The Passion Trap – Why The Best People Aren’t Always Following Their Passion

If I were truly following my passion, I’d be riding my bike around France and writing books about cycling. But it doesn’t make any money, and I have a mortgage and two kids to put through, y’know, life.

It feels almost cathartic to say that. Because in the modern world, where everyone’s hustlin’ and everyone’s wheelin’ and dealin’, you’re told that you have to be passionate about things.

I may enjoy recruitment, and I may enjoy running a business (occasionally, apart from when the VAT man cometh), but I can’t say it’s my passion. I can’t say I’ve been waiting my entire life to do this. Like I say – bike, France, books.

I even had one candidate a few weeks ago who rejected a job offer because, after consideration, she wouldn’t be following her passion, and she decided she would wait for something that’s more in line with her passion.

Now, you may think WAY TO GO GIRL!

Or… you may think – that’s all well and good if you can afford to wait.

I talk about this because there’s a book which is on sale right now that talks in depth about how passion is a privilege. And this is kinda important, because as employers and hiring managers, we often look for passion in our candidates as a pre-requisite to hiring them.

According to the writer of this book, what we’re actually doing here is we’re favouring those who have a safety net and who are privileged enough to be able to wait, and potentially losing out on those who don’t have the safety net, and therefore don’t have the privilege of being able to wait.

The ability to do the job doesn’t mean you necessarily have to be super passionate about it.

Equally, passion for a job doesn’t mean you’re any good at it.

Heck, it kind of feels like everything we do these days is going to cause some kind of problem. We hire passionate people and all we’re doing is deepening inequality. What on earth can we do?

I suppose the first step is to focus on excellence rather than enthusiasm. For instance, if you’re hiring for a barista, don’t presuppose that their lifelong passion is SERVING PEOPLE or MAKING COFFEE. If it is, you can presuppose that they’re LYING.

But if they’re diligent, and if they’re meticulous, and if they’re at the very least friendly, then you could presuppose that they’ll be quite good at a) making coffee and b) being nice to customers.

I’ve always looked for passions outside of work. As I mentioned in a previous post – pianists, athletes, linguists, and so on – they’ve got their passion and they’ve got dedication. If some of that transfers, then you’re onto a winner, whether they’re passionate about your industry or not.

And if you’re a candidate, my advice is this – most successful people weren’t following their passion. They were trying to make money. Or to enjoy life more.

Maybe money was their passion, but maybe their passions changed. Maybe they’ve learned to channel their passion into other things. Or develop a passion for what they decided to do.

If you want to follow a career in the fashion industry because it’s your passion, then go for it. But if the opportunities dry up, there’s no shame in trying something different. There’s no harm in seeing if something else may be of interest.

Focus instead on honing your skills. Develop new ones, even if they’re boring. Like the pianist practising scales, or the writer proofreading their work, or the athlete spending hours on a treadmill – nobody does these things because they’re passionate about them. They do them to get better at things.

And if you go for an interview where you are not passionate about the role or the industry, remind the interviewer that you’re best for this role because of skills and dedication. No other reason.

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