This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.
Follow your passion?
It was halfway through my sophomore year in college when reality began to set in.
It seemed like it was just yesterday that my parents had dropped me off at my freshman dorm, but somehow time had moved too fast.
As a sophomore, I could no longer say I was “just starting college.” I gulped when I realized that I was nearly halfway done and still had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I remember feeling like time was running out and the pressure was on.
I went to the Career Counseling Center one day and saw a poster on the wall that stuck with me: “Follow Your Passion.”
Yes! This made sense.
This was the answer I’d been looking for as the countdown toward the work world was ticking away. I wasn’t quite sure what my passion was at the time. But I figured I’d eventually discover it, and then a clear path to success and happiness would open in front of me.
In the end things worked out. I discovered I had a passion for all things tech, and I’ve been happy working as an IT consultant ever since. “Follow Your Passion” turned out to be great advice.
So, when my wife and I went to visit our college sophomore last weekend and he asked me for some career guidance I was surprised when I struggled to give him a solid answer. (To be honest, I often struggle when trying to give my kids advice. I usually defer to my wife.)
But this was a layup. “Should I follow my passion?”
In our kid’s case, as I suspect with many others, this answer was actually not so simple.
Unlike myself, where my passion happened to be directly tied to a practical career path, our kid’s passion is jazz music. He’s a jazz drum major and for years now he’s been living and breathing music. It’s not been easy, but with thousands of hours of practice and performing coupled with great teachers, he’s found something he both loves and excels at.
But, just like me, as his time in school flies by, his long-term career prospects are on his mind. Can he follow his passion and still make a living? If he turns his passion into a job, will he eventually burn out? Will the investment of time and money in college pay off?
His questions had me re-thinking the “Follow Your Passion” poster that had influenced me all those years ago.
After some deep thought here’s what I told him:
- Consider yourself lucky that you discovered your passion at such a young age. You have time for trial and error to help you choose your career path.
- Cast a wide net around the potentially adjacent vocations you could pursue that allow you to remain true to what you love doing. A musician can work as a performer, a teacher, a writer, a producer—or all the above.
- Go into the “follow your passion versus follow the money” debate with your eyes wide open. Accept that life has trade-offs that each of us must navigate and focus on what trade-offs you are willing to make for what rewards.
- Be aware that following your passion is not necessarily a straightforward path. It’s possible to have more than one passion, and it’s also possible your passions will change over time.
- Following your passion is not always tied to your job. In fact, often combining a passion with a job can take the fun out of doing what you love.
And finally, I told him that if his first love doesn’t work out, he’s always got a place in the family tech business and I’d be generous with time-off for jam sessions if he lets me sit in on tambourine. And without replying, he hurried off to his next rehearsal.