The Voice, Mike Rowe and the Problem of Following Your Passion

Don't Follow Your Passion
I like to watch The Voice, and not just to enjoy the eye candy. As a coach, I am always interested in the ways that the four superstars “coach” their teams. Seeing the way they nurture, critique and inspire is interesting- showing there are many different ways to be a good coach. I am also always amazed by the people on the show- young and old who are pursuing a passion. All are very talented – indeed, I appreciate the format on The Voice where only the talented appear on stage- rather than American Idol which brings on people who have no talent in order to mock them.

The contestants on The Voice are not only talented, they are driven. I am always shocked by the number of them who are so committed to their passion that they have forsaken everything else. Hopefuls confess to the camera that they have dropped out of high school or college to pursue music – that they don’t know what they’ll do if they don’t get a super star coach to choose them.

I am always amazed by this. And not in a good way. As a Jewish mother, I worry for them and as a coach, I question the wisdom of their decisions. I think Mike Rowe, host of Dirty Jobs, captured it best recently. He explained to a fan that the worst advice he had ever received was “follow your passion”

It might seem surprising to you that as a coach I love Rowe’s statements- especially as it seems that one of the stock ideas of our work is “follow your passion.”

But the follow-your-passion-reality/talent-be-damned type of coaching has never appealed to me. Rowe eloquently states what I have always felt was missing from the discussion: “Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it. And just because you’re determined to improve doesn’t mean that you will. Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue a thing you’re passionate about? Of course not. The question is, for how long, and to what end?”

There are many people who are passionate about something but do not have the talent necessary to make it their chosen profession. Perhaps even worse is that there are many very talented people who, for whatever reason, cannot “make it” in their field. For a million and one different reasons, life doesn’t always let us pursue our passion as profession. For so many of the talented folks on The Voice, this is the case.

But Mike Rowe’s comments would be little more than a parental lecture if he didn’t also include some insight and advice. Rowe, who travels the country (and the world) profiling people in “dirty” jobs that many people shun, points to the ways in which people find passion in places they never would have thought they would find it. He highlights people who are passionate about work that even they never thought they would be passionate about. Rowe offers this advice, “Don’t Follow Your Passion, But Always Bring it With You.”

What does this mean in real terms? As a first step, figure out what your passions are. The second step is to pursue those passions- with a deadline. Determine how long you will give your dream to take off and if the time elapses, re-asses. This does not mean giving up on passion- but it does mean adjusting. That adjustment will look different for everyone. There are so many people who resist having a Plan B because they feel that even to imagine not succeeding is to give into failure. But having a Plan B is not a sign of weakness.

I wish for all of those contestants on The Voice who do not make it to the winner’s circle that they find ways of channeling their passions that leave them feeling whole and satisfied. I wish for them lives that are full and meaningful. I hope that they allow themselves to develop new dreams and passions. I hope they bring their passion with them, wherever it is that they go.

4 thoughts on “The Voice, Mike Rowe and the Problem of Following Your Passion

  1. As someone who spent WAY too long pursuing my ‘passion’ of music, I appreciate this post.

    Many of the things that turn our crank do so within certain parameters – a couple of hours a week and it’s fun. Eight hours a day and your livelihood depends on it? Not so much.

    I see far too many people making poor career choices because they don’t realize that the joy they experience in pursuing their passion will quickly diminish if they haven’t understood not only their own talents and needs, but also the needs and interests of others i.e. the market.

    Being a struggling artist pursuing your passion at 20 I can get behind. So long as you have a clear idea of what the consequences are of doing that for your long-term future.

    But this same argument could easily be made for most things in life. I spent 5 years doing a PhD. Enjoyable enough, but I’m not sure I was sufficiently aware of the opportunity cost of spending 5 years doing that, instead of doing something else.

    • Julian- You make excellent points. I like your idea that part of what makes people passionate about something may be its very status as a hobby! There are also different times in life to try different paths (and passions) and what makes sense at 22 when you are young, don’t mind sleeping on sofas and eating ramen noodles may not make sense when you are 35 with a spouse, a mortgage and a couple of kids to support!

      I think one of the things I like about Rowe’s approach is the idea that passion can be stumbled upon. As coaches (and a society) I think we sometimes miss this point. Life is full of opportunities to discover and develop talents. It may not be the dream you started with- but it can become a dream come true. Thanks for commenting.

  2. I’m in agreement w both of you. Perhaps I can add, see what the marketplace is paying for your passion/work and how many people have the same idea and will compete with you.
    tks for the solid understanding.

    • Greg- I absolutely agree that understanding the market is key. I am not sure it should dissuade you from trying- but it will certainly assist you in planning. Understanding what the market looks like may help you decide the amount of time you should give yourself before looking for something new, what type of preparations you will need and how you can make yourself stand out from the crowd (if there is a crowd).
      Thanks for the comment and the conversation.

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