I’m Fine, Thanks

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.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Joe Flood

The Art of Non-Conformity is an excellent blog on this subject. While it’s full of dreamy stories of people escaping the rat race, it makes the point that you can’t just chuck it all without a plan – the key is to find something you love that people will pay you to do.

Ami Wazlawik

Yea, I’d agree that the “follow your passion” line can lead to trouble. I think that many millenials grew up hearing this line and do have unreasonable expectations – I count myself among those folks. I do think that having a not so awesome job is much easier if one can pursue their passion outside of work.

Peter Sperry

And often, getting paid to do what you love can take the joy out of it. I am a passionate amature photographer, happiest in the woods with a camera or playing in Photoshop. I have often thought about turning pro. But when I examine the photography market with an eye for what sells and for how much, it is rarely the type of work I enjoy. Yes there are maybe 20-100 world class photographers making very good incomes shooting for National Geographic and an ever shrinking number of high end travel or fashion magazines and a few more doing well in advertizing. And the other 99.9999% of professional photoagraphers are barely paying the rent by giving lessons, shooting weddings, realestate layouts etc. Median income is around $40K for the entire industry. As I told a friend, the reason I have the cash to follow my passion as a hobby is because I chose not to follow it as a proffession. The same applies to many other fields. Trust me, investment bankers have a better choice of slopes, waves and mountains than most professional skiers, surfers or climbers.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

Just watched a great TED Talk on this topic (see link below). The speaker mentioned that you need to find the intersection between your passion and the needs in your community. This is where you need to focus your energies and your career ambitions. These is a lot of truth in this notion.


Kent Aitken

Agreed all around, thanks for all the comments.

Along the lines of Peter’s comment, I’m a big fan of variety – I don’t have a singular passion. I enjoy my work, but I also get to enjoy a multitude of side projects because of it.

And I’m looking forward to checking out that talk, Terry, thank you.

Jennifer C Morin

I think your answer “it depends” is probably the best answer. In my own experience, raising a child alone, I had no time (or money) to follow my passions in career. My passion became my parenthood, my job was merely a job or rather string of jobs. Now that she is in college and verging on full-blown adulthood, my take on follow your passions has changed. A while back, I felt too old to follow anything but the constant internal nagging that sitting behind my reception desk was going to eventually suck the lifeblood out of me made me wake up a bit. There was something I needed to do. Finally, I have figured a way to follow a passion, and am at the phase where I want to give to the world, to give back. I think the term follow your passions is really “it depends”, on your age, your life circumstance, the amount of logic one posseses!, and bravery. well, I don’t know about the last as not sure how brave it is to give up on everything and like in a tiki hut and surf all day. Thanks for the interesting post.

Jo Youngblood

Your statement of “apply passion to the work they have chosen” resonates with me. I geared my entire college education towards child and welfare policy. I picked up some finance and accounting along the way to make sure I’d have some usability in the market if things got really grim. Sure enough.. I graduated and was passed over for every fellowship and every employment option I applied for in my field. Then came along this option in transportation. But the one thing I have a passion for is organizing and managing complex scenarios… voila! Project Management. So now I do project management in the transportation research sector. Works great for them. I’m happy enough and can feed my kids. And my passion for helping children has been directed to volunteering for non-profits that assist children and families. Sometimes you just have to “reframe” that passion.

Janina Rey Echols Harrison

I don’t think this is the first generation that has listened to those words and approached life with great expectations. Those sayings have been around forever. Some people achieve this and make a fortune. Some of us never seem to be in the right place at the right time.

I had a passion for art, music, fashion, none of which will make a great living and industries that can be cut throat. I started working and discovered that creativity and innovation can be applied in all aspects of life. Continuing to learn more skills, not just in business but in arts and crafting skills expands my life every day. I can fix equipment, put anything that comes in a kit together, reupholster, caning, rushing, sewing, tiling, cooking, electrical, painting, gardening, raising animals. Knowing so many things keeps my life new and exciting, looking forward to the next thing I can learn and an opportunity to teach it to someone.

My greatest success is my children. Their bosses and acquaintances describe them as hard working and the nicest people.

Apply passion to everything in your life.