An Open Letter To ‘Coaches’ Telling Others To Follow Their Passions


Dear Passion Advocates,

“Follow your passion”

You charge upwards of $100 an hour, and that’s what you tell me? I could’ve gotten that advice for free in 5 seconds flat. Google made that easy.

After I tell you virtually my whole life story, you couldn’t give me something a bit more concrete?

No plan? No goals?

What does ‘follow your passion’ even mean? It’s so vague; it’s hardly ‘legit’ advice.

Are you even a life coach because you followed your passion? Or did you become one because you couldn’t figure out what you wanted in life, and then all of a sudden, you had a light bulb moment where you realized you wanted to help people… Voila, you became a life coach!

(An email from a source about a story I wrote previously.)

Now you spend your life telling others to follow their passion because that’s what you did.

Tell me something; are you successful as a coach?

Did following your passion help you pay the rent and feed your family?

Or are you like this guy?

In a Reddit thread about quitting jobs to follow their passion, this guy has one of the most depressing stories I’ve read:

“I quit my full-time job in radio to be a stand-up comic. So far, I’ve moved back into my mom’s place, work at a grocery store to pay rent. I’m a student at Second City, and so far I’ve made… 40 dollars telling jokes.”

The guy quit his job, and earned $40 following his passion for writing jokes. Now I’m sure he’s a good person, and possibly a talented comedian. But wow… talk about failure!

Coaches, if you think this is a coincidence, think again!

A $165,000 Debt for a Career You Love

Freddy Arsenault loves acting, and he’s had some successes on Broadway. But is that enough to justify a $165,000 student loan for an MFA in acting? You be the judge.

Less than 15% of Actors Equity Association’s paying members, a union for theatre actors, manage to land acting jobs on a given week. On a yearly basis, only 42.5% of their 40,000 members find work. It seems like a high percentage but if you think about it, more than 50% of their members are unemployed every year!

Arsenault, despite his Broadway stints, isn’t living the high life either. To pay off his student loan, he keeps a day job as a real estate agent.

Sure, Arsenault is doing better than the $40 guy, but he’s not exactly living the good life coaches say following your passion is supposed to bring.

If your interests lie in health and sciences, you can study in-demand health subjects like Physical therapy. The same goes for math lovers, who study finance and eventually become big shots on Wall Street. Unfortunately, other passions, like acting and other creative endeavors aren’t in such high demands.

Passion is NOT Always Followed by Riches, Fame and Glory

You know another phrase I hate, but often hear from coaches?

“Do what you love and the money will follow.”

As illustrated by the examples above, this isn’t always the case.

Let’s just get this straight, okay?

This is a made-up belief peddled by “guroos” totally clueless when it comes to building a successful career or business. I’d wager they’re not really feeling as ‘inspired,’ ‘balanced,’ and ‘blessed’ with their lives as they’d have us believe.

It’s the same with career coaches telling students to study a course they’re good at, only for the student to discover in the end that:

  • They don’t like the actual job
  • It doesn’t pay well
  • It pays well and they like the work, but the competition is crazy for the few well-paying jobs

Grit, Hard Work and a Solid Plan: The Three Passion-Fueling Elements No One Talks About

YouTube star Michelle Phan built an empire creating beauty tutorial videos.

Now, hundreds of aspiring YouTube stars are shooting similar how-to makeup videos and following Phan’s route. After five or maybe seven videos, they give up.

These girls are passionate about beauty, but they lacked grit and a solid plan.

For the business coaches out there, I admire how you cheer and support your clients when they’re just starting out.

But where are you when they fail?

Instead of telling clients to seek investors, “keep at it,” or worse – consult their “network” – to test their ideas, why not teach them how to do a proper business validation first?

One of my high school friends loves skin whitening creams and DIY beauty products. After graduating with a degree in management and becoming a licensed Esthetician, she concocted her own line of homemade face creams and bath soaps. She built a website, spent hours marketing the products, created a video and even paid for a professional-looking online store.

“With the popularity of homemade beauty products”, she said, “and the affordable price of my face creams, I can earn a good living out of this.”

How wrong she was. Turns out, majority of her potential customers would rather make their own face cream instead of buying it from her. They wanted her recipe, not the product.

The Importance of Market Validation in Passion Projects

Before launching a product, investing time and money on a blog, or hiring a developer, aspiring entrepreneurs should first have a PAYING customer.

Not a hypothetical customer.

Not your mom or “bro” who said yes, they’d buy from you to avoid hurting your feelings.

Ryon Lane, co-founder of YOGO mats, did a Kickstarter campaign before producing a batch and going all out on building a website and investing in a Shopify account. He didn’t rely on hunches, or supportive but non-paying friends.

He’s passionate about yoga and running, but he tested the profitability of his idea first. As a result, his passion project earned more than $33,000 in financial backing from Kickstarter and is now a successful business. They didn’t have to burn through millions of investor money, or incur hundreds of thousands in debt to do this.

A Wild Goose Chase

“Find your passion”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from well-meaning teachers, parents, and coaches.

You say this like it’s easy to figure out.

Do you really think everyone has an innate, all-powerful desire to do something? Some people don’t even know what to do with their life, let alone what their passion is!

I understand that following your passion is an inspiring thing to say, maybe that’s why it’s your go-to tip. The problem is there’s no scientific basis that everyone has a one true calling in life. Finding your passion is like a wild goose chase.

The “follow your passion” advice, according to Cal Newport, makes two wrong assumptions.

That people are born with something they want to do.

Connecting that one passion to a job or business means you’ll enjoy said venture.

The Society of Human Resource Management’s 2012 Research on employee job satisfaction, however, notes that there’s more to it, such as a good boss, career advancement and having friends at work.

A Better Advice

Okay, let’s just cool down a bit. I think I’ve ranted enough and hopefully argued my case enough as well.

According to Newport, we are born curious to try new things. But as we get older, the pressure to choose one path becomes stronger. That’s when many of us start getting stuck. We’re so terrified of making the wrong choice, that many of us don’t bother deciding at all.

Instead of picking one thing then forcing yourself to stick with it for life, just think of every choice as a test drive.

Choose three to five things that excite you, from jobs, business ideas and hobbies even. Then look up top performers in those fields and find out more about them.

What did they study? Did they have some sort of professional training? How many hours do they dedicate practicing their craft? What does their typical day look like? More importantly, does their life sound exciting to you?

Get a sense of their personal and professional life. Understanding these things early on gives you a glimpse of what your future may look like, once you step on their shoes.

For me, spending a day researching this information is way better than spending four years on a course you may or may not like, and another 15 years on a job that slowly kills you from within.

So next time you’re tempted to say, “follow your passion,” remember that you can do better.

I know you can.

You too, have valuable experiences of your own. Heed my words of caution here, and don’t keep parroting the same thing other people are saying. Instead, mine your life for unique lessons you can share to everyone.