Monday, November 4, 2013

Follow Your Passion? Bah Humbug!

If career counselors had a motto, it would be "Follow your passion." Alas, truth is, in choosing a career, if you do what you love, poverty usually follows.

That's because most people's passions are in just a few areas so 10 zillion people apply for each good job.

And because of that, most employers pay poorly for most such cool careers and treat you poorly knowing there are 10,000 wannabes champing for the opportunity to be treated poorly.

My piece today, Bah, Passion is the first in my weekly "Bah..." series in which I reveal my inner Scrooge and offer straight talk about career issues.


Anonymous said...

As always, a thought-provoking item! In addition to the disadvantages you describe with "cool" careers, there are others that you might not think about that can affect your career happiness, along with your overall life happiness:

First, many employers in "cool careers" have very limited resources. That's because many of them depend on donations/government grants, and also discretionary consumer spending on things like entertainment and fashion. These sources of funds are fickle and fleeting even in an "up" economy.

That means that in addition to low/no pay, you often have paltry/nonexistent health/retirement and other fringe benefits, an outdated IT infrastructure, an uncomfortable/impractical workspace and little or no training. All of these seemingly minor annoyances can add up to big time stress.

Next, as you mentioned, "employers treat you poorly." On top of that, your coworkers are also more likely to treat you poorly because "cool" workplaces are fiercely competitive. They're competitive because they attract people who are competitive by nature, because resources are so scarce, because there's so much more pressure to succeed, and because people are so intensely focused on their passion to the exclusion of everything else in life.

Finally, if you want to pursue a "cool" career, be prepared to make some major tradeoffs. These tradeoffs mean:

-Sacrificing even a working-class lifestyle;

-Moving far from family and friends, and moving often to chase jobs;

-Being rejected dozens, hundreds, even thousands of times (almost always receiving negative feedback can wear you down emotionally);

-Missing out on or delaying "developmental milestones of adulthood" such as getting married, having children, buying homes/cars, taking vacations, etc. (Not that those things in and of themselved bring happiness, but pursuing a cool career can make it harder for you to attract a quality romantic partner or earn a middle-class salary, plus you may still be living like a college student in your 40s.);

-If you achieve even local celebrity status, you can kiss your privacy good-bye. You literally can't go to the restroom without fans and groupies coming after you;

-You may only be able to pursue your cool career for a relatively short time in your life. This is especially true if you want to be an actor, media personality or athlete. While you can work at a typical office job for 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years, you may have as little as 5 years in which you can pursue your career.

-If you do decide to go for it, you need a Plan B, maybe even a Plan C.

Marty Nemko said...

What a fascinating comment! I invite you to post that as a comment on the USNews site, where the article appears. That way more people can read it. Thank you for your fine contribution.


ST said...

(You have to post via Facebook on the USN site).

The same could be said for the STEM careers. Boo, hoo Americans just don't like math. They'd rather go into something "easier" like general business, communications or history of something or other. That's OK, there are plenty of Chinese and East Indians ready to take those well-paying tech jobs.

Maria Lopez said...

Concerning environmentalism, I think that there are places where you can make an environmental contribution and have a stable career. These are blue collar jobs much harder and more uncomfortable than calling folks up and asking for money.

1. Oil refinery operator -- I do think, despite Marty's doubts, that there is a scientific consensus that global warming is real, however, making sure that refineries are properly run helps to reduce local pollution.

2. Wastewater plant operator or chemist -- they stink and they and they are actually fairly dangerous workplaces but they really do help the environment if run properly.

3. Coastguardsman -- involves unpleasant tasks such as pumping foul water out of buoys but also involving enforcing US fishing regulations.

Finally volunteering for environmental organizations in order to help them with IT could be a way to start an IT career. This, of course, is true for any organizations so if you think environmentalism is silly you can have the same effect on your career by working for churches, veterans organizations, or etc.

Marty Nemko said...

Thank you, as usual, for your useful comment. Marty

Maria Lopez said...

Another note.

If you have the schooling and experience, there are,
of course, white collar careers that also help industry run more cleanly. For example chemical, control systems, or industrial engineer.

When I was at a wastewater plant I saw a small digester (tank where solid waste is pumped into to rot) that some engineer had set up as part of an experiment in maximizing methane production. There are many other innovations occurring in that particular industry. It's possible that engineering for clean industry might be one of the best ways to help the environment if you can go to a good college.

Shawn said...

Marty, I am curious, from your work in the media, do you get recognized in public by strangers? If so, what is the typical context, and how does it all happen? How does it make you feel? Are you a micro-celebrity :-) ?

Great blog by the way. I don;t agree with it all, but I do agree with a lot of it.

Marty Nemko said...

Yeah, micro or nano celebrity here in the Bay Area (pretty much unknown elsewhere) is about right.

When someone recognizes me and says something nice, of course, I appreciate it. If it happened constantly perhaps I wouldn't, but it happens only perhaps once a month.


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