Want to Turn Your Passion Into a Career? Do This Instead.

Don't pursue the thing you're passionate about. Pursue the things you're nerdy about.

The internet is filled with articles pushing some variation of “follow your passion.”

Unfortunately, “follow your passion” is the anthem of privilege. It’s a trope that does lots of damage to those of us who can’t afford to work unpaid internships while paying high rent in a major city.

Look at “passion” based career paths, and you’ll see that desired paths (musician, artist, blogger, curator, influencer) have low chances of success, with 99% of profits going to .01% of practitioners.

If you have a wealthy family who is willing to support you financially indefinetly, by all means make no compromises. For the rest of us, you’ll need a better strategy if you want to be well paid doing work that you enjoy.

I’m going to share better strategy than “follow your dream” — a strategy that will point you towards career paths that are both lucrative and rewarding. The catch is, you might have to let go of the “dream job” narrative — at least in the short term.

Who this article is for

This article is geared towards recent college graduates. The principles can be applied to non-college educated career paths as well as those changing careers later in life.

Passion to career: Identify the elements that make up your dream job

What is a job? A job is a collection of tasks that help accomplish a goal.

Everyone has tasks they enjoy (or hate) and tasks they are good at (or not so good at).

Even the apex careers you might have in mind are simply a collection of tasks that fill a day.

With this in mind, there are three simple steps to finding a job you’ll love, that is actually attainable, quickly:

  1. Figure out what tasks and elements of the “dream job” you like.
  2. Among those, figure out which tasks you are also good at.
  3. Find a career path that incorporates as many of those elements as possible.

Obviously this is easier said than done, and the details of your dream job and the tasks will vary from person to person. Here are some tools to help you think about this and get started:

Passion to career: Categories of tasks within your dream job

I’m not including a list of specific tasks to choose from in this article, because even if I could account for all the variations between industries, part of the value in this excersize is in thinking through the elements of your path in detail on your own.

That said, here are a few general categories to get you started.

Social tasks vs solo tasks

If you’re outgoing, look for tasks related to the social side of the dream job. How much of the day-to-day is spent face-to-face? How many people do you interact with in a given day? How much of the job is communication-based?

If you’re more introverted, look to jobs that reward focus and the quality of your output over how effectively you market yourself.

Effective egineers tend to be introverted and less relient on team input. Successful executives, on the other hand, tend to come from social backgrounds like sales.

Maker tasks vs Management tasks

Most organizations need two broad categories of people: makers and managers.

Makers are people who can lose track of time “in the zone.” They get joy from mastering a craft and being “the best” at their chosen field. They tend to enjoy concrete projects with tangible results.

Managers are more social and organization-focused. They enjoy having an impact by organizing projects and thinking big-picture.

Example of tasks within a dream job: musician

If your dream job is to be a famous musician, you have a very small chance of making it — let alone making a decent full-time living.

However, you have a very strong chance of reaching a lifestyle that satisfies you as much, or more, by identifying what parts of being a professional musician attract you.

For a musician who loves the art and craft of songwriting and recording above all, those tasks might be:

  • Writing and communication
  • Storytelling
  • Creating a product (a record)
  • Tricking out a home studio
  • Understanding and using the best hardware and software
  • Publishing content
  • Independence

For a musician who loves the idea of being famous and respected and the social side of touring, those tasks might be:

  • Traveling frequently
  • Building high-caliber relationships in the industry
  • Being respected for your work
  • Some level of fame, being known when you walk in a room
  • Social benefits of high status

Identify career paths that match your ideal tasks

This part isn’t easy, but here are some tips for getting started.

  1. If “attention” is high on your priority list, look at creative careers like design, marketing, writing, etc.
  2. If “wealth” is high on your priority list, look at less sexy industries like finance, telecom, healthcare, etc.
  3. If you can’t think of career paths that match your interests, think about community. What sort of people do you like to be around? Who did you gravitate towards in college? If finance majors turned you off, but art kids turned you one, then you should look at industries attached to the arts — that could mean working in a “creative” field in tech, or learning grantwriting to enter the nonprofit space.
When you're evaluating what you want, be honest It's easy to convince yourself that you want something noble when the reality is more human. In the musician example above — there's nothing wrong with wanting respect and a little fame, if only within a particular scene or industry. But you'll need to be honest about it up front so you can take the right steps to get it, rather than convincing yourself you enjoy "the craft" or some other ticket to frustration.

Your dream job is your north star

That doesn’t mean you should run to the noth pole.

In your career (and life generally), it’s wise to follow the “shoot for the moon, land in the stars” approach to goal-setting.

Having a goal, whatever it is, is the most important thing. In many cases, by the time you’re nearing the goal, the goal will change.

Be ready for a long runway to success

In America, there’s a cultural expectation that graduating from college earns you the right to a steady, middle class nine-to-five job.

The reality is, more than half of humanities majors from degrees like English and History return to their childhood home for at least a year after school, and maintain a 40% unemployment rate.

Once you’ve identified a path that interests you, the real work begins.

Creator of Afield, a publisher of insightful guides about the future of work and navigating the tech industry.