HealthTraining & Performance

5 Lies You've Been Told About "Following Your Passion"

Nearly everything people think is true about living their best life is wrong

Passion can be a gift or a curse. (Photo: vernonwiley/iStock)
Passion can be a gift or a curse.

A few years ago, when I began to focus more on my writing career, my mom, a former writer herself, gave me a book titled Passion: Every Day. It was filled with inspiring quotes like “I dare you, while there is still time, to have a magnificent obsession” and “follow your desire as long as you live.” The book is part of a larger canon that argues that the key to a good life is just magically finding your passion—a word often vaguely used to describe a general enthusiasm, drive, or intensity for something—and then following it wherever it leads. You might recognize this type of language from hokey Instagram posts. 

There’s only one problem: in researching, reporting, and writing my new book, The Passion ParadoxI learned that nearly everything people think about passion is wrong. So, let’s bust some myths. 

What People Say: “Find Your Passion

The reality: You don’t find it. You cultivate it. Expecting to find something that feels perfect right away sets you up for frustration, constant seeking. Lower the bar from “perfect” to “this is interesting” and choose activities that offer these big three traits linked to long-term passion, performance, and life-satisfaction:

  • Autonomy: having control over what you do. 
  • Mastery: the ability to make clear and tangible progress. 
  • Belonging: a sense of community.   

What People Say: “Quit Your Day Job

The reality: Bad idea. The research shows that individuals who pursue their passions as side-gigs and gradually ramp up are much more successful over the long-haul. This is because there’s less pressure, so you can take more risks. Don’t quit your job too fast. 

What People Say: “Go Big or Go Home”  

The reality: Dumb! People with that attitude tend to end up home. They get injured or burn out from doing too much, too fast, too soon. Much better to take small and consistent steps, which lead to big gains.

What People Say: “Follow Your Passion”  

The reality: Definitely wrong. You want your passion to follow you. If you follow your passion, you set yourself up to go down a slippery slope of craving, chasing external validation. That’s why obsessive passion is associated with anxiety, depression, cheating, and burnout.

What People Say: “Be Balanced

The reality: Passion and balance are antithetical. Aiming to be balanced as a driven pusher is just fighting against yourself. That’s no fun. Better than balance: developing astute self-awareness so you can prioritize and make wise tradeoffs. 

My hope is that The Passion Paradox gives you pratices to implement in day-to-day life to develop passion and then channel it in a productive manner. Passion can be a gift or a curse. What direction it takes depends on you.

Brad Stulberg (@Bstulberg) is a performance coach and writes Outside’s Do It Better column. He is also the author of the new book The Passion Paradox: A Guide to Going All-In and Discovering the Benefits of an Unbalanced Life. 

Support Outside Online

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.

Contribute to Outside
Filed To: ScienceWellnessPerformance EnhancementBooksEvergreen
Lead Photo: vernonwiley/iStock

When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small commission. Outside does not accept money for editorial gear reviews. Read more about our policy.

More Health