Why “Do What makes you happy” is the Worst Advice Ever

“I haven’t really found what I’m passionate about…”

If I made one dollar every time a heard a young person say this phrase, I’d probably have enough money to buy passion and sell it back to them …but I don’t know if ‘selling passion’ is what I would be passionate about.

After graduating from University, I struggled to answer what is probably the most frequently asked question among college grads of today.

“What do you want to do in life?”

Truth be told, I hate this question. It’s so ambiguous and irritating.

“There a lot of things I ‘want’ to do. Sometimes I just want to stay in my bed, eat Nutella and watch Netflix all day.” But that’s not really what the question implies. Put frankly, the question is;

“How do you plan to make money? How do you plan to make a living? What career path are you going to take? What job do you want to work…”?

And I guarantee that every person you’ve met since graduation has probably asked you this question in one way or another, they just phrase it differently every time. And it usually comes with that subtle sense of inadequacy every time you can’t offer them the most moving and eloquent response.

Because surely, by the time you’re in your twenties, you really should have your life figured out …right?

Yet most of us don’t.

After University, we find ourselves asking many of the same questions.

“What do I want to do? What makes me happy? What am I passionate about and what career path should I take?”

And we spend time searching for the answers anywhere and everywhere, never realizing that we may be asking the wrong questions.

Stop searching for ‘Happiness’

Consider that searching for what will make you happy, or passionate in life is the wrong approach. It will only make you think like I once did.

Until recently, I would see lawyers and bankers in suits, driving around the city in the finest cars and think to myself “hmmm… must be nice… maybe I should go into law…”

Or I would see church pastors standing on stages and inspiring people and think; “maybe I should study theology…”

I would even see government officials, flying around the world on all-expense paid trips and think …I could do international relations and become a diplomat.

Eventually, I ended up in this naïve cycle of thinking that just left me feeling even more lost and confused than I already was.

Here’s the problem

Most of us make our career decisions based on the idea that a certain job or career will bring us fulfillment. We ask ourselves, “what can I do that will make me happy?”

We see lawyers, doctors, politicians and artists and we want to be in their position. We want to stand on stages, or eat at fancy restaurants and generally live like they do. But what we never consider, is what they sacrifice to live such a lifestyle and how they got to where they are.

Think about it.

You can say that you want to be a doctor, but do you really want to go through 8 years of grueling education and copious reading to become one?

You say you want to be an artist, but are you willing to practice your instrument for 8 hours a day, and perform at gigs where barely anyone shows up?

Or perhaps you want to be the CEO of some multinational bank, but are you willing to have 14-hour work days and forfeit time with your family in the process?

…because if you’re really honest with yourself, you may realize that you don’t necessarily want to be a lawyer or a doctor, but rather, you want the lifestyle that that profession would afford you. You want the fruit at the top of the tree, without actually wanting to climb the tree itself.

That is a dangerous way of thinking.

The question, therefore, is not what job or career will make you happy, but rather, what pain and sacrifice are you willing to endure to get where you want to be? What tree are you willing to climb? And what are you willing to struggle for in life?

The Joy is in the journey

See what this new way of thinking considers, is that joy and happiness are not solely in the destination that you’re working toward. They are actually in the journey itself.

Happiness does not suddenly arrive when you taste the fruit at the top of the tree. It comes in fragments as you climb the tree itself.

If you want to become the best computer software coder in the world, you have to find joy in the monotony of sitting at a computer for 8–10 hours a day.

If you want to become a world-class athlete, you have to find happiness in pushing your body to its limits.

And if you want to become an entrepreneur, you have to find joy in being occasionally rejected for your ideas and creating new ones.

The bottom line is no matter what you decide to do, you must find joy and happiness in the journey. Because real happiness lies in overcoming the obstacles you face towards your goal, not solely in reaching the goal itself.

What Are You Willing to Struggle For?

I recently asked a friend of mine “What are you willing to struggle for?” and after giving me this inquisitive look he said “I think I’d be willing to struggle to start my own business. Maybe sell some products or some special services. Is there anything wrong with that?”

“No”. There is nothing wrong with ‘struggling’ to start your own business. Though what you must consider is the pain of sacrifice and struggle that building it may cause you, and whether you’re willing to go through the adversity. Because when times get tough, you’ll have to dig deep within yourself. And in that moment, if the only reason you find to justify your struggling is you wanted to “start your own business…”

You’re bound to cut your losses and quit.

If your focus is solely on the ‘happiness and joy’ you think owning your own business or being an engineer, a doctor or a lawyer will bring you, then you will be completely unprepared to struggle.

So, before you go on your job search, and begin applying to all these job positions you feel unsure about. Before you go searching for ‘happiness, joy and passion’ like a headless goose. Think of the end you have in mind for your life. Think of how you hope to live in a few decades from now, and then ask yourself; “what am I willing to struggle through to make that lifestyle possible?”

In doing so, you will find happiness, not only when you reach your destination, but throughout your journey as well.

The best advice I can give you as you wonder through this forest of life after graduation, is focus on finding the best tree to climb, not just the one with the sweetest fruit at the top.

What are you willing to struggle for?

Yours Truly (Kimathi Kaumbutho) is a Spoken Word/Poetry writer/performer, and a Hip-Hop artist from Nairobi, Kenya. Click here to see more of his work.