April 21, 2011

The Hazardous Road of Following Your Passion

Do you know anyone who would like to pay me a six figure salary to sit in a La-z Boy, play video games and watch sci-fi television?     No?  Bummer.   I guess that following my passion isn't going to be very lucrative.

One of the common mantras in the personal finance realm nowadays is that you should "follow your passion" when it comes to selecting a career path.  That sounds great.  The logic is that if you do what you love then you'll naturally be good at it and therefore it will be successful for you.   Well the reality isn't always that pretty.   I think that following your passion into a lucrative career is a fabulous idea if it works.   I'm a pretty practical person myself and I think we should all at least have a realistic plan and ideally a 'plan B' in case our passion doesn't work out.

I actually know several people who have tried to follow passions as careers.   It has usually not worked out all that well.   In each of these cases I think we can learn something.

My friends and their passions...

I know someone who's passion was music.   She started a degree in college that was in music. She dropped out of college and now has loans to pay and no degree to show for it.   She has never made any money by performing music.   Following your passion can backfire if you're not really sure about your passion in the first place.

Don't they look rich and famous?
My cousins' husband always wanted to be a rock star.   He pursued that dream well into his 40's.  As far as I know he may still have aspirations at finally hitting it big.  He never gave up on the dream and never settled down with a real job.   Sometimes you have to face reality and know when to call it quits.

A friend of mine followed his passion for history.  He got himself a degree in history at a local well regarded private school.   Then after graduation he got himself a job as a motel night clerk and a large student loan debt.  He had assumed that if he got a degree from a 'good' private school that the jobs in his chosen field would just follow.   He assumed wrong.   He also didn't realize that the local private school wasn't well known outside our region.    A poor plan and heavy student loans can make following your passion a mistake.

One of my friends got a degree in drama in college.   I think he's actually made some money in the theatre or performance arts.  He has not made anywhere enough to live on however.  His day job is in computer support fields which he self taught himself.   Its a job he could have obtained without that drama degree.  My friend in this example did a fair job by having a decent paying day job and continuing to follow his passion on the side.  If he continues this then at minimum he'll enjoy his acting part time and at best he may finally break through and hit the big time.

Not my nephew.
My nephew really loves basketball.  He is pretty talented athlete.   I love him but he has no shot whatsoever making a living at professional basketball.   There are probably at least 100,000 kids aged 8 to 18 today who think they can make a living as a professional athlete who will never have successful careers in sports.   Most kids grow out of this phase in their lives.   But if you have a real shot at a sports career then at minimum you should ride your athletic ability to a free college degree.   Make sure that degree is in something useful that you'd like to do for the rest of your life.

A relative of mine got a bachelors and masters degree in psychology.  She makes below average wages as a counselor.   At least she has a job in her field that pays the bills which is not the case for many of her psychology classmates.  Getting a graduate degree can help you stand out in a very competitive field.  

Ok thats enough of my examples of when following your passion isn't a good plan financially.   I think I've beaten it into the ground so you should get the point.

So what to do?     I certainly don't want people to abandon their dreams and pick their careers and jobs based on pay rates alone.   On the other hand I don't think people should be unrealistic while they pursue their passions.  You need to find a good balance between happiness in your work and career and financial stability.

At least find a job you enjoy, if not love.  I certainly agree that it is ideal if you can find a career that you love.  But if you can't make that work then at least pick a career that you enjoy.   There is definitely something to the idea that you will be more successful if you are interested in your work and enjoy it. 

Follow your passion part time, on weekends.  

There is no reason that you *have* to follow your passion as your day job.  If you have a passion that doesn't pay the bills then there is nothing wrong at all with following your passion on the side and doing a job that pays money during the day.   This tactic worked out pretty well for my friend the actor.

Double major.
One way to pursue your passion and get a job that pays the bills at the same time is to get a double major in college.   One major is your passion and the other major is a acceptable day job field that will pay the bills.  This way you have a job to fall back on if the passion doesn't work out so well.  My acting friend who does computer work by day would have benefited from this tactic.   He's doing OK in his computer related job but he would be doing better if he had a degree in the field.

Try it with a deadline
Another way to go about following your passion is to give it a try for a few years.   Say you absolutely want to be a rock star when you grow up.   If you really have a passion for music and have the ability to succeed then delay college for a few years to try it.  This way you will give yourself a chance to follow that passion but limit it so that at some point if you don't succeed you will instead follow a more practical day job.   This tactic would have greatly benefited my aging cousin.


Photo of musicians by eschipul and kid with basketball by kitykity

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Widget by LinkWithin