The Passion Career

I’ve told this story a few times before, but perhaps a short recap would be useful.

Once upon a time there was a young boy who dreamed of being a writer for living, but upon getting to high school and learning how little that could pay (in fact there was a recent story on that saying the average writer in Canada only makes about $12,000/year) he decided to instead leverage his math and science talents into a degree in Chemical Engineering instead. Somewhat unsatisfied with his career choice he became obsessed with the idea of early retirement or financial independence which would let him then switch back to his dream job of being a writer with out needing the money from it. He figures he could do all of this by his 40th birthday or so.

While this seem sort of practical way to do things to me it doesn’t acknowledge that until very recently I always doubted that I could be a writer. Self doubt in my ability to write has always haunted me and despite any success to the contrary I always thought writing for a career was more fantasy than reality for me.  That is why perhaps I would write posts here, but often ignore my writing other projects.

So while I like the idea of the career advice of follow your passion I tend to be a bit wary of it since I find people easily confuse excitement for passion. In fact I just recently read something that I thought nailed the difference between the two. People that found their passion in their work life don’t talk about how exciting, challenging or stimulating the work is but rather they speak in terms of meaningful, significant and fulfilling their work is.

I find writing fulfilling to me. I’m more complete when I have done some writing, but I also understanding writing a book is a LOT of work. For example, so far this month I’ve written 19,000 words on my novel and I can assure you the majority of it wasn’t exciting. In fact, long stretches of it are making me sit down at my desk and slog through a scene that I need in the book but I’m not even that interested in writing at that moment in time.

I find there are a lot of ‘want to be’ writers in the world. They love the idea of writing as a career in their fantasies, but often don’t actually finish a manuscript. They end up burning through their excitement in the first five chapters and then facing the long painful climb to finish the book they give up. I get that since I’ve done it numerous times myself.

Yet when I speak to actual writers who do this for a career they often comment on working six days a week, the horrors of having an editor or agent rip your beloved book to pieces, and the the tough work keeping up social media and other means of promoting their work. Being an actual writers means you get fulfillment from your work even when the entire process can be painful and you know won’t get easier as you go along.

So yes, go for passion in your career if you want, but please do keep in mind the difference between passion and excitement.  To be successful in just about anything requires doing work that isn’t always exciting.

What are your thought on doing your passion for career advice? Pointless, a dream, possible or just difficult to do?

3 thoughts on “The Passion Career”

  1. I feel that people very often confuse passion with excitement. Being passionate about your career doesn’t mean that it is always exciting. My career is meaningful and fullfilling, but not always exciting. Great post. Thanks!

    I especially liked this part:

    “So yes, go for passion in your career if you want, but please do keep in mind the difference between passion and excitement. To be successful in just about anything requires doing work that isn’t always exciting.”

  2. I think this year – specifically the last couple of months – was the first time it truly sunk in that I no longer thought of writing fiction as a guilty pleasure and probable time waster. I think I was thinking of what it could do for me vs. now thinking that there’s value in entertaining and communicating with larger groups of people. Also no longer a passion but just an alternate thing I could do that I enjoy for the most part. Re-reading Elizabeth George’s book on her writing process “Write Away” and her somewhat left brained, craftsman-like approach to fiction (very like me) just kind of knocked the final bit of magical fairy dust stuffing left out of my head.

    Also getting older, more pragmatic and less “romantic”/idealistic has been helpful. Even in my profession, I’m not “passionate” about it (not sitting there reading tax code or GAAP manuals every night). I enjoy certain parts very much, I’m disciplined, and dedicated to doing a good job and making things run smoothly for members of my team. It’s enough that I’m happy to show up every day.

    One thing I’ve found in attending a writing class that I was never aware of is that there seems to be a major Dunning-Kruger effect alive and well in the writing world. The best writers in the class are the least confident of their writing. Reminds me of something Ira Glass said: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

    I wouldn’t pay too much attention to that G&M article since they’re discussing literary fiction (assuming that since you’re writing fantasy, you’re producing commercial fiction). This is a better article: http://catherineryanhoward.com/2012/05/24/wait-until-you-hear-this-the-taleist-self-publishing-survey/

    PS – if you ever need a critiquer, you can send your stuff my way. My son reads sci-fi and is a BRUTAL judge, jury and executioner. He’s been incredibly helpful to me as he can actually articulate why he thinks something isn’t working. Most people can know it doesn’t work but not know why or how it could be done differently.

  3. I’m definitely working in what I’m passionate about so I think it’s possible. It’s teaching. I’m excited about it and it’s incredibly meaningful and fulfilling but you’re right, it’s full of boring tasks and politics that I certainly could do without. Yet it is still my passion.
    Great post. I’m a new reader to your blog (a Canadian who found you through MMM) and I really like it. Thank you!

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