Follow Your Passion…Or Not

Depending on what you read, you will find advice to ‘follow your passion’ and, alternatively, ‘don’t follow your passion’. The former assumes you will be able to turn an interest into a career if you just love it enough to do what it takes to make it happen. The latter recommends that you should find something that you can be good at, that you can earn money doing, and then become passionate about that thing. It’s more of a decision than something that just happens naturally. Are the two schools of thought that different? I think it’s more a matter of timing.

When does the average person figure out a passion that can be turned into a career? It’s doubtful that it’s during childhood. Children are exposed to such a limited number of possibilities, that it would be odd to find a young child who wants to be a neurobiologist, network administrator, or accountant when they grow up. If you ask, you will probably hear a limited list of occupations such as garbage collector, doctor, princess, or firefighter.

It’s not until the teen years that kids are expected to choose a career that, theoretically, they’ll be doing for the rest of their lives, but it’s often the wrong decision. There are many midlife career changers who tire of the career choice made at 17 or 18 years old and follow what is eventually deemed their true passion. It could be 20 years or more before an individual really figures out what they want to do when they ‘grow up’, and there could be many twists and turns along the way.

In my own case, I had no idea that I would want to be a developer until I was first exposed to a short program written in BASIC. Unfortunately, I was months away from graduating and starting a career that wasn’t a great fit. After years of growing dissatisfaction, I realized my true calling was programming. I was so passionate, or maybe obsessed, that I spent every possible moment learning to code and reading dozens of tech books. Luckily for my family, my children were in their teens and self-sufficient at that point, so they managed not to go without being fed or bathed.

In the tech industry, we are fortunate that opportunities are plentiful, and the work is often rewarding. I’ve seen high levels of career passion when talking with developers and data professionals at conferences and meetups. Maybe it’s the atmosphere, but some people can’t stop talking about the cool tech project they are doing at home with their children or the interesting problem they have just solved at work. If not for passion and enthusiasm, why would anyone spend a weekend at a hackathon or an evening at a user group meetup when they could be home with their families?

Is technology just a job for you, or have you managed to follow your passion?

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