Last night I watched the documentary I’m Fine, Thanks.
Long story short: A filmmaker travels across the U.S. interviewing people about chasing their dreams, escaping mediocrity traps, and defying convention. Simultaneously, he’s having an internal debate about quitting his real estate career and pursuing filmmaking full-time.
We’ve all heard it before, many times. Don’t follow a path in life just because it is “what you’re supposed to do.” Society, ever typecast, plays the part of the bogeyman imposing supposededness upon everyone.
This theme actually feels so common to me that the chucking-it-all-and-doing-something-crazy option almost begins to seem like “what you’re supposed to do.” Here’s the usage trend in books for “follow your passion,” from Google’s n-gram viewer:
But lately I’ve been noticing somewhat of a backlash – try Googling “don’t follow your passion.”
Some of this is just writers enjoying being contrarian. The headline format “Why ______ [idea, technology] Isn’t ______ [a game-changer, the next Apple, etc.] has its own bastardized Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion about an idea grows longer, the probability of a writer claiming that everything people think about it is wrong approaches 1.”
I tend to find the counterarguments fairly reasonable. There are two major themes: The first is that growing up hearing “follow your passion” or “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” sets people’s expectations unreasonably high. The second is that people can decide to apply passion to the work they have chosen.
There’s a spectrum for concepts like these, with bombproof axiom at one end and harmful meme on the other. Where does “you should follow your passion” land? The only answer I feel comfortable with is “it depends.”
Of course it’s true: You shouldn’t go to university, then focus on a career, just because you’re supposed to. But the same goes for quitting your job and running away to be a surfer in California; you shouldn’t follow that path because you think you’re supposed to, either. There are miles and miles between sacrifice and settling.
Think about what’s right for you, and maybe what’s good for the world. Talk it out, weigh pros and cons, experiment. But just don’t feel bad if your passion isn’t exciting enough to make a documentary about.
Originally published at To The Dogs or Whoever.