Following Your Passion is for Suckers? No Way

A friend sent me a recent post by Tim Sackett on the TLNT website (for human resources professionals) with the headline, “Here’s Why ‘Following Your Passion’ Is Simply for Suckers.”

If you’re a Game Plan regular, I think you can already see why my friend thought of me. Because of course my reaction was, “Say what?”

Here’s the thing. Cowboy attitude and dismissive tone aside, Sackett brings out a really good point in this piece. And while I’m not inclined to write reactionary columns, I like the idea of exploring the point he made which I’ll summarize thus:

If you work hard at something, it can become your passion.

The bulk of the post is about the writer’s admiration for this idea as put forth by Mark Cuban on his blog. Cuban advocates following your effort instead of your passion, working hard and becoming an expert at something. At that point, he says, you will become passionate about where you’ve put that energy and effort.

Sometimes this happens. No doubt about it. But let’s look at some specific examples of paths taken and where they led instead of making sweeping generalizations and mocking a different viewpoint.

My first job, at age 14, was working in a bakery. The same could be said, at an even earlier age, for Buddy Valastro, my Hoboken neighbor now known as “The Cake Boss.”

I worked hard at the bakery, enjoyed my co-workers, was pretty good at the cash register and interacting with people. Piping cream into cannolis, well, that didn’t go so well. But I really, really tried. I put a lot of effort into it. Little joy came out of it.

And then there was Valastro’s experience in a different Italian bakery, some 50 miles north of where I worked. His father brought him in to help with the family business to keep his young son out of mischief. The kid worked very hard to learn all the facets of what went into running the bakery. As it turned out, he was exceedingly good at decorating cakes.

Valastro, now the star of a highly-successful reality TV series on TLC and the overseer of a booming business, followed the route Sackett and Cuban laid out. Baking is undoubtedly his passion, but he didn’t go into it because of that. He didn’t know yet.

What this perspective does is stand as an example of how important it is to try different things and be open, especially if you don’t have what you’d consider a passion.

But here’s where I differ from Sackett and Cuban – if the idea is to follow one’s effort, how does the person know where to put his effort in the first place? Something has to start this ball rolling. Maybe a kid goes golfing with Dad a lot and is drawn to a caddy job as a way to make money. He turns out to be really good at it and decides to make a go of it. Or, it’s a part-time gig that leads him to his next thing.

By advocating that people stay in the area where they’re working hard because they’ll eventually become an expert at it and love it, you’re essentially ignoring the other possibilities. They’ll work hard and never become an expert because they aren’t really engaged in it. They’ll work hard but never like it, let alone love it. Those could happen, too.

Unquestionably there is immense satisfaction in hard work and there is even something to be said for those who can suck it up, collect the paycheck and feel good about all it allows them to do in their non-work time. But those who feel more like they’re in a grind and are better suited to something else and are courageous enough to make a change to follow their passion are far from listening to, as Sackett puts it, “psycho-babble.”

What he does is use this to set up a swipe at the coaching profession, “an industry that found out they can make money on you by telling you this crap because you like to hear it. It makes you feel good, but it’s not reality.”

Why isn’t it reality to follow your passion? Just because you didn’t? Lots of people have and to great reward.

While I was working at that bakery and then as a cashier at a department store and then as a temp typing Ivy League applications for my bosses’ kids, I was working hard. And maybe I could have become an expert in one of those things. But my passion since about age 12 was writing and so while I worked all these jobs I was also becoming an expert in journalism and professional writing.

That, my friend, is a viable option not only for students out there but for adults who went the strictly ‘work hard’ route and ended up in misery land. My reality is that people who chose not to pay attention to their passion early on will eventually clamor to get to it.

People in HR would do well to get that.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to