Are You Pursuing Your Passion or Just Being Practical?

pursuing your passion

What is your passion? Come on, you can say it out loud, don’t be afraid. Let me help you: “My passion is _______________” There, all you need to do is simply fill in the blank.

Oh, are you thinking that you don’t know what your passion is? Maybe I can help you figure it out.

Try this, write down a few possible contenders, and then ask yourself the following questions with regard to each one:

1) Does doing it, or thinking about it make you feel good about yourself?
2) Is it something you enjoy doing so much that you would do it for free, or even pay money to be able to do it?
3) When you are doing it, do you lose track of time?
4) When you are talking about it do you become more animated and enthusiastic?
5) If circumstances allowed you to spend more time doing it, would you?

If you answered yes to most of these questions for one of your contenders, then you found a winner. This is definitely something you want to do. Now, here’s the tough question: Are you doing it?

Are you pursuing that passion?

You see, almost everyone has a passion they want to pursue. The problem is, we often push those passions aside in the name of being “practical.” Let’s look at the reasoning involved when choosing practical over passion.

If I do this other thing (that I’m not passionate about) first, and make some money, then I can turn my attention toward my passion. This sounds like a totally reasonable approach, doesn’t it? Raise your hand if this is your strategy!

Maybe it looks good on paper, but…

I hate to be a wet blanket here but statistics show that this practical approach rarely leads back to your passionate pursuit. Notice I didn’t say that this approach won’t work, just that most people can’t pull it off. Why not?

Because it’s far too easy to get pulled into the “practical” career and not be able to extract yourself from it later on. It becomes too easy to just keep doing what you’re doing while your passions go into the “maybe someday” file. To succeed at using this approach requires an unusual degree of focus and determination.

On the positive side, I do know people who have what it takes to break out of an established career and successfully go after their dreams. One good example is my friend and colleague Steve Aitchison of Change Your Thoughts. His article The Power of Focus is very encouraging if you are looking to break free from a career that you are not passionate about.

Society is not passion oriented

Where in your growing up experience were you ever encouraged to pursue your passions until your dreams came true? Instead, everything is designed to channel you toward a career choice that will allow you to “make a good living.” In turn, making a good living is supposed to be on a par with “living your passion,” but safer and easier. Don’t get me wrong, we all like the idea of making a good living. But shouldn’t we be able to really enjoy what we do at the same time?

Too often, the pursuit of our passions is described as “not very practical.” In fact, anything that doesn’t fit into the standard curriculum is often viewed as a long shot, or worse. Why do you think that is? Isn’t it true that most famous people became famous by breaking rank and pursuing their passions? Why does society revere them, and yet discourage people from following in their footsteps?

Don’t let fear hold you back!

We spend a huge portion of our lives working. It would be a shame if we didn’t feel a strong sense of satisfaction from that effort. The number one thing that prevents people from pursuing their passions is fear. More specifically, it’s fear of failure. My question is, Does failure really exist or is it more a matter of attitude?

The funny thing is, most highly successful people have experienced failure one or more times on their road to success. Unhindered by setbacks, they continued to pursue their passion until they succeeded. Often, it was the lessons they learned by not succeeding right away that allowed them to finally get it right. So, what’s standing in your way? If it’s fear of failure, maybe you need to shift your focus.

You have a right to pursue your passions

Don’t ever let anyone convince you that pursuing your passion is not practical. Passion is what brings meaning and value to your life. The very quality of your life experience is directly affected by the pursuit of your passions. With so much at stake, it seems impractical to choose any other course.

Please do not allow your passions to end up in the “maybe someday” file. Get yourself focused and motivated. Set some goals in the direction of your passion, and then pursue them relentlessly. Life is too short to settle for anything less than passionate.

Life can’t be passionate if you ignore your passions.
How are you doing in this regard?
The lines are open!

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  1. Frank J October 8, 2009 Reply

    In this day and age it’s much easier to be practical as sometimes your pursuit for passion may come with a risk.

    • Jonathan October 8, 2009 Reply

      Hey Frank, even crossing the street comes with a risk. A lot of things that seem risk free are just false security.

  2. Rocket Bunny October 8, 2009 Reply

    There are always risks with challenges it is when you are afraid of change you can be easily manipulated.

    • Jonathan October 9, 2009 Reply

      Wow Bunny, that’s a really profound observation. I like it!

  3. Karlil October 8, 2009 Reply

    My cousin once told me, the money is in side business, not your daytime job. I believe in part, he is right. Maybe if we could have both world Jonathan, passion as side income, and keep our day job, the transition can be smooth and less risky? But of course one needs to have the motivation and dedication to spend time on keeping and realizing the dream of making money out of our passion, which is where most failed, just like you said. Great post Jonathan.

    • Jonathan October 9, 2009 Reply

      Hey Nik, trying to protect one’s livelihood is always a serious consideration. It’s been a little different for me because, for the majority of my life I have followed my passions with some kind of financial goal attached. Some may think that I am a risk taker and a dreamer (opposite of practical), but I don’t see it that way. In reality, I’m just doing what feels right and keeping the faith that it will all turn out wonderful. Life’s a journey and I’m an adventurer. Give it a try, you might like it.

  4. Sibyl Chavis October 8, 2009 Reply

    I 100% agree with pursuing your passion. Another good way I heard it put was to lay down your intention, what it is you really want to do and then figure out a way to lean toward it. It may mean that you can’t up and quit your job at that exact moment, but you are at least leaning toward what it is you feel you should be doing and putting the wheels in motion. You are moving in the right direction so that you can avoid complacency.

    • Jonathan October 9, 2009 Reply

      Hi Sibyl, it is Sibyl, right? Anyway, I really like the way you explained that. This is a nice way to keep the energy flow moving toward your intention.

  5. Steven Aitchison October 9, 2009 Reply

    Jonathan, it’s strange we spend half our lives pursuing our passion and when we find it we tend to look at it longingly as if it’s just a dream. I believe if we find our passion we should pursue it. Great post Jonathan.

    • Jonathan October 9, 2009 Reply

      Steve, I couldn’t agree more. I figured you would be OK with me using you as a positive example in this article. Your pursuit of your passion is nothing short of inspiring. Thanks!

  6. Vin October 9, 2009 Reply

    This is a great post, Jonathan! Although I certainly appreciate the importance of finding value in undesirable situations, I feel like some people get a little carried away with the idea of any situation being the “perfect” one. Making the best of a good paying job that doesn’t relate to any of your passions is certainly beneficial, but it in my opinion, it’s far from ideal no matter how positive and enlightened someone’s perspective is.

    I think this concept also applies very well to retirement. Many people spend their youth slaving away for the “golden years”, and when retirement arrives, they’re often not even sure what to do with themselves. I think Tim Ferriss presents a great perspective on this in the 4 Hour Workweek.

    If you’re doing something that you’re passionate about, chances are that you won’t want to stop at retirement age anyway, so you might as well slow down and enjoy it for the long haul.

    • Jonathan October 9, 2009 Reply

      Nice comment Vin. You covered some really good points and I appreciate how you illustrated them. Most of us have a variety of passions that cover every area of our lives. I think we should pursue them all.

  7. Mark Lewis October 9, 2009 Reply

    I think it’s important to work your passion into everyday. Obviously, the most rewarding is to turn it into a career. If you can pursue a passion with a greater purpose, then you’ve created a utopia.

    • Jonathan October 10, 2009 Reply

      Hi Mark, I totally agree. Passions come in all shapes and sizes, and many of them are the simpler, everyday kind that add meaning and richness to our lives. In fact, these everyday passions can have just as much, if not more, impact on our quality of life are the big ones do. Thanks for bringing out that point Mark, appreciate the insight.

  8. kate smedley October 9, 2009 Reply

    Life should be about passion for all things we do. Excellent article and I especially liked the questions 1-5 early on in the article, great prompters.

    • Jonathan October 10, 2009 Reply

      Thanks Kate, sometimes people need a little help identifying their passions. Once we recognize how passionate we are about certain things it seems to help us make more passionate choices.

  9. Tim October 10, 2009 Reply

    During a time when real unemployment is hitting all time highs in the Untied States while other countries aren’t too far behind, it may seem crazy for someone to out and out quit their job, especially when they have children and debt issues.

    But I say that when someone has a passion they know will make them happy and benefit others, they should do everything they possibility can to succeed at it. Life is too short to only work for someone else’s passion instead of your own.

    Inspiring post, Jonathan. I’ll enthusiastically read more from you.

    • Jonathan October 10, 2009 Reply

      Hi Tim, great to have you here. You made two very important points and some may wonder how we can do both. As with everything else in life, reasonableness and balance are required. Some might be tempted to call it a compromise, but I notice you didn’t do that. I sense in your comment a strong awareness of the need for balance when pursuing our passions which I really appreciate. Thanks for joining the conversation!

  10. Tim October 10, 2009 Reply

    Thank you for the kind words, Jonathan. I’m glad I found your blog. I’m going to start reading your posts on a regular basis.

    • Jonathan October 10, 2009 Reply

      My pleasure Tim, and welcome to Advanced Life Skills.

  11. Stephen October 11, 2009 Reply

    Hi Jonathan, great stuff as usual!

    I know some young people who are taking high-paying jobs that aren’t their passion as “temporary” jobs. They are just using them, or so they think, to make money to have fun with for a few years. Trouble is they buy cars, houses, get married, have kids and then feel like they are trapped. They’ve snapped on the golden handcuffs.

    I know this article applies to every age but when you are young the cost of following your passion is low and the payoff in a lifetime of happiness is potentially very high. Don’t put on the golden handcuffs because they are very hard to remove down the road.

    • Jonathan October 11, 2009 Reply

      Wow Stephen, what an incredibly insightful comment. I just love the “golden handcuffs” illustration. In fact, I can see the truth of your words in my own experience.

      At 21 I pulled up stakes and made a major life change. Many of my friends intended to do something similar, but they waited a little too long. They put on the golden handcuffs and felt like they no longer had a choice.

      Another benefit to pursuing my dreams at a young age is that it became a pattern. I learned how to weigh the pros and cons ahead of time, and I had developed the courage to “go for the passion.” This became natural for me. As a result I have never felt trapped, or like I had no options.

      Thank you so much for your comment.

  12. jonathan figaro October 11, 2009 Reply

    Pursuit the passion or die trying is my motto. I don’t plan on dying anytime soon, so I’m passion oriented. Society tells us to do what they want, but i rather be my own boss by making my won rules. Society can get others to do this, but no me! I’d rather chase my dream than work for someone else’s; that’s real talk!

    • Jonathan October 12, 2009 Reply

      Chase ‘em Jonathan, gruranteed you will catch the ones that really matter.

  13. Thomas Johnson October 11, 2009 Reply

    Thats a good list of questions for assessing whether or not something is your passion.

    • Jonathan October 12, 2009 Reply

      Thanks Thomas, it comes in handy because sometimes we don’t recognize that we are passionate about something. Other times we thing it’s a passion but it won’t hold up to scrutiny.

  14. Sam October 12, 2009 Reply

    I believe we are cheating ourselves if we don’t at least try to pursue our passions. Time is so precious, why not use it doing something we enjoy.

    • Jonathan October 12, 2009 Reply

      Well said Sam, I feel the same way. Thanks for joing the canversation.

  15. Nea October 14, 2009 Reply

    Great article! We really are programmed to achieve comfort in what society says is the proper or acceptable way. Straying from the safe route in pursuit of what brings us a deep sense of joy is rarely added to the to the to-do list that we’re given in our youth. But we all have the ability to decide to add it ourselves.

    These days my motto is “Being practical is completely impractical.”

    • Jonathan October 14, 2009 Reply

      Hi Nea, great point, “we all have the ability to decide to add it ourselves.” That’s really what it all comes down to, making a choice.

  16. Robin Easton October 14, 2009 Reply

    I’d have to say that I am definitely pursuing my passion. I would also have to say that it is both amaaaazing AND that it takes guts and determination and an indomitable spirit…even when you don’t feel those things. It is not always easy and at times can be downright hard, but I would not trade it for being practical or safe any day. I NEED to live with a challenge and my biggest dream and all my dreams in between…even if I fail. That is not important. What IS important is that I dared to try, I dare to go beyond what is safe and practical…but even more important is that I am fully living. When we do that it is impossible to fail, because reaching the dream no longer becomes the goal. It is the fantastic journey along the way. One filled with vitality.

    Thank you my friend.
    Very inspiring post.

    • Jonathan October 14, 2009 Reply

      Robin, you are one of the most passionate and daring people I know. These traits inspire others to live a life in pursuit of their own passions. Maybe you don’t realize it, but you are a walking billboard for living with passion. You certainly inspire me, and I really appreciate your influence.

  17. Robin Easton October 14, 2009 Reply

    OMG!!! I am laughing out loud with tears in my eyes!!! Oh this just made my whole day! “…a walking billboard…” I LOVE that. I’m still laughing. My husband will get a real charge out of that one. And honestly, Jonathan, I don’t think I do realize it. I’m just ME. And that is what is SO incredible and amazing for me, is to have you see who I am. It helps me claim more of myself in a healthy way. That is such a gift. My husband said that about you the other day, when I was sharing with him one of your responses to a comment I made. He said, Jonathan sees in a deep way and that is good for you Robin, because not everyone can see like that. Thank you SO much, and I appreciate YOUR influence.

  18. Frugal Expat October 18, 2009 Reply

    I have been practical all my life because there is no other option but to be practical. Now ten years after, I wanted to pursue my passion and live the life I want.

    As you said, I have the right to pursue my passion and I am claiming that right now…

    • Jonathan October 25, 2011 Reply

      Hi Cyra, that is excellent. Please keep us updated on you adventure.

  19. John Duffield November 5, 2009 Reply

    Hi Johnathan from a chilly Canadian farm today! Your post struck several chords and nerves and tickled at least two wing-bones. In short, I’m passionate about passion. Here’s some things about passion to think about. I believe anyone who’s discovered theirs will agree. Passion can’t be denied. It’s a white-hot, irresistable Force that’ll push from within until the end. It’s more unmistakable in life than the proverbial ten ton elephant in a phone booth. No one with passion doubts they have it. More to the point perhaps, it creates life as it goes….so giving up on it is a sort of suicide. That brings me to a misunderstanding many people have about “being practical vs passionate”. No one who really does tap into this passionate life-force within each of us will choose practical over passionate. Anyone who thinks they do….. hasn’t felt the true force of passion. Real passion is all about being yourself…and no one who discovers who they are will continue pretending to be something else….”because it’s more practical”. Certainly you can wake up to your passion and find yourself in the wrong job, marriage, or group of friends……I did. But what happens then is this. Your passion pushes you to slowly but surely work your way elsewhere…..to where you’re meant to be. Your passion simply will NOT let you just…..stay where you are…”for practical reasons”. It will force you to change your life every which way if need be. It will drive you to find a way to make a living being yourself. Why? Because being yourself is the most treasured thing you can get. Every happy thing follows from being yourself. In summary then, I would say this. If you think you’re choosing being practical over your passion….you don’t know your passion. A bit of a scary idea maybe…..but true. Ciao Johnathan. John Duffield

    • Jonathan November 5, 2009 Reply

      Hey John, passionately written my friend. Your comment demonstrates the energy of passion. This kind of resolve and enthusiasm can’t be found in the world of “purely practical.” Passion is the rocket fuel of achievement and the foundation of a satisfying life experience. As you brought out, many have never felt the true force of passion because they haven’t taken the time to discover their true self. When we Find our true self we find our passion.

  20. Paul October 25, 2011 Reply

    Hi yes this is a great post. I have had to make the decision myself this year whether to pursue a secure financial position or just blast away at my passions 100%. I am on the journey for following my passions and it is an amazing and yes scary feeling at the same time I believe that everything will turn our ok. In fact having spent 20 of my precious years working full time I feel fortunate to be able to spend some more quality time doing what I love. It really is motivating and empowering to pursue your dreams because you feel like you are switched onto something better. I am still getting up a 5am everyday and working until at least 7pm doing what I love and at the same time keeping super productive. Financially it maybe challenging however, when you do decide to drop the secure life as an employee you find that there are ways and means of getting by. Time is more precious than money and you cannot make more money unless you have more time. So I will continue this journey for now and give it 100% full blast. Rock on passion followers.

    • Jonathan October 25, 2011 Reply

      Hi Paul, I have a strong feeling that your courage will pay off big time. Once you close all the exits there is only one way to go – forward. I would love it if you would keep me updated on your progress.

  21. Allison March 25, 2012 Reply

    How do you shed the burden of a relationship that is all security and love, but might inhibit your evolution of passionate pursuits by way of compromise? It is not your partner’s fault that your passionate pursuit would land you in other countries to be a part rich cultural landscapes that now seem more of a fantasy than a possibility. How do you attain this sort of “letting go” that seems necessary to make 100% of your decisions without relationship constraints? I prepare myself to give in to my passions fully- paint pictures here and there, write thoughtful existential emails to close friends, plan out blogs, analyze lyrics of songs that move me- but I’m still stuck at compromise. Jonathan, maybe you know how to divorce my former self for someone that has the potential (scary, yes) to be ten thousand times bigger. Any tips would be greatly appreciated. I am twenty-four and feel as though I am married to mediochrity already.

    • Jonathan March 25, 2012 Reply

      Everything in life involves a choice, and yes, some choices are difficult. Here is what I suggest. Make an honest list of the of the pros and cons of each choice. Put those lists away for three days and try to think about other things while your subconscious mind does its thing. After three days, go back and read those lists to see which one truly resonates with you. Read them again. Now make a choice and then follow through on your choice with commitment and action. Once you have started don’t waste time reconsidering or thinking “what if.” Decide, Commit, Act.

  22. Janie May 21, 2012 Reply

    I think you do have to be practical in some sense when it comes to passion. I know someone who was laid off from his job and does not want to return to corporate America. He never wants to wear a suit again, he doesn’t want to commute, and he loves the outdoors. He is so passionate about being an entrepreneur, but he keeps choosing opportunities that are not practical and each one has failed. Here is an extreme example: Joe loves lemonade and it makes him feel so happy. He thinks that as long as he has a positive outlook he will be fine. He has no money so he sets out a lemonade stand (not a kid one, but a nice professional looking one) in front of his house. He sits out there each and every day looking his best and hoping for the best. It makes him happy to work right outside his home (no commute), sitting in the beautiful sun, and wearing comfortable clothes. But not 1 customer! Why? Because he lives at the end of a dead end street and his closest neighbor is 1/2 a mile away! Sometimes you have to do what you have to do to support yourself or your family, even if that means returning to corporate America…

    • Jonathan May 21, 2012 Reply

      Hi Janie, you are absolutely correct and that’s why we need to find a practical way to pursue our passions. Let’s go back to the lemonade illustration as an example. I know a guy who created a very successful online business with lemonade. He did a very old cleans called the Master Cleans which involves drinking a combination of fresh squeezed lemonade, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper several times a day. He loved the results so much that he turned the instructions for the program into a product called the Lemonade Diet. He now makes a very good living from lemonade. When passion is pursued in a practical way, success is often the result.

  23. Annie July 25, 2012 Reply

    Why should we pursue our passions? Sometimes, isn’t being practical the best way towards life? How many people have actually pursued their passions? Many give it up for others practical reasons. Passion isn’t important anymore, is it? I dunno what my passion is, I roughly got there, I think, but my passion seems like the wrong passion. Those who think they can provide for me the best, aren’t, and they won’t ever listen to what I say, or rather what I call passion.

  24. Jeff September 24, 2012 Reply

    I am 51 and have worked for over 20 years at a job I am not passionate about. I used to have passion for certain things (deep down I believe they are still alive), but I feel like my spirit has died working so long to be “practical.” I have chronic health issues, am becoming depressed, and am gay and unattached.

    I believe that this is what happens to a person who does not pursue their passions. The enjoyment of life wanes, the body responds, and the inner soul of a person fades and becomes flat.

    I don’t know how to get my passions and my life back at this point. Don’t even know if it’s possible at this point.

    Please, please, please, people, do what you love, the sooner, the better!


  25. Martina February 20, 2013 Reply

    One of my passions is Theatre. I breathe Theatre. But, another one of my passions is to make a beautiful family one day. The arts are a really competitive field and almost no one can live on its pay unless you are famous. Let alone a whole family. Shouldn’t you pick being pratical in this situation? For the pay? For a family?

    • Jonathan February 20, 2013 Reply

      Hi Martina, life needs to be a balance because we live in a world that requires certain things from us. One way to be practical and pursue your passion is to find a job that you enjoy and that pays the bills, while pursuing your passion for theater on the side. It doesn’t need to be all one way or the other.

  26. Cristian March 5, 2013 Reply

    What if my passion is to become a movie star after 15 years working in finance?

  27. John February 5, 2014 Reply

    I recently paid to go to an acting workshop, so I guess you could say I would pay to act. The experience was amazing. I have been practicing writing and acting every day, and telling myself that maybe I’ll find a way to make money with writing first, so I can pursue acting, but I wonder if that’s folly.

    I’m still living with my folks, so I don’t have bills to pay, but I also don’t have an income, and I have little money remaining to throw at the wall when it comes to career pursuits. I was just talking to someone today about how I struggle between being “practical” and being “idealistic” – part of me thinks I should just commit fully and do everything I can to be an actor, but I’m afraid of failing and becoming another kid in my family who needs off-and-on financial support.

    I’m also afraid that I’ll get bogged down by the gritter details of acting (headshots, self-marketing, and so on) and decide that it’s not worth acting to have to do those things. I mean, I know it’s silly to think that I can just act and present myself well as a person, and I’ll find success, but I wish it was that simple. I understand having to work on stuff like personal brand and all, but the difficulty of it always seems to be in the details.

  28. Harin Charles March 24, 2014 Reply

    Wow Jonathan!
    I stumbled on this article and i did feel you have put these words together directed at myself.
    I live in Nigeria, where the economy leave its people less room for paid jobs -so the very few decent earning workers could be called ‘lucky’.
    No man here could be called ‘sane’ that would leave his die-hard job for an adventurous passion chase.
    Such situation is what i’m in.
    Although i believe in my passion. I am only pulling resource together unto it. Great post Jon.

  29. Inuglaf May 28, 2014 Reply

    Hi Jonathan! I cannot for the life of me explain how beneficial your article proved to be for me. I’m a 19 year old student, struggling to pursue my passion for baking. It is my dream to have my own bakery someday. I’m currently facing a challenge of being able to pursue baking and at the same struggling to do my graduation in a course that is not of my choice at all. Graduation, again, is only to provide financial security when I get a job and a social status. Because where I come from, life can be pretty hard if you’re just a high school graduate. I don’t have everything figured out as far as my career is concerned, but this is just to let you know how this article made my day. I’m prepared to strive with all my might to convert my passion into my career.

  30. Tracy June 13, 2014 Reply

    Dear Jonathan,

    I am so glad that I came across your article(s) regarding passions, decisions and financial security. I am a university student in Canada and this is the most promising thing I have read in a long time. I am also having similar struggles as Inuglaf, and constantly face the pressures of society, family’s expectations, and making enough money to support a living. This explains why my life in school is so mundane right now, and why I’m constantly unsure of where my current education will lead me. I think that if someone has to question or think twice about whether they are passionate about something, it is likely that they are not passionate about it, because true passions would be quite evident and would constantly be on your mind, but I could be wrong. I recommended your article to my peers who are struggling with this!

    Thank you!

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