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Can following your passion really pay the bills?

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Earlier this month, I came across an article by business author Jeff Haden who said telling people to do what they love is “terrible advice”.

Haden’s argument was that people confuse their hobby or interest as a passion and, on top of that, believe people would pay them good money to do that passion as a job.

He also said passion is something that takes time to nurture: “Where business success is concerned, passion is almost always the result of time and effort. It’s not a prerequisite.”

While I do see where Haden is coming from, I can’t say I’m fully in his corner.

You see, I’ve been lucky enough to strike gold when it came to my career. Writing is my passion, and now I get paid to do it.

But while mulling over Haden’s article, and over the course of several conversations with friends and colleagues in the past week, I’m starting to wonder if doing what you love isn’t all rainbows and butterflies.

Three years ago when I started at the magazine, an ex-colleague asked what my interests and hobbies were. Eagerly, I told her I wrote – I was fresh from writing and producing a play, I was still relatively involved in the local poetry scene, and back then, I was in the pre-production stages of writing a book.

Writing was my life, and now it was my job. I thought I had found nirvana.

But almost immediately, she looked me in the eye and said, “Well, now that you’re a journalist, all that is out the door. Writing is the last thing you will want to do after you’ve spent nine hours at work doing it.”

In her defence, her heart was in the right place when she told me that, and she did have a point. Back in school when I worked part-time at an ice cream parlour, the sweet, delicious dessert was the last thing I wanted to eat at the end of the day. When I was working at a toy store in between semesters, as soon as I clocked out I wanted to be as far away from toys and children as possible.

So what made writing any different?

Very few people have managed to marry their passion with their careers. Your job may be a subset of what you love to do, but if you look back to your childhood and revisit your answer to the classic question, “what did you want to be when you grow up?” chances are it’s probably not your current job.

I may have had a limited sample pool, but from the people I’ve asked over the years, there are those who have yet to be what they wanted to be growing up.

However (and this is a very big “however”), things are changing.

My best friend was very recently called to the bar, and in the two decades I’ve known her, she’s always wanted to be a lawyer. Another friend, who grew up reading every book on animals he could get his hands on, is now working at the local zoo. Then there’s the friend who has always had a fervent interest in the entertainment industry is now, as of this half of the year, a founding partner at a production house.

And this is not including the many friends and acquaintances that are, in some shape or form, more confident in chasing their dream.

Maybe we can thank society’s shift in mindset, where people are thinking more globally, or perhaps this change is a result of a supportive education system which encourages students to think outside the box and hone skills that may be have deem unemployable just a few years ago. Or maybe, it’s a testament to Singapore’s growing reputation as a melting pot of innovative creation and entrepreneurial spirit.

Whatever it is, I’m happy to see more and more people prove Haden’s theory may have a couple of gaps.

And judging by the vast array of both personal and professional development opportunities companies are offering their staff, it looks like we might be heading into a generation where what you wanted to be growing up is what you’re actually doing as a grown up.

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