Is “Do What You Love” Good Career Advice?

By Mike Haaren

Sept. 14, 2011

“Follow your heart.” “Do what you love.” “Find something that fuels your passion and stick to it.” Like most pat phrases, sometimes these work and sometimes they don’t. But overlooking the nuances can be bad for your future.

Let’s take an example of how standardized advice and the real world interact. Why? Because you’re unique, and “one size fits all” doesn’t fit you. Indeed, it doesn’t fit anybody.


Suppose at the age of 40 you’re faced with a career change. You’ve been laid off, and no one in your sector is hiring. In fact, your sector is disappearing. The jobs have gone overseas, where people will do for a pittance what you used to do for a salary.

But for your entire life, your real interest has been in building wooden outhouses. You have a wonderful collection in your backyard. It’s the envy of all your neighbors.

You admire the tarpaper roofs and the jostling shacks from your kitchen window when you sip your morning coffee, and they fill your heart with joy. You build them in your garage in your spare time. Work at home! You even have miniscule outhouses made of toothpick shavings that you lovingly assembled under a microscope. “Oh!” your dates exclaim in surprise when you let them peer down on your tiny, fragile treasures.

Now that you’re laid off, you watch a lot of daytime TV. “Follow your heart,” the experts say, and the advice sets off chimes in your mind. After all, you never really liked that boring widget job they sent overseas. Maybe this is the time to follow your passion, and move into outhouses as a way of life.

But as you soon discover, most Americans like to go to the bathroom inside their regular houses. They want that spa experience, not some Survivor thing. You grab a Sears catalogue and sit down to think about it.


Your friends tell you that you need a website, where you can have photos and a blog, and show off your collection and your expertise. You can have a panorama of outhouses from around the world. It can be an outhouse destination, they enthuse, all things “john.”

This appeals to your sense of order and fastidiousness. You can even include the microscopic outhouses that your dates have admired over the years.


You launch your website with much excitement, and upload ads to earn money. You don’t get many visitors, but that’s OK. “Build it and they will come,” you tell yourself.

One day you sit down in front of your webcam and record a video of your passion for outhouses. You speak passionately, from the heart.

You tell people how outhouses have given your life purpose and meaning, even if love has not yet arrived. Perhaps some day my princess will come, you conclude hopefully, holding up a photo of the fuschia double-seater with the gingerbread trim that you built for your bride-to-be. You upload the clip to YouTube and wander upstairs to bed.

The next day you check your YouTube account and see that the clip has gone viral. Three million views already, an Internet sensation. The next thing you know a pop diva has done a song about you, you’ve got a check from YouTube for $100,000 in ad revenues, and they want to do a reality show called Outhouse Bachelor.

You go on daytime TV, and tell everyone how you got laid off from a boring job and decided to follow your heart, do what you love, and find something that fuels your passion and stick to it.

It’s enough to make you wonder about career advice.

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