“Follow your dreams” is terrible advice

Think about the career advice that you received when you were younger. Or advice that you’ve given young people in your life. Most of the time, “follow your dreams” is one of the many things that young people will hear as they enter the workforce.

Now, if you’ve been able to follow your dreams and had it work out great for you, that’s terrific. But I still think it’s terrible advice.

Why?

For most people, the things that they love to do are not things that people will pay them money to do. What are your hobbies? Do you love to golf, sail, fish? Do you enjoy traveling? Love birdwatching or gardening?

Unless you’re one of the rare people who has professional-level skill in your hobby, nobody’s going to pay you to do it. But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice passion in your career.

Look at it another way. Can garbage collectors be passionate about their work? Of course!

Research shows that passion is a combination of several things: autonomy, respect, competence, creativity, and a sense of impact. You can get those things in any profession.

If you’re a garbage collector, be the best one. Find new, innovative ways to make the process more efficient. Gain the respect of your peers. As for making an impact, think about how much trash stacks up when dangerous weather prevents trash collection for the week!

Here’s what I tell young people. They should get real experience, in any industry they want, and get some unique, marketable skills. That way, they can become competent and gain the respect of others in their field. That respect will allow them to use their creativity in their chosen field. They will earn autonomy and be able to truly make an impact with that they’re doing.

By that time, they will be passionate about what they’re doing. And they won’t be paralyzed with questions about what their dreams or passions are or should be.

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