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Sunday, November 17, 2019
I used to tell kids to 'follow your passion.' I was wrong
Tips & Training

I used to tell kids to ‘follow your passion.’ I was wrong

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I’ve been talking to kids about careers for a long time. I was a Liaison Officer with Skills Ontario, talking to students in Grades 7 to 12 about opportunities in skilled trades and technologies. Then I moved to the student recruitment team at Durham College and helped prospective students connect their career aspirations with programs at the school. Over those years, I talked a lot about developing a passion and finding something you love. I was quite cavalier with the phrase “do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Now, with more formal work as a career educator under my belt, a year of thesis research and a whole lot of one-on-one conversations with students and alumni, I’ve come to realize that how we talk to kids about careers is, well, weird.

Passion doesn’t guarantee success

How many people can honestly say that they are doing the job today that they envisioned at 15 years old? How many people have turned out to be the ballerina or hockey star they imagined themselves as in Grade 3?  While there are absolutely people in the world who dreamed a dream as a child and are living it as adults, there are many more who don’t even come close. And yet, we keep promoting this idea to kids that passion is the way a career is made. Identify the one true, unique gift you have, work at it and believe you can, and it’ll click into place. For the many who follow that elusive advice, the chase ends in their early-to-mid-20s, in a college or university career centre, or a student advisor’s office, or a therapist’s office, or back in mom or dad’s house. It’s tempered with the belief that they have failed at everything because their first stint in college or university didn’t work out the way they expected. They followed their passion, and now it’s a mess. How does anyone recover from that?

While there are absolutely people in the world who dreamed a dream as a child and are living it as adults, there are many more who don’t even come close.

There is a school of thought out there that “follow your passion” is generally pretty terrible career advice, and I think that’s probably true for the vast majority of people. One of the biggest proponents of the idea is Mike Rowe, who is recognizable as the former host of Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel. He articulates his thoughts nicely in this short interview for Entrepreneur magazine’s website. In the video, he gives an example of a child wanting to become an astronaut and then focusing their energies on checking off items on “the list” of things to do to meet that goal. The difficulty of course, is that there are few astronauts in the world and the chances of becoming one are extremely slim (and even slimmer for those who actually leave Earth’s orbit). But what if that same child instead said “I want to be a part of space exploration,” or “I want to contribute scientific discoveries about the stars,” or simply “I’m interested in space stuff?” Suddenly, the career field grows much wider. All that child has done is narrow things down to an industry.

Career advice you can bank on

There’s a whole other part of the equation here that we almost never talk about with kids: pay. At its core, a job is about earning money. Work is one of the fundamental pillars of a civil society. My paycheque ensures I can cover my living expenses, buy birthday presents for people and take family vacations. It’s a major avenue for the government to collect taxes from its citizens to fund valuable programs and services. If no pay was involved, there would be very little point in doing work. We could all just be freewheeling painters in our attics and never worry about the bills. So, I think that when we talk about careers with kids, we need to place it in context of a wider life story. Work is just one part of it, and has this necessary feature of earning money. We ought to define a good career as an overlap of the skills and interests you have (or would like to develop) and those that someone will pay you to use.

Finding the sweet spot

I don’t like using the word “passion” in the context of careers anymore, and I think it’s because I associate the word with volatility. Synonyms for the word include energy, eagerness and excitement. Passion is also associated with words such as frenzied, wild and consumed. A career spans 30 to 40 years for most people, so it’s best not to let the pot boil over. The sweet spot is a soft simmer,, a warm bubbling that keeps you moving and maintains your interest, but doesn’t kill your motivation. Once we figure out how to explain that effectively to kids, we’ll be well on our way to better preparing them for the chaotic world of careers.

Devon Turcotte is working to change career conversations through careerified, a career and education coaching practice based in the GTA. Prior to starting her business, Devon worked with a number of teens, parents and educators through the Career Development and Student Recruitment offices at Durham College, and as a Liaison Officer at Skills Ontario. Visit careerified.ca for more information.
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Devon Turcotte is working to change career conversations through careerified, a career and education coaching practice based in the GTA. Prior to starting her business, Devon worked with a number of teens, parents and educators through the Career Development and Student Recruitment offices at Durham College, and as a Liaison Officer at Skills Ontario. Visit careerified.ca for more information.
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