Is the “Follow your Passion” advice misdirected and dangerous?

A Question, from a thoughtful Rad Reader


I love answering questions from the community and this particular exchange was better suited as a blog post. It refers to my article on Quartz, “The Number.”

http://qz.com/816046/i-spent-15-years-confusing-money-with-happiness-heres-how-i-learned-to-stop/

TL;DR

The question goes as follows:

You talk about mindfulness, not seeking material things, and pursuing your passion — but only after having made a decent amount of money working in finance. You have never actually really worried about running out of money, so are you armchair quarterbacking here?

(See full email below)

My Response

Thank you for this great question. I think about this often through a series of lens.

Privilege

I am very cognizant of my privilege — the system works well for folks with my gender, skin color, socio-economic standing, and the related networks that this gives me access to. I also recognize that much of my writing is aimed at a group that shares similar privilege. And I struggle with that being the current scope of my impact. But more to come on this in the future.

It all Begins with Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Practices

I strongly believe in the power of developing these practices. Reflection, gratitude, community, focus, meditation, mindfulness, authentic sharing.

More importantly, I think that there is joy to be found in deep, uncomfortable introspection. In my finance career, I did not do that work. I hustled. I sprinted. I refused to look within. I worried. I was scared. I had bad anxiety.

I feel very confident that these practices are a powerful first step towards feeling more whole. And they are accessible (in some format) to most professionals and often free. Typically what is lacking is the awareness and the habit formation required to make them stick. The opportunity for this blog to help with that is truly exciting.

Big Questions versus Little Questions

“The quality of your life is measured by the quality of your questions.”

Going back to my experience as a finance professional, I never asked myself: Why? (and its variants)

  • Why am I doing this?
  • What matters?
  • What is my definition of success?
  • What is important in my life, but not urgent?
  • Where do I find joy?

Again, I never invested the time to answer these questions. And who knows how it would have (or wouldn’t have) impacted my life, but I know that my life would’ve been richer (and my mind likely more calm) had I asked the questions. I’ve also realized that there are people who go through their entire lives without asking these questions.

The message <> “quit your job”

In fact, it’s far from it. Even in my early days of entrepreneurship I’m realizing the uncertainty, volatility, lack of cash flow, lack of structure, rate of change, absence of clear success markers make it not for the feint hearted. Not to mention the 99% chance of failure.

The message is a personal one. As you do the work above things may become more clear and the steps incremental. It may be confronting a boss about their management style; changing departments; finding fulfillment in post-work activities; taking a pay cut to join a more entrepreneurial company; finding a good mentor; taking a sabbatical; switching offices; and endless other possibilities.

The continuum is not, IMO, stuck in a job (on the left) and quit your job (on the right). There is a healthy middle, with fulfilling work, good colleagues, companies with missions, and learning opportunities.

Hope that helps.

Here’s the full e-mail:

My earnest question to you is that have you wondered if you would have written the same piece (i.e. had the same view) if you hadn’t had a 14 year background in high finance that must have left you with nice nest egg — which in a frame of reference would be much bigger than most other people? (…)

Your point on modifying ambition to pursue a ‘lifestyle’ entrepreneurship venture is fascinating. More so for me since being unable to attain fulfillment from a corporate career spanning several global regions I have gravitated increasingly towards the concept of ‘lifestyle’ entrepreneurship. Being a avid reader and listener of the likes of Tim Ferris and his many podcast guests has only fueled this fascination further.

However, the question I posed to you has always come to my mind when I’ve read or heard more of likes the Chris Sacca, Naval Ravikant, Derek Sivers etc and their perspectives on life. The common trend in majority of these peoples perspective comes out as: mindfulness, gratitude, lack of will to acquire material possessions etc. But I always wonder, if they hadn’t had that level of material success would they have made the same choices or pursued the same life they can now ‘afford’ to lead.

I am drawn deeply to the idea of value creation through entrepreneurship and strongly feel true success comes to those who pursue their ventures based on higher ideals than just money. I also hypothesize that it may be more fulfilling vs climbing the corporate ladder. However I still struggle to embrace it since being an average joe; ‘money and the fear of not having enough money’ plays an integral role in my life. And as I think about personal fulfillment I remain conflicted if I am doing right by my wife and 2 kids to strive for what may be ‘settling’ vs. ‘hustling’ for more material gains.

I love answering these questions — Please keep them coming to [email protected]

Khemaridh is the Creator of Rad Reads. Sign up to crush it every Saturday morning

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