Don’t Let Your Passion Derail Your Career

When I was a teenager my passion was to one day be a professional ice hockey player. I practiced hard, played on several teams and attended a Division I university. My passion created unbelievable discipline and even sacrifice, but my dream of playing in the NHL never materialized. Later in life my passion turned to golf. I knew that I’d never earn a living playing golf but if I practiced hard enough, I’d surely become a scratch golfer and maybe win the club championship! As I currently recover from shoulder surgery, I’m realizing that my passion may really be just a false dream.

Attend any college commencement celebration and the guest speaker will most certainly encourage the graduates to dream big and follow their passion. Even before Covid hit this advice was misguided. Millions of students have degrees and diplomas but aren’t landing any jobs. That’s very strange given that employers are struggling to fill some 5.8 million jobs that nobody seems to be trained for.

Millions of boys in America dream of becoming football players. About 5.8% of all high school senior football players actually play their sport at college. Of those, 0.09% will be drafted by an NFL team and a few might even make it through the preseason cut.  Or maybe your child is passionate about a singing career and wants to try out on “The Voice”. If auditions are held in your city plan on your child being one of 20,000 kids who will give their best 90 seconds to a couple of bored judges.

Employment guru Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame) once said: “Just because your passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it.”

So, what does this employment guru suggest that young people, those who want to work, do? Follow opportunities rather than focusing on a passion and see where this might take you.  Let me share my story and how this mind-shift worked for me.

I too went to university to study something I was passionate about: political science. Like so many other students I had no idea what I would do with this degree and if it would lead to a decent career. Luckily, I studied in Germany and am thankful to the German taxpayers who offered to pick up the tab for my education. I graduated debt free!

I was months away from graduating and had no idea where I might find a job; would I stay in Germany or return to the United States?

One day my dad was pursuing his passion, or should I say one of his many hobbies: ham radio. Having immigrated to the United States from Germany in the early 50’s he enjoyed connecting daily with fellow ham radio operators in Germany. He started talking with one guy and within one minute they realized that they were middle school buddies. As it turned out this gentleman was an HR executive at a large German company, and he agreed to look at my resume. “Human Resources”, what was that I thought as my dad encouraged me to apply. As my opportunities were very limited, I decided to give it a shot. I followed the opportunity rather than my passion and have been on a fantastic journey ever since!

So, what is the advice I can give my twin boys who will be graduating from college in 2022?  Don’t worry about landing that dream job, rather, be flexible and look for opportunities to learn and grow, opportunities that will help you learn new skills and gain experience. Network at your place of employment and ask lots of questions. Find a mentor. Raise your hand and volunteer to do those jobs that others don’t want to. Get good at what you do. And like me, develop a genuine passion for the job you already have.

One final piece of advice from Mike Rowe: “Never follow your passion but always bring it with you!”

This article was inspired by Mike Rowe’s PragerU video, “Don’t Follow Your Passion”: