Think about some of the suggestions we constantly receive not only from our friends and family, but also from society. Some examples include: Do what you love, follow your dreams, and anything is possible. These look great on a poster, but living out those lines can often be a recipe for disaster.
I say that as a person who has followed all three pieces of advice in my life. I earned a degree doing what I loved. After graduation, I moved across the country as a literal embodiment of the “follow your dreams” philosophy. And even today, the daily challenge I set for myself is to “do the impossible perfectly.”
I have to admit life is going pretty well. So, why do I think those nuggets of wisdom are more fool’s gold than valuable life philosophies? Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and countless celebrities are examples of those who found success following a dream and doing what they love, but when you look closer at their lives, you often discover a person who relied less on passion and dreams and more on an unwavering commitment to the kind of hard work that leads to success.
I wanted to become a journalist, so I did what I loved and earned a degree to start myself on that path. When I graduated, I followed my dreams and moved almost 1,000 miles to work at a job that paid just over minimum wage. It was in that job when I started learning hard truths. Dreams are fickle things that constantly change and just because you love something doesn’t mean it’s meant to be your career.
Despite discovering that harsh reality, I enjoyed what I did. I was passionate. Through hard work, I created opportunities for myself. If you had told me then I would be where I am today, I wouldn’t have believed you. In that moment, I wouldn’t have seen the path that led from there to here. Such a journey would have seemed impossible.
Now I know better. My experiences doing what I loved taught me that passion is a starting point and not an end goal. Maybe that’s why I’ve been successful, at least through the measure I use to define success. I’ve learned that slogans such as “do what you love” and “follow your dreams” are a recipe for disaster if you’re not also taking advantage of the other ingredients for success.
Don’t just think about the effect your choices will have, but think about the effect it might have on the person you may become many years from now. I would never be the person I am today if I hadn’t first been that person who blindly pursued dreams. But, I’ll never become the person I should be tomorrow unless I accept that passion only leads to success when nurtured by a desire to work as perfectly as possible.
In the end, the suggestions we receive from others are nothing more than attempts to use their past to better understand our future. If we take those suggestions the way they’re intended, our decisions will always be better for it.