Follow your passion. Or don't

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Get paid to do what you love and never work a day in your life. So the saying goes.

I always thought I wanted to get paid to write. I’m not the greatest writer but I’ve had a couple of successes, and the world will always need writers of some form. I like writing and that would usually be a perfect combination: what you’re good at, what people pay for, and what you like.

That’s the message we so often receive these days. “Follow your passion and you’ll love every second. It’s easy to get the feeling that our work should bring us all the fulfilment we seek in life. We’re inundated with images of success and stories of those at the top of their game. They followed their passion, now they work in that dream job.

But you can like something too much to get paid for it. We draw enjoyment from our creative outlets and hobbies exactly because they are not linked with monetary gain. They are things we do just for the sake of it. Introducing money can suck our the enjoyment and turn a passion into a job.

To be clear, it’s possible to be passionate about one’s job and enjoy one’s work. I suppose the emphasis here is that a job is sometimes just that: a job. If I were to try and write for a living, there would be some days when I feel like I’m following my passion. And some days when I hate writing but I have to just do it anyway.

If you manage to turn that passion into a job, then you do so in every sense. Every job has its good and bad days. Some days you work for love, and many days you work for money.

So when I say “don’t follow your passion” what I really mean is “don’t always follow your passion for your work”. At the moment I have a job which involves washing dishes. I’m obviously not passionate about washing dishes. Few people are. But washing dishes allows me to do the things that I actually care about.

The word itself, a staple of CVs and job applications across the Anglophone world, has lost something of its etymology. The word stems from the Latin “to suffer”. The original sense of the word is maintained in some languages, like German (Leidenschaft “passion”, Leiden “suffering”).

Following your passion often sounds like you reach a point when your love of something makes it easy. Actually, passion is caring about something so much that we will suffer for it. Our passions aren’t just “things we feel strongly about”. They are the pursuits for which we suffer, and gladly.

To that end, I even embrace the fact that I wait tables and wash dishes, or wake up early to sit in the quiet and write before I do anything else. Learning to enjoy the small acts of suffering actually heightens our sense of passion.

Life, in any case, is not about any single pursuit. It is unlikely for the majority of people that they will draw all their satisfaction from their work. More likely, work is the means by which they can find fulfilment in other ways.

It’s worth remembering that we are more than our occupational titles. They are called “job descriptions”, not “people descriptions”, after all.

So at the moment I write mostly for free. In fact, hosting this website leaves us with a net loss, in purely financial terms. Real Rose doesn’t make any money from the writing itself. Time spent washing dishes is exchanged for the site you’re looking at this second.

In the end, some things are worth doing just for the sake of it. They needn’t be spoiled with money.