We’ve all heard it before.
If you want to be happy in this world, then you must go out and follow your passion. If you want a fulfilling career, you must do what you love. Life is too short for a 9–5 so go quit your dead-end job and become a full-time starving artist or a broke entrepreneur or both! #YOLO
This is bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit.
I’m careful with giving this piece of advice because I don’t want to create unrealistic expectations. As someone who has been doing what he loves since graduating, I can tell you that it’s nothing like how it’s advertised. All these feel-good articles and speeches left out an important note: doing what you love can actually suck.
Let me tell you why.
1) You have to ride the waves.
People like describing intense experiences as rollercoasters — all the sudden drops and turns make up a scary but thrilling ride. I’ll do you one better. Doing work that you love is more like the ocean. Your emotions often come in waves of different strengths and sizes. You will feel high and mighty before crashing down. You will feel life pulling you back inch by inch, only to launch you forward again.
Many times there will be no waves at all. The notion that everyday at work is fun and exciting when you do what you love is false. If you expect to be riding a dopamine high every waking moment, then you will be profoundly disappointed. Not every moment is going to be a highlight. Not every step is going to be a milestone. You will have to learn to take what the ocean gives you — and on some days, it will be nothing at all.
2) Your fire leads to burnouts.
Investing your emotions can and often does lead to burning out. Even the most passionate of people run out of inspiration. It happens to the best of us. Your energy is a finite resource and doing what you love won’t change that.
For example, running my own marketing agency has been really fun. I sincerely enjoy all the challenges that come with the job. However, sometimes my love for the work becomes a detriment to my own well-being. I’ve sacrificed sleep just to complete a task. I’ve skipped meals just to finish a report. My passion can take me to my limits but it can’t help me when I come crashing back to earth. In many instances, my physical and mental health had to pay the price of being too passionate with work.
The song gets it absolutely right. Baby, sometimes love just ain’t enough.
3) You will have to find happiness in the small things.
One of the most important lessons I’ve come to learn is how to enjoy the mundane.
In our culture of instant gratification, we demand things to happen quickly. The reality is things that are truly worthwhile need time to grow. It’s the time we spend working on something that gives it so much meaning. Passionate work is not a one-night stand. It’s a long and meaningful relationship that people write novels about. Don’t rush it.
People who have been doing passionate work know this well: it’s the small things that count. When you accept this and seek the joy in the everyday stuff, you allow your passion to flourish. Being patient with the progress of your work builds a desire that is resilient and unwavering.
The contrast is important.
When discerning on pursuing something you love, don’t forget that it will be a balancing act. You will often find yourself operating from both the highs and the lows of life. Don’t be so easily discouraged. Embrace the suck because it is what gives depth to your passion.