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Success is a Lie: Why You Should Follow Your Passion Instead

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thoughtful young business woman

Once you enter the working world, you’ll hear office banter like, “You know you’ve made it when the big guy wants to see you” or “All the hard work is going to be worth it someday.”

Do you really want to wait for someday?

You’re focused on the big payoff of success. But what does success even look like? It may include the house, car and 401K. Or it might be making enough to retire later on and enjoy life. Usually, it has something to do with the hope of a good job after college.

But something’s missing, and that’s the other seven-letter word you may have forgotten: passion.

Figuring out what passion looks like

When you’re living out your passion, you don’t need to wait for retirement to enjoy life. Passion equals happiness.

What does passion look like?

It looks a little something like this: waking up refreshed, being excited for work because it doesn’t feel like actual “work,” wanting to share what you’re doing with others, feeling totally satisfied on the inside and wanting to scream from the rooftops. You’re just that happy.

If that’s the case, why are so many still living on the success pendulum?

For one thing, the passion route may be more rewarding, but it’s harder. It takes determination, hard work, thick skin and some faith  There are GenYers out there right now living a passion-fueled life because it is achievable.

How do you go about living a passion-driven lifestyle?

Start by following these four simple steps:

  1. Write down your core values (a.k.a. principles and beliefs that you live by).
  2. Write down what you love to do: hobbies, side projects, etc.
  3. Add your core values to your loved hobbies and write down what jobs have both.
  4. Pursue careers (or create your own!) that involve both your values and your hobbies. (Values + hobbies = passion.)

Most of us miss this simple formula. It really is that easy; there’s nothing to overcomplicate. You can even start by asking a few questions. For example, if you’re in a profession you despise, why are you still there? If your 9-to-5 job is giving you mild to severe depression or anxiety, is it worth it to stay?

The biggie: don’t settle

Don’t settle for a career that undermines your talents, skills, values and beliefs.

A paycheck may be a means to an end, but a paycheck is not worth losing your core identity over.

Where would we be now if Edison decided to give up and not create the first incandescent light? Where would our technology be in 2013 if Steve Jobs hadn’t founded Apple? If you’re reading this right now on a MacBook Pro in a well-lit room, then you get the point.

Don’t give up on your passion for a “smarter” path. That “smart” career might end up buying you every material possession your heart desires, but it won’t buy you happiness. Your time is valuable and it deserves to be spent wisely.

If you have to dig that bachelor’s degree out of your closet to remind you what your dreams were freshman year, dig it out. If it means rummaging in your basement or attic to find those action heroes or comic books you admired as a child, do it.

Find that microphone, that cape, that journal or that paintbrush. Make an effort to rediscover what you used to love and what used to matter to you. That’s the only real way for you to uncover your core values and beliefs.

Because it’s never too late get off the success pendulum. You have the ultimate power to decide when to start living your life. Your boss, partner or friend can’t decide that for you. Only you can.

Be brave. Be courageous. Be passionate. Because that’s your true form of success.

Diane Pauley is a life coach who uses her passion for the written word to help young postgrads find their life calling at PostGradolescence. You can also follow her optimistic tweets on Twitter.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • jrandom421

    So tell me, how does this passion-driven lifestyle answer the big question?
    “How do I pay for my rent/mortgage, feed/clothe/care for myself, spouse and children, and afford the things we need, especially since most retail outlets, banks, landlords, and healthcare providers won’t accept being paid for their services and goods in your personal passion?”

    • http://postgradolescence.com/ Diane Pauley

      Got it & I completely understand. So there’s a difference between looking at your passion as a ‘hobby’ vs. combining it with your ‘values.’ When you do the latter, you’ve got something entirely different.
      That said, living a ‘passion’-driven lifestyle does not mean you won’t make money. Sometimes we tend to think that if we don’t have a ‘real’ 9-5 job, we aren’t going to be able to pay the bills & put food on the table. That’s an opinion, not a reality per se.
      When someone lives both passionately & in sync with their core values they are determined to make their ‘passion’-driven lifestyle work. And the ‘passion-pursuers’ who don’t give up ultimately end up making enough to pay the bills. And they’ve learned to define their OWN meaning of what ‘success’ looks like.

      • jrandom421

        Sounds good, but you still didn’t answer the question:
        For instance, what if my passion is translating medieval Romanian literature into Greek? If I follow my passion, how do I afford housing/clothing/food/medical care for myself, my spouse and my children? How do I support them until my passion allows me to afford all this? Nobody’s going to just drop a chunk of change on me, just to follow MY passion at the outset. Who is going to give ( and let’s be blunt, it’s give, not loan) me enough to get started and sustained until I can be “successful” enough to be self sustaining?
        Finally, what if it never becomes self-sustaining? What then? The world is filled with failed, broke, dreamers abandoned by their long suffering families, but still dreaming passionately. The bars and rehab facilities are filled with them.

        • http://postgradolescence.com/ Diane Pauley

          OK. I understand where you’re coming from & I’ll answer you bluntly. Sometimes you have to be realistic whilst pursuing your passions, but it doesn’t mean that you give up on them. In other words, perhaps you have to work a day-job, create a nesty savings & budget like it was your job in order to create a safety net for yourself. Most entrepreneurs take this route before they make a leap into pursuing their passion full-time. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve given up on the idea that it will become their reality. I know you have ‘what if’s’ because you have a family to support & I respect that. But when you pursue something wholeheartedly the feeling that you’re doing something worthwhile & of impact every single day outweighs the ‘fear’ of the ‘what if’s.’ Fear is debilitating & it can suffocate your passion, especially when you look at those who didn’t ‘make’ it. You never know someone’s full story, maybe it looks like they’re not ‘successful’ in the typical sense, but a lot of times the journey is the ultimate reward. It’s not about reaching the $ or the end goal, it’s about enjoying the steps that lead you there. But it takes commitment & sometimes before you can make a jump like that with blind faith you have to plan, prepare & budget. That’s the no- nonsense advice. Hope that helps.

          • jrandom421

            I’ve gone about dealing with this in a different way. Since there’s no way I’ll ever get paid enough to use my passion to sustain housing, food, medical care, and so on, I have a career that I’m very good at, keeps me busy, and pays me very well. This is my patron, allowing me to finance my passion, freeing me from the tyranny of running my passion as a business. As Harry Chapin said, “Music was his life, it was not his livelihood.”
            I’m surprised you never expanded on this thought or line of action.

        • sebastien

          I totally understand you man. I have the same issue. But then, this is the line that separates those who have what it takes to live a happy, satisfying life and totally deserve it, and those who are doomed to settle. If you’re smart and talented enough to find a way and you got the right strategy, you’ll be on the way to passion-driven success. If we aren’t, then we have to choose between what we love and what pays our bills. That’s why there are more ordinary, mediocre 9-5 folks… only the great ones who master life (and not just complain) make it to the greener side.

        • bsaunders

          This kind of hypothetical seems unrealistically narrow to me – in terms of defining both passion and career opportunity. Sure, there are some people whose passions are specific and obscure. But I’d venture to say that most disgruntled people could make more money on some version of their passion than on what they force themselves to do instead. The kind of example I hear all the time: “I really love teaching, but teaching doesn’t pay well.” So they get a job as a middle manager in some company.

          Yet they fail to consider “corporate training consultant,” which would tap that passion for teaching and pay more than the middle manager job they have – especially if their performance on that job fall short of what a passionate manager would be able to deliver.

          • jrandom421

            From Dogbert: “I’m not unemployed. I’m a consultant!”

  • treptalks

    Incentives in life are as such that human mind is tricked into doing the mundane. If everyone is getting a job then that is what I should do. If everyone goes to the pub on Friday night then that is what I should do. The herd mentality which was probably meant to save us from predators and keep us alive in the jungles is somewhat of a liability in this day and age.
    Following your passion is not easy but definitely worth it.

    • http://postgradolescence.com/ Diane Pauley

      Completely agree with you! Love the ‘herd mentality’ analogy and it definitely rings true today. It seems as if we’ve lost the ability to tap into ‘who’ we are & ‘what’ we want. If we constantly follow the ‘herd’ we’ve lost the ability to think for ourselves. And that is something we don’t want to risk losing — ever.

  • Joyce Dover
  • cole

    I really believe that passion should be the main motivation for a career, and that the happiness and sense of purpose it brings will be the ultimate success.

    But then my dad lost his job and my sister is going to college, and for the first time I actually understand why some people have to sacrifice what they love for practicality. It disgusts me that I have to turn my back on my principles and beliefs and passion, but what am I suppose to do? Now I’m giving up a potential career in TV broadcasting, which I love but pays low, for an Immigration job that I dont feel anything or, but pays 20 thousand more.

    Any advice from someone wiser or from a kindred soul is welcome. :)

    • http://postgradolescence.com/ Diane Pauley

      Hey Cole! Thank you so much for opening up & sharing part of your story. I love your sense of passion & purpose. I hear you, sometimes life can throw us some severe curveballs. The most important thing you can do is not let that inner passion ‘flame’ die down — don’t let it dimmer. That TV broadcasting career sounds fantastic & something that really ignites your love of life, but just because you have to ‘take’ another job in the ‘meantime’ does not mean you’re settling. Sometimes we have to hit some ‘low’ moments & do something temporary until we have the means to transition into a passion-driven life fully. I understand your situation & the fact that you are helping to support your family. You seem to have a big heart & by taking this Immigration job, you’re sacrificing one opportunity (Door #1) for another passion of yours (your family!). But this doesn’t mean that soon (if you save up & plan ahead) that you can’t transition out to an even better ‘passion-filled’ opportunity (Door #2). Sometimes our timing isn’t the ‘right’ timing, but if you keep that passion alive by going to networking events or meeting up with other like-minded people (in-person or via the interwebs), you’re going to be able to make that change — for perhaps an even better opportunity (with more pay), who knows? Keep your eyes open, your passion intact & your perspective in check. You’ll get there one day soon:)

      • cole

        Thanks. I’m planning to write freelance while doing the immigration job. Small step, but hopefully it’ll lead somewhere.

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  • TessNYC

    In January 2013 Ryan Chatterton wrote and Brazen Life posted the article “The Ultimate Secret to Discovering Your Passion” with lines like “Follow Your Passion is wrong” and “Passion is nothing more than curiosity and engagement over time.” http://blog.brazencareerist.com/2013/01/31/the-ultimate-secret-to-discovering-your-passion/

    I like your article. But do you agree that people are multi-dimensional and somewhere it should be noted, or a follow up article that addresses when and if people discover how multi-dimensional they are and realize they have (or may have) deep and varying interests & passion. What happens when the passion changes or wanes….then what – repeat this exercise all over again?

    I think it’s not happiness – although that’s the word that’s used….but something to the fact that passion brings fulfillment, satisfaction and enrichment to life — i think happiness becomes the byproduct, by default.

    Believe it or not, your article was a perfect timing read for me – it helped to confirm I am on the right path in being persistent in following one of my passions.

    • http://postgradolescence.com/ Diane Pauley

      Tess — thank you so much for this really thoughtful response! I took a look at Ryan’s article & it is thought-provoking. As to your point about being multi-dimensional, I actually think that people can be multi-passionate. No one said that you’re not allowed to have more than one passion or ‘passion’ project you’re pursuing.
      I think once you discover 1 (or more than 1) passion, you continually uncover new layers of thinking & levels to who you are. As you spend the ‘time’ in your passion, you become clear on what you like & don’t like & what piques your interest.
      Pursuing your passion is about enjoying & being present on your ‘journey’ which is a continual, daily practice. I like how you said that ‘happiness’ can be a by-product. In a sense, it can be. Oftentimes when we’re on a ‘journey’ we’re looking for the ‘final destination’ or that 1 moment of ‘success’ which is often tied to a feeling — like happiness. But if we can detach those feelings/by-products from 1 single outcome & bring them to our daily ‘journeys’ we get that sense of fulfillment that you mentioned.
      I’m so glad that you found this article helpful & it was a confirmation for you that you’re on the ‘right’ passion path for you. That’s amazing!

  • bsaunders

    Another issue: it is possible to end up with a true nightmare scenario, where the “hot” or “smart” career path does not pay off monetarily. You end up broke AND miserable.

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  • guest

    The trick is what are your core beliefs. If you do not believe by start that this will work (for example jrandom421) then it will not work. It is as simple as that. You need to have faith, though you do not see the results immediately, Faith moves mountains…not the type of work you are doing….And we humans do not have only one passion, but many…Find them, explore them, see what serves you! And have faith!