Should you turn your passion into a career?

‘Follow your passion’ is often given as career advice but is it the best route to a successful career?

 Playing computer games is very different to programming. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images

Playing computer games is very different to programming. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images

 

Imagine getting paid to do what you love. Sounds ideal, right? Actually, this dream scenario can have downsides. While careers experts certainly don’t advise against trying to turn your hobbies and interests into a career, they do caution that students should go in with their eyes open and that, in any case, it may be possible to turn your passion into a career without formally studying it at third level.

Andree Harpur is an independent careers consultant with more than 25 years experience in her field. “I would always advise students to do something that they are very interested in, and that aligns with their skills and talents, but the nature of work is to earn money and your freedom to follow your heart does depend, to an extent, on your responsibilities.

“If someone comes to me and says they are a father of three and they want to be an artist, I don’t stand in the way but I do help them to explore this career path and its consequences, as well as their financial obligations and limitations. I’m not telling them to completely follow their bliss, nor I am telling them not to, but I am advising them to look at their bliss and the possible consequences of following it. It is simply about going in with your eyes open.”

Of course, if you’re 17 or 18 and looking at college course, there’s a fair chance you will have a lot more freedom than this. Some areas are simply more competitive and it can be challenging to establish a career in them. “You might like writing and want to work as an author or journalist, but who will pay you for it?,” asks Harpur.

“I say to students that they should do drama or art if it is what interests them, but that drama is not all about acting and art is not all about creativity: in both instances, you also have to learn how to market your work. Actors don’t find drama hard, but they can find it hard to sell themselves and to stand out, so to get the best opportunities, they need to work on this.”

There can be other pitfalls to pursuing your passion. “To take one example, I sometimes find that when people are trying to make music work, they start off loving it and then the bills come in and they start to feel different as what they once loved goes from a pleasure to a pressure. If you don’t put all your pressure on the creative area, you can balance it out more. It can be sad when someone comes to me and says that they were once a passionate musician but now they hate it.”

Harpur says she is not steering people away from the career they want, but simply helping to know all their options and routes. “For a career in the creative area, it is a good idea to consider a twin-track approach, with a plan A and B. For journalism it’s a good idea to take law or history so they have a specialisation. Another good alignment is for student actors to take on a degree in marketing, because you are meeting people and making presentations, it is very people-oriented and very public, and you are using the same skills you would in drama.”

There’s a different way of thinking about careers, as well, she points out, and it doesn’t have to be focused on job titles, recognisable hobbies and defined career paths. “We assess the student and find their natural flow. I might see a student who is a very clear and analytical numerical thinker, so I would help them explore careers in science. If they are verbally analytical, they could look at research, writing, archives or law. If someone is a very big, flexible thinker, we might be looking at corporate business, marketing or politics.”

If a student has a passion for a particular area, they should go for it, says Harpur. “If they don’t, they may have regrets later. I just want them to be aware of any difficulties they might encounter on the way, and if it gets difficult in their late 20’s, they can tweak and change it. It’s just about being practical and aware.”