Pursuing your passion seems like a good enough idea until rent is due. Unfortunately, passion isn’t enough to pay the bills.

Burnt out at work? Want to try a new career? Go back to school? What should you do with your life? Where should you turn next?

If you’re looking for any sort of career advice, it’s likely you’ve heard a certain suggestion before: Pursue your passion! In this economy, you’ll barely make any money no matter what you do, so why not do something you’re passionate about?

It sounds like a dream. You could move to a country with a low cost of living, then if your passion earns only a couple of dollars a day, you’d still be fine. You just need to find a thousand people passionate about the same things and convince them to give you a hundred dollars a year!

Yeah, right. That’s not exactly how the world works. Passion is rarely enough to get you through on its own. (Click here to tweet this thought.) Customers rarely pay a premium for “passion.” And when you’re not getting paid enough, it’s hard to stay passionate about your passion.

When passion just doesn’t cut it

Finding a project you love is all well and good on a sunny day when you’re feeling okay. But on those gray days when you’re suffering from the flu or you’re otherwise down, passion is rarely enough to get it done.

You may wind up asking yourself if you’re doing the right thing. Can you justify giving up a more lucrative career — one that left you free time to pursue your passion after hours — just to do something that sounds fun?

I know that feeling. At the most basic level, I spend every day writing. I’m passionate about writing and the topics I cover. But today, it’s too cold out, I didn’t get enough sleep and all I can think about is crawling into a nice warm bed. Yet, I’m sitting here, typing up a post just for you. How do I keep it up?

Instead of your passion, pursue this

There’s another route you could go. You could take on anything that pays the bills, then pursue fun projects you’re passionate about on the side. This is exactly the route I took when I was a freelancer fresh out of college. That approach, as it happens, leads straight to passion burnout.

Unless you consider wanting to eat on a regular basis to be your passion, passion isn’t the problem here. But when your main focus is the work you actually enjoy, you have to pay the bills with whatever you can shoehorn into your schedule.

The reason I’m still planted firmly at my keyboard on a day when I don’t have an immediate deadline is not just because I’m passionate about writing. I also have a sense of purpose. Besides following your passion, you also need to define your purpose.

I write about topics relevant to entrepreneurs and help businesses with their content because I know my writing makes a difference for them.

For example, I write articles that give freelancers advice about paying taxes. I cover the nuts and bolts of small businesses. I help my friends with their wacky Kickstarter ideas. My purpose sustains my passion. My work is something I’ll stick to whether or not I feel passionate about writing anything today.

Where passion and purpose intersect

There’s this niche of writers who turn out articles on how to find your passion (and pursue it!) Each article seems virtually identical.

A particularly persistent piece of advice is to look at what you enjoyed as a child. I don’t know about you, but my childhood interests were pretty diverse. There was a time when digging large holes in the backyard entirely consumed my attention.

At another point, I was obsessed with mythology. My interests waxed and waned like any other kid’s, and that’s a good thing. Until you’ve had the chance to try a whole bunch of things, you probably won’t have a good idea of what you enjoy.

You’ve got to find your purpose as well as your passion — and then find a place where both intersect. It may be easier to find a day job you can tolerate. But the only way to find something that works for you is to go out and try different options.

Get involved with different groups and to explore different purposes you care about. You don’t need an all-consuming cause, but you do need something you care enough about to give up sleeping in on the weekends.

Only then will you really be capable of pursuing your passion, and your purpose along with it.

Thursday Bram writes about the business of writing, along with small business and freelance topics. You can find Thursday on Twitter.


  1. Alicia Rades

    Great article, Thursday! I’m a firm believer that you can make a career out of your passion, but you’re so right when it comes to finding where passion and purpose converge.

  2. Matt Schmidt

    Old joke: Whats the difference between a guitar player and a large pizza? The pizza can feed a family of four. Passion is important but cannot stand on its own. You still need the skills to be successful in your career. Passion is the fuel that keeps you going even in low times of uncertainty and doubt.

  3. Jared Barneck

    Yeah . . . I say become a software developer because you can make good money working 40 hours a week. All your coding in college can be done in the area of your passion. Then get a job for a company in the area of your passion. Software Developers can work everywhere, and there are software developers in almost all fields. A few fields don’t have them. For example, no, there are no software developers at New York Hot Dog stands. But when they take your credit card, you can be sure they are using a system written by a software developer.

  4. Fee Ett

    Love this article. Gonna add it to buffer and share.

  5. Cassie Nolan

    PURPOSE. Oh man, Thursday, thank you for this post. I’m a writer, too, and I recently went full-time freelance. Now, I had no misconceptions about the realities of freelancing–I knew it wasn’t the whole laptop-on-the-beach thing–but I underestimated how truly tough it can be to fill your own schedule, hold yourself accountable, push yourself to do more when there’s no employer to report to… And I’m naturally a very driven person! I love the idea of remembering my purpose when writing is just not doing it for me that day. Fantastic.

  6. Kara Johanson

    You can pursue your passion without going broke by exploring possible jobs that are directly related to your passion and by finding satisfaction in being involved with your passion and see where it goes.

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