“Don’t follow your passion…”
It’s a phrase that is eerily uncomfortable and often misunderstood. For those of us who are valiant dream chasers and believers in Lupita Nyongo’s epic “your dreams are valid” Oscar speech, then you probably hate the phrase.
In fact, you probably clicked on this link simply to debase its credibility, and affirm that you are right in choosing to follow your passion.
You’re probably asking yourself right now “how can you not follow your passion? Isn’t that the only way to reach the fulfillment and happiness I so desperately search for?”
Truthfully, there are many of us with this misconception. That life is about following your passion. And if you’ve lived your life believing and trusting that following your passion is the key to your happiness, allow me to offer you a different perspective.
Almost every month aspiring singers from around the world audition for the international hit TV show ‘The Voice”. The winner of the competition is awarded 100,000$ and a record deal with Universal Music Group. That’s enough to get anyone to try their talent as a singer.
But the problem with these kinds of shows is that they are dismissive. They only show us one side of the spectrum. We hear about the stars. The singers that win the jackpot and begin their journey of becoming a musical superstar. What you don’t hear about is the story of those who failed; the thousands of other ‘talented’ singers who also believed they were the next musical sensation, only to not make it past the audition phase.
The truth is thousands of people audition even before they make it on television, and only a select few actually spark a music career from the exposure.
What hurts even more, is that all the aspiring artists that auditioned were also ‘following their passions’ and chasing their dreams. They just fell short.
The truth is, no matter how talented and brilliant you feel about a certain skill you have—be it singing, or anything else—there’s no guarantee that you will make a career out of it.
It sounds cynical, I know. But let me offer you some hope.
Don’t follow your passion, but instead follow your ‘Why’.
All my life, I had the dream of playing professional football. I became the direct embodiment of following your passions and chasing your dreams and I believed it wholeheartedly. Fortunately, my passion for football evolved into a storied career. I traveled the world playing at all levels of the game and reached heights I never thought were possible all as a result of what I thought was ‘following my passion’.
However, in the process, I learned some profound lessons about ‘passion’. First, I learned that passion is fleeting, it can be here today and gone the next. Don’t believe me? Count how many crushes you had in primary school.
It’s possible to be passionate about something one day, and completely loathe it the next. I was ‘passionate’ about football, but I didn’t always feel like playing. Somedays I just wanted to stay in my bed.
If you had asked me a year ago why I played football, I would have said; “I just love playing… I’m just so passionate about it”. But that wasn’t why I played.
It actually took me a whole 8 years from the time I left home to realize why I played football.
I played football to inspire people. This was my ‘why’.
The problem with me solely following my passion for football was that I missed every other opportunity to inspire people along the way. I was continually looking for ‘passion’ when I should have been chasing the purpose and ‘why’ I had created for my life. That’s the problem with solely following your passion, it’s that you blind yourself to all other opportunities you may have to fulfill your deeper purpose for following that passion in the first place.
It was only once I realized why I played football—to inspire people—that I began looking for other opportunities to inspire. I discovered I had a knack for writing and words.
I started a blog, I wrote poetry and recorded music. I just looked for any and every way I could inspire people.
In 2016 I stood on a stage to represent my university in a video that turned out to be the biggest media project they had ever done. It was viewed over 40,000 times on Facebook alone. The thing is, on that stage, I wasn’t following my passion and playing football, I was actually performing a spoken word piece.
How did I, being a football player all my life, actually become a spoken word artist? It wasn’t even something I was passionate about.
Only now does it all make sense, I was just trying to inspire. And I’m so glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to inspire more people because I was too focused on following my passion.
Yes, it’s great to follow your passion, to chase your dreams. Keep dreaming! But if you really look within yourself, you will realize that your passion has a cause; your dream is much bigger than simply becoming a musician, a politician, a fashion designer or an athlete. There is a ‘why’ behind you following your passion, you just need to find it. And that will be the most liberating and defining moment of your life.
You may realize that your passion is not in music or in becoming a professional recording artist, but rather it is in giving others the opportunity to experience the joy and trance of music. This will completely change your paradigm of thinking.
If you’re an athlete, you may realize that your passion is not in running, but rather being a source of hope and optimism for the kids you grew up with.
An actor may realize that their passion is not in being on television, but rather in heightening people’s self-esteem by showing them that they can be whoever they want to be.
Once you have made this realization, you will no longer follow this fleeting and blinding thing called ‘passion’. Rather you will be following your ‘why’ and the purpose you have for your life, which I believe is way more fulfilling and rewarding. Don’t follow your passion, follow your ‘Why’.