Doing What You Love Isn’t Always a Good Idea

apples“Do what you love, and the money will follow.” How many times have we heard that said? How much has that sentiment been drilled into our heads? Too much and too many. More often than not, it is bad advice…especially if being offered as an answer to your vocational inquiries. Sometimes doing what you love in order to make a living isn’t such a good idea.

Quite frankly, once you turn your passion into your income, it becomes your job. As such, the vision you once had when you first envisioned yourself as a premiere New York gallery artist or the next Pulitzer Prize-winning author loses most of its glitter. It is now something you must do—40 hours a week (at least)—in order to pay the rent and buy the groceries.

In essence, your heaven may have just become your hell.

In my younger years, I thought the mantra of doing what you love was spot on, just as was the idea of your work always being for the greater good. Salary wasn’t as important as the work I was doing. But now I’m older…and wiser. With little to show for my golden years.

I still want to do work that has value. But I now want to work to live instead of living through my work. I want to enjoy my passions on my   own schedule, not on the demand from someone else. I’ve learned my lesson. Once a diehard passionate lover of the arts, I now struggle to enjoy walking through a gallery after spending a significantly stressful amount of time as the executive director of a nonprofit arts center.     The money certainly didn’t follow while I was there either.

In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, author Cal Newport argues that following your passion as a career can lead to a dead-end. Worse yet, it can lead you to burnout. A staunch critic of “doing what you love and the money will follow,” Newport argues that it’s better to identify which skills you have that could be valuable in the work world, then apply and fine-tune those skills until you build up enough career capital that you can spend your time off the clock enjoying the throes of your passions.

Other reasons to not do what you love? With the fact that the money doesn’t always follow, it’s not necessarily realistic—let alone appropriate—to burden your spouse, children, other family members or society with the sole responsibility of making sure your household stays afloat and has its needs met. In today’s world, you also have to consider covering the cost of healthcare and retirement and how to make every dollar work for you.

If you are a potter that is banking on selling your ceramic works of wonder to support you and your family, and you somehow manage to be become sought after and well-known, that might still mean you took a loss on your income at the end of the year because it cost you $1,000 to make that vase that finally sold for $800. And how many pots can you throw in a year that are truly salable anyway?

While I’m not saying that it doesn’t work at all, it is rare that one can pursue their passions and have to do nothing else in order to sustain yourself and your family. Just know that it really is okay to have a job that pays the bills while reserving your passions for pleasure-seeking and pleasure-sharing.

It’s a lot more exciting and fun to share your flair for architectural photography with those who also enjoy it, whether or not you make a few bucks doing so, than it can be to expend all your time and energy selling yourself and your work 24-7-365. Trust me on this…I’ve been trying for over 20 years.

Even Steve Jobs didn’t get rich pursuing his passion. If he had, Apple might be just known as a Zen fruit.