset or frustrated or .

  3. Did you know Steve Jobs’ salary is 1$ after he was fired in 1985 from Apple and re- hired into Apple in 1998? The 1$ is just so that he is eligible for Apple’s employee medical care plan.

    He lives off stocks he own.

    I agree that luck plays the most important factor. But elementary probability can show you that the longer you are around in a field, it gets more probable that you will get lucky.

    To hang around longer in some fields, most people require passion. And that is what people mean when they say one needs passion.

    Watch this:

  4. i am not too sure about blindly following in your instincts .

    it’s still better to be logical:
    find a space in the intersection of
    1. passion
    2. talent
    3. economic demand

    blindly following your instinct may lead you somewhere. but most prob. you would have just enjoyed the experience but have gone no where.

    steve job is exceptional. if you think you are. then power to you! 🙂

  5. All this talk about passion by great successes might be considered using this analogy:

    A successful mountain climber speaking of his achievements at scaling peaks, would passionately focus on the views from the tops, the spiritual experience of fulfilment and calm and being one with nature, and all that.
    He or she could of course explain the use of oxygen tanks, the perils of altitude sickness and deep crevasses, blah blah etc., but that’s likely not most desired.

    So yes, passion can be overrated, but it remains the overview.
    Without it, wonder how much more the money’s worth earning.

  6. my wife is teaching dance and she loves her job. She started teaching for a small token 10 yr ago, which opened other teaching opportunities, now her take home pay is 93% of’s salary beachmark. With this she now also an entrepreuer on dance areas.
    You see… follow your heart, $$$ will follow. How many of us can enjoy our career yet earn a good salary.
    You must start from somewhere. Remember 10 years ago, ppl like her will be discourage to enage this path, yet she followed her heart and she has no regrets.

  7. I am 32 this year and I am an academic. When I am not stuck with administrative duties, I am doing what I love most. In fact, I am authorized to do it. I visit the library every other day, pick up the latest technologies in my area of studies and research and start toying with them. I decide if I want to work on a project out of one of these bleeding edge stuffs with the undergrads. If I find that the industry needs this skillset, I incorporate it into my subject. Books and resources are available to me free of charge.

    I love technology for the sake of technology. I am usually paid in the range of 70-80K per annum doing my job. I love the nature of my job.

    Now comes the hard part. I don’t get paid as much as most of my peers and times and again, I feel inadequate, inferior and I wonder if I could have done better out there in the “real” world.

    Does “Passion is over-rated” apply to a person like me?

  8. Dear Dragon (June 16th, 2008 at 11:01 pm),

    In response to your question at the end, I wish to say this:

    1. I would love to have your sustained income level.

    2. It’s natural and human to want more of ‘out there’ than what we’re already getting.
    I think the important thing is to keep working towards getting there.

    3. So your passion really is there, I believe you’re rated well, and the future can be brighter and better!

  9. finding a job that you love, that makes you enjoy going to work everyday, is tougher than finding one that pays you well

  10. Thanks fynyx, for the encouragement.

    As the days passes, the disparity between what I get and what my peers get will widen. It’s going to be difficult to keep the mind full and the stomach empty in time to come…

    I dread the day where I am stuck at the bottom with no way to climb up to even come close to what everyone else is getting…

  11. Hi anonymous (June 17th, 2008 at 8:26 am),

    I think you mean, that finding a job one loves AND pays well, is tough.
    I definitely agree, although I really hope to prove it is possible, within my lifetime.

    Now, finding a job one loves, may actually be very easy.
    I think it’s a combination of something you really like, are good at, and are prepared to go all the way for it.

  12. Hello Dragon (June 17th, 2008 at 10:30 am),

    1) I believe I understand how it really feels for you.
    If I were to encourage myself, I would say that I’ve also experienced this vast disparity for years already.
    But I’ve come to realize, that other areas of non-financial wealth in my life, have made it much fuller, than just the non-existent pay alone.
    But that’s just my experience.

    2) I also have a doomsday I dread, and it’s surely coming.
    Funny thing is, it’s quite sunny here, rather than the expected growing gloom.
    I guess I discovered so many interesting experiences, in the scenery along the way, to that approaching dreadful day.
    I’m beginning to wonder whether there’s far more to life, than I even suspect.

    3) Just sharing my personal reactions.

  13. Hi peanuts (June 28th, 2008 at 9:28 am)!

    I went to the article, and I agree that it’s just as suitable in our local context.
    Maybe if you like, you can just drop a link to that newspaper, and hope they’ll reproduce it with permission from NYT.

    I also thought that our government has all its scholarships in place to attract talent, though judging by recent confession, there are problems enough recruiting & retaining their best.

    We also seem to be following the American trend: our youthful graduates here going the lucrative financial career path, in favour of all other ‘worthies’.

    Myself, I’m truly satisfied with the ‘liberal art’ of writing, although I wish I earned enough money, to stop worrying about all those daily expenses, and unavoidable big-dollar emergencies & needs (home, medical, family overseas).

  14. Working with passions behind the motive compared to working with needs behind the motive gives huge different result. Working because you love the job is completely different than working because you need the job.

  15. The advice “do what you love” is more applicable to societies that embrace freedom and the consequences that that freedom comes with. Singapore, on the other hand, is a fiercely nanny-run state, with big brother controlling the lives of everyone. Your lives are essentially at the hands of your government. To choose between freedom or an assured rice bowl and a roof over your head, Singaporeans have been pragmatic in that regard.

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