Should you Follow Your Passion or Not


The good thing about living in our age is that the internet is filled with career advice. The bad thing about living in our age is that the internet is filled with contradicting career advice.

The economic crisis happened the year I graduated, which meant I didn’t have to look far and wide to discover that “Go to school, get into a good university, get a good job and you’re set for life” no longer applied. All I had to do was go to work one day and see the empty desks around me. Apparently our peers in the Western world had discovered that a bit earlier but living in the Middle East, someone seemed to have missed the memo. 

So at some point in your life, it’s 6abee3i jiddan (natural) to type into google, “I hate my job wh…” and google totally gets you. The trick is to somehow find your way through the 264,000,000 results that come up.


Some people will tell you to follow your passion, and again, if you live in the part of the world where you’re branded an engineer or a doctor from the day you’re born, then there’s a high chance your passion is very much different from what you’ve studied. However, the main risk connected with following your passion is you’ll be broke — for a very, very long time — and following your passion — or doing anything in fact — is pretty difficult when you’re broke and hungry.

“Following your passion – or doing anything in fact – is pretty difficult when you’re broke and hungry.” Tweet this

Then Cal Newport entered the scene with his message, “Why ‘Following your passion’ is bad advice,” in his book So Good they Can’t Ignore YouHis advice focuses on how passion comes after working really, really hard on something, and being really good at it.

Personally, I support the second message, because of a few truths:

  1. Not everybody knows what their passion is
  2. The world might not be willing to pay you for your passion

So let’s say you’re really passionate about counting baby coconuts. The most that someone might pay you for counting coconuts is a free baby coconut drink. But the world might not be ready for your counting-coconut-services, so following your passion happens to be really really really bad advice.

So let’s say you’re one of those people who doesn’t know what their passion is.It’s very easy to read all this stuff on the internet and get pretty pumped up about quitting your job and hitchhiking around the globe to discover what your passion is. It’s easy theoretically, but pretty hard practically (read $$$$).

But here’s one thing to know about those successful ‘follow your passion’ stories on the internet. To each one, there are probably five failure stories that don’t get reported.

So before quitting your job, find out exactly what’s bothering you. You might not be having a passion crisis. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you get intellectually challenged at your job?
  2. Are you building your skill set?
  3. Do you enter a state of flow while you’re working?
  4. Is the world ready to pay you for your services?

If the first three answers are no, then those might be your reasons for ‘hating your job’ not that you’re not passionate about it. Maybe if you find something else in the field that intellectually challenges you then you might throw those ‘Malaysia, truly Asia’ brochures out the window.

If you do know what your passion is, and really want to make money out of it, then work at monetizing it before you quit your day job. Ask the world if they are ready to pay for it and don’t be like that coconut-counter.

The trick is whatever you do, do not make rash emotional decisions based on one bad day at work. Even people who follow their passions will tell you it’s not always good in the ‘Living My Dream’ world. There are difficult clients, and tasks they hate doing but have to do it anyway. And if you’re not really convinced, read Cal Newport’s “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”. He definitely does a better job convincing than I do.

Image: Google screenshot and

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Avoid Falling Back into Old Habits

If picking up and maintaining new good habits were easy, those habits would already be in our lives. Sometimes it’s really hard to reprogram our auto-pilot systems and replace them with new habits. Willpower alone doesn’t always work, so if you’re scared you’d return to old habits, below are a few tips to consider.

1) Use ‘Loss aversion’ to your advantage. Loss aversion theory suggests that the pain of losing a dollar is more than the pleasure of acquiring one. So let’s say, you make a promise that every time you return to your bad habit, you’re going to give out a dollar. For some people, that might be enough to make them stop.

While the idea is appealing, if the dollar is given away for a good cause, it is easy to mentally ‘win’ in both situations. If you don’t return to your habit, you don’t lose the dollar. If you do return to your old habit, you give the dollar away to charity (which is not so bad). That would render this method useless in controlling your habits. Some popular authors, like Chris Bailey author of “New Year’s Resolutions Guideline” suggest that you give the money to a cause you don’t like so it would feel like a punishment and make you stop.

2) Make plans around inflection points; points where the temptation to quit is strongest. This was mentioned before in this blog but I shall reiterate. In his book, ‘The Power of Habits’ Charles Duhigg writes about a study to find out the type of people who were mostly likely to fail in rehabilitation after undergoing hip or knee surgery. The participants were given a booklet with details of the rehab schedule, and blank spaces after “My goals for this week are….” They found out that patients who recovered more quickly were those who filled their booklets with plans, and their plans focused on how they would handle a specific moment of anticipated pain. The idea was also covered in Psyblog, ”Make a very specific ‘if-then’ plan.” Anticipate weak points in the plan where you could fail and make detailed plans around that.

Inflection points could appear when your daily schedule is disrupted like when you travel for holidays. It’s very easy to quit new habits and relapse to old habits since it’s “Just for one month.” So it is imperative that people plan ahead.

3) Peer pressure is a very powerful force that always gets blamed for bad habits. So why don’t we use it to reinforce good habits? Let’s say your resolution is to read one book per month. You could join a monthly book club, and that commitment could push you to read. Alternatively, just have a virtual reading partner you could discuss a particular book with every months.

The most important thing to remember is that breaking out of old habits is difficult. Habits form neural pathways in your brain and restructuring them is no easy feat. So if you ever fall back into your old habits, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, learn to forgive yourself.

So here’s a challenge for you; which tip can you immediately put to action today to avoid falling back into old habits?  Leave your comments below and feel free to share with your friends.

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Upgrade Your Auto-Pilot System

In a previous post, I wrote about how it is necessary to integrate your resolutions within your life’s auto-pilot system. In this context, this system includes all the habits you’ve acquired over the years. The interesting thing is that as we grow older and shoulder more responsibilities, we forget to take a moment to upgrade this auto-pilot system. Let’s take an iphone example from my own phone. All the notifications in the photo below are because I haven’t updated the apps AND the iOS software (the solitary notification on the settings).

88 things to update!

88 things to update!

Likewise, we tend to walk into new roles with the old habits, and that’s part of the reason why you might find fresh graduates entering the workplace with ‘a student mentality’ (never a compliment, trust me!), or husbands entering a marriage with a ‘bachelor’s mentality’. So in order  to upgrade, take note of the following:

1) Write down your current roles and responsibilities, and list down all the habits that are connected to each role. You don’t have to do this on your own. Sometimes you can’t actually, because we tend to be blind to our habits. So it may help to work with a close family member or a friend as they can point out habits ‘we do without consciously thinking about’.

2) Dissect. When it comes to our habits, it helps to understand why some habits exist in the first place. As previously mentioned, many bad habits that are in our lives exist because we get some sort of payoff out of them. Once we assess the payoff and it becomes clear that the payoff is not worth the drawback that comes with the habit, then it would be easier to get rid of it. And sometimes we may realize that we don’t really need to get rid of it, because the payoff is actually important for us, so we can stop being guilty about it.

3) Habit replacement. In Charles Duhigg’s book, ‘The Power of Habit’, he writes about the habit loop shown in the figure below. The habit loop is given in generic terms, and consists of the habit trigger (cue), the habit itself and the reward. So one of the  methods to change a habit is to experiment with rewards, understand what drives the habit (what the true payoff is), and replace the habit with something that would result in a similar reward.

4) Repeat the behavior consistently until it becomes a habit. Some people claim it takes 20 to 30 days to make a new habit, but there’s no clear cut rule for that. One thing that could drive you to keep a daily new habit even when you don’t feel motivated is the “Calender method”. A blogger on wrote about how Seinfield used it to write jokes everyday. The blogger, Brad Isaac, wrote, “[Seinfield] told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. ‘After a few days you’ll have a chain. You’ll like seeing that chain. Your only job next is to not break the chain.'”

Having an optimized auto-pilot system helps because it contains habits that move us forward regardless of how motivated (or not) we feel on that day. The thing to remember is to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and take a step everyday so in a month we can look back and see that we’re 30 steps ahead (or 28…depends on the month :-P).

So here’s a challenge for you; pick a bad habit, dissect it and write down your plans to replace it in the comments below.

Feel free to share with your friends.

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