Young Americans, don't "follow your passion"

The follow-your-passion myth also assumes that our “passions” are fixed — that we just find ourselves with them, perhaps inscribed in our genes or etched on our brains. In the real world, our interests wax and wane with our experiences and choices. They rarely provide the grist that sustains a career over the long haul.

When I was a kid, I had many passions that I thought would lead to great riches. For a while I wanted to be a heart surgeon, then an inventor, and later a rock musician (the latter one still lingers). I watched a TV show on heart surgery, read some books about the human heart, and bingo! — I had a passion for cardiology. Later on, I got a subscription to National Geographic World. The magazines came with poster inserts of oceans, whales, sharks, and dolphins. I hung them on my wall and soon imagined life as an oceanographer. The problem was, I lived thirteen hours from the nearest ocean and thought the career would allow me to live in pods on the sea floor, swim with dolphins, and discover long-lost treasures.

These passions weren’t wholly frivolous. Music was a major part of my life for years, but I always doubted it was a viable career path. Perhaps I could have been a heart surgeon or oceanographer, but only if I had gotten good enough to help others, not because I had followed my fleeting passion.