Paid to Eat Pancakes: The Truth about “Passions”

It’s hard to spend more than a few minutes reading blogs centered around life improvement without stumbling onto a post describing how you can totally make a very comfortable living doing what you love (your “passion”), no matter what that thing is. Instead of grinding away at your soul-sucking day job at the accounting firm, you could pull down six figures if you only pursued your true passions of photographing slaughterhouses and playing competitive Parcheesi. Perhaps I’m jaded, but I think a good portion of what’s said in this arena is, frankly, a huge load of crap.

First of all, let’s take a closer look at the word “passion”. The Dictionary application on my Mac offers this as the first definition:

strong and barely controllable emotion

Yes, there are other definitions, but this one is pretty telling about our misuse of this word. I have no problem with your really enjoying making candles or hand-sewing your own undergarments, but let’s pump the brakes a bit before we start calling these things “passions.”

I obviously can’t say this for sure, but when I hear somebody talking about being passionate about composting, I don’t think I’m being unreasonable in thinking that, maybe, they’re overstating it a smidge. In recent years, people have gotten into the habit of using “passion” as a drop-in substitute for “thing I like doing on a Saturday afternoon while I have my Mint Julep.” Passion implies (rather heavily) the idea of pants-on-head, might need a grown up diaper obsession, not enthusiastic enjoyment.

If you wake up in the middle of the night sweating bullets and thinking about turning your family’s garbage into nutrient-rich dirt, then yes, perhaps you are passionate about composting. I’d be willing to bet that’s true of almost nobody.

Now, before you pick up the knitting needles you whittled from used cafeteria trays (now available on Etsy!) and try to open up my throat, just hear me out. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to earn a living doing something you really enjoy — clearly it’s very possible to do that. Hell, I earn a living doing something I really enjoy. The thing is, it depends a great deal on what it is you enjoy. If you really enjoy reading 19th century Russian literature, eating pancakes and slamming Irish Car Bombs during sporting events, your time would probably be best spent looking into making the literature thing your source of income because –and this does make me a little sad– I’ve never been handed a business card by a professional pancake consumer.

In other words, for you to earn money doing something, there must necessarily exist a contingent of people who are willing to pay money to a person in exchange for doing (or teaching them how to do) that thing. It doesn’t matter how awesome you are at accurately estimating the number of chocolate chips in a sealed bag from 20 yards away – it’s unlikely you’re going to find somebody to pay you to do that, even if the Internet has convinced you to call it a “passion.”

Me? My “passions” are few: my family, my religion, and to a much lesser extent, writing and programming. The first two because, well, that’s how I’m wired. The last two because I could chew on your ear for hours about either one and I feel noticeably out of balance if I avoid either for an extended period of time. The thought of stopping either one makes me uncomfortable.

Do I love coffee? Absolutely. Beer and scotch? Big time. Reading? You betcha. Are any of these things passions of mine? Not by a long shot.

If I really wanted to, I could probably come up with some clever ways to make money doing something related to coffee, for example. There are others that already do and I’m honestly happy for them. Trouble is, most people don’t care about coffee as much as those people do — I know I don’t.

So, the next time you download that free eBook on how to turn your passion into a bazillion dollars, remember that it’s going to require two things: that you’re actually, legitimately passionate about something and there exists a market of people who will be willing to give you their beer money in exchange for your angle on that thing.

And don’t misunderstand me here – I’m not calling the “passion = dollars” people out or anything, but make sure that when anybody starts throwing around the word “passion”, realize that their definition is in all likelihood, inflated and inaccurate. Before you spectacularly quit your job to go off and eat pancakes for a living, make sure you’ve really thought it through and that the money you hope to earn is actually out there in the pockets of people who are actually willing to give it.

Now, you yell at me.

Photo by leighmcmahon

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Comments

  1. Great post! Thanks for confirming that much of this “find your passion” stuff is garbage. After more than 65 years in this world, I find that true passions are few and far between. I have experienced only one, had the good fortune to recognize it and to build my life around it. We celebrate our 45th anniversary this fall. That’s passion.
    I have also had the good fortune to have enjoyed every major job I’ve had since high school. I was as enthusiastic about my work when I left each job as I was on day one.
    I would not say that my joy of working could ever come close to approximating a passion, but all of my work enabled me to pay the bills and enjoy some of the comforts and luxuries of life.
    And that is more than enough.

    • Wow – 45 years! A hearty congratulations :)

      My wife and I are going to hit 10 this August!

    • I get your point but I would say that using the word `garbage’ is a bit harsh. I find a lot of people who talk about passion, myself included are genuinely coming from a place of ‘strong and barely controllable emotion’ (that made me laugh out loud by the way Brett).

      I just think somewhere along the way people’s desire to truly break free from a 9-5 job that just paid the bills to do something they love/enjoy a lot/ beats working in a cubicle is very appealing and passion has become a word to convey that as the very word itself carries energy.

      If Tony Robbins, the No 1 Personal Development coach in the world who’s helped millions signs off on his books and audio CDs and his worldwide tours with `Live with passion’ it’s not entirely all garbage. Take from it what you will and meld it to your personality and lifestyle and intrinsic needs.

      Natalie

  2. What if, like you’ve never heard this from me before but I’ll ask again since you made it available, you struggle to even know what your passion is? I find myself second-guessing just about every business decision I make and, in doing so, miss opportunities.

    coherency fading…

    • For me, my “passion” is people. Finding the goodness and light within them and encouraging it to shine…

      in the face of all other obstacles, including themselves.

      JW (my initials)– I have given up a “good job” my stuff, my everything to pursue travel and helping people connect to themselves more…and how to rekindle the love in a relationship. What is it YOU would be willing to give up everything for? To the point of…being called delusional, insane, and not caring?

  3. Wrote a little piece in response: http://thepiercepresley.com/2011/02/22/exchanging-passion-for-dollars-not-about-sex-workers-sorry/. Takeaway: true passions make life better, and if they make money, even better.

  4. Great post despite the tea spurting out my nose when you sideswiped me with that ‘Now available on Etsy’ line – funny!

    I like the way Seth Godin talks about passion:

    He says passion is not ‘project specific’ but ‘person specific.’ He suggests that perhaps rather than looking for something we feel passionate about – as if something external, a project, will spark our passion – we should explore what it means to feel passionate.

    You can bring passion to the project. (http://transformnation.com/1030/byop-bring-your-own-passion/)

    My favorite part of my work is helping people explore their interests and skills and figure out where those overlap with an existing online market that is already looking for that products/service and is willing to pay for it – their “sweet spot.” What is interesting is how many time the passion only comes after they see proof that there is a market.

  5. Hello Brett,

    I just had to leave a comment because you nailed what I have known for a while, but just refusing to admit it.

    In my case it’s a tad annoying to read about all the “follow your passion” posts when I honest to god don’t know what my passion is. You’re right about it being a strong word. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I’m reluctant to call anything I enjoy doing a real passion, and of the things I enjoy there isn’t any I could not live without.

    Reading all these posts and books about passions makes me feel like a somehow broken or incomplete person.

    //sami

  6. Excellent post! This will make me sit down and really think about what my passions are. The way you worded this post makes so much more sense and most likely hits home with a lot of people. Now I need to figure out how to monetize my real passions! Thanks for the inspiring read!

  7. Does this mean I should rethink monetizing my passion for collecting salt and pepper shakers? ;)

    Seriously, Aristotle said it best: “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, lies your calling” — Aristotle.

    As you wrote, it’s important to pay close attention to the “needs of the world” part of any business idea.

  8. I think the whole, “find what you like to do and then find a way to get people to pay you for it” is a response to the mentality that it’s acceptable to work at a job you hate for for 30 years.

    There are things people enjoy doing on Saturday morning, but they would hate doing on a level where they could make a living at it.

    You may like eating pancakes. Can you make a living eating pancakes? Sure. There are professional taste testers and I’m sure some of them work for companies that make pancakes. These people have an incredibly well trained sense of taste and can describe any thing they eat very specifically using 10 to 20 different attributes to the point that they can taste something in 2009 and then tell you when they taste the exact same thing again in 2011 by looking their notes.

    In addition to all the work that you’d have to put into developing such a refined sense of taste, think about the side effects. Could you really enjoy your pancakes if you always noticed every single imperfection and could tell exactly what was wrong with every bite?

    Obviously there isn’t a huge market for people to work as taste testers. Still they are paid well because there are only a very small number of people who are willing to develop the necessary skills to become proficient in this area.

  9. Well, I know what I’m passionate about, and I also feel that my passion isn’t something that’ll turn into a business any time soon. Then again, maybe after pursuing my passion for some odd years there will be something to make of it, but more than likely not where I’m at with it now. (My passion is cars and road course racing. I enjoy autocross but it’s not the same as road course for me.)

  10. I think people don’t have passion anymore. And people who do, passion is fleeting.

    I am passionate about the work I do, most days. But it’s a relationship. I have a relationship with my work. And there are weeks when I want a hall pass.

    It’s a myth that someone is hot for what they do all of the time, and people who propagate that myth, they think other people experience that. It’s the emperor’s clothes.

    People trying to make a career out of their passion without first seeing if it’s viable, well that’s a quick way to lose money and your passion, too.

  11. It’s funny how you ended the post with “Now, you yell at me” when it is quite obvious that you couldn’t wait until a bunch of people threw “YOU ARE SO RIGHT!!” comments at you. Good job.

    But you know… being jaded sucks ass. It doesn’t make you a stronger person and it doesn’t make you better at business, writing or anything else. Nobody needs to hear about what they CAN’T do. Stop giving people shitty advice from a negative perspective; it isn’t productive for anyone.

    • Actually, truthfully, I expected a whole lot more backlash for this than I’ve received thus far, so my comment wasn’t disingenuous (for whatever that’s worth).

      Second, if being annoyed with the glut of snake oil on the Internet that would lead people to believe what I’ve outlined above (and make no mistake, it exists and there’s a shitload of it) makes me jaded, then fine. But, as far as nobody needing to hear what they can’t do, I’d say that’s incorrect: there are plenty of people out there wandering wallet-first into a big ass mistake with a firm handshake and shiny veneers who would love to sell you everything you need to know about how to make money by doing literally anything they want to. Perhaps that doesn’t bother you (and that’s totally fine), but it bothers me and I’m happy to use my half-teaspoon of Internet Influence (or whatever) to try and change it.

      Thanks for the comment (and I mean that sincerely).

  12. Noƿ you made me curious: ¿what is your religion?

  13. First time reader and commenter, here! (Felt the need to preface my comment with that admission…). This made me laugh out loud…and made me feel better, if only for a moment, that I don’t feel passionate about my work. I don’t feel enthusiastic about it at the moment, either. Maybe Bridget is right, in that no one can feel so enthusiastic about work all the time – it is, after all, still work. Here’s hoping that one day, I can find work that I’m really happy about every day, whether it’s something I do on my own or another position in my current field. Namely, I want to to have more time and energy in my life to enjoy what I am really passionate about – which is my family, as well – and I think finding a job that at least isn’t so mentally draining for 40 hours a week would help with this goal. A job that leaves me energized, and gives me a sense of fulfillment – that would be great, and would give me less guilt for spending time away from my family. Now if I can only find a job like that, I’ll be all set….

  14. Well, if I understand your post correctly, you imply what most people call “passions” are actually “hobbies”.
    I feel the same as you about writing, I’ve loved it since I was a child – now, as an adult, my work revolves around writing (and proofreading, editing, translating). Do I get tired after 10 hours of work? Sure. Sometimes I just want to stop and go walking in the park. The book I’m working on might not be one I particularly like. But I still love what I do and it makes me feel alive. I think this is passion. Something which still gives you pleasure after it’s become a real job.
    Some may be, let’s say, lesser passions, activities that engage you deeply -for me yoga could be it. It’s an activity which changed my life, is essential for my well-being and I don’t get tired of when I practise every day- but I wouldn’t make it a job.

  15. A friend steered me to this post because I published one on this exact topic today. I was hoping yours wouldn’t be that good, because I am passionate about feeling superior. Unfortunately, this post didn’t satisfy my passion. It’s really good.
    I’m so sick of “passion”. It’s as done-to-death as vampires. And, as popular.

  16. I find either extreme in this argument to be odd. I understand you’re going for humor and hyperbole with the “eating pancake” example. But as Bridget says, most people have no idea what they’re passionate about, or even find interesting. I think that’s a shame, and fortunately, entirely fixable. It’s not as easy as “I like doing this so it must be my passion,” but I do believe it’s possible to find jobs we love–with effort.

    For me, the point is this: if you are happy working a job that is not a passion for you, if you are the kind of person who just wants your job to be your job so you can focus on other areas of your life, THAT’S OKAY.

    But if you’re miserable, if you’re dragging yourself to work everyday just for to pay the bills, if your job drains the life out of you so that you become argumentative at home with that family you love: IT’S TIME TO CHANGE. It is possible, in most cases, to find a job that is fulfilling. As Mark points out, you CAN make a living eating pancakes, but few have the talent for it and nearly all wouldn’t enjoy it long term.

    People use the word passion because they don’t know what else to call it. I guess the question then is, what do you suggest instead?

  17. Natasha Golding says:

    Me and my mate came up with this idea that you need to know what bothers you. The stuff people want to change about themselves or others is the stuff that bothers them. Bother is good fuel for living.

    You sound very passionate by the way.

    (I found definitions in other dictionaries that didn’t load the uncontrolled element on to the word, just simply described it as strong feeling or emotion.)

  18. As Melanie hinted with her Aristotle quote above, I think perhaps “passion” is the word we use when we really mean “calling.” Or, more plainly, “What I want to be when I grow up.”

    I was called to be a teacher, and in my current configuration (public school), there’s no way I’m going to make any kind of real bank staying in that situation. I have continued working with kids because that’s what bring me joy in life; I do, indeed, wake up in the middle of the night thinking about my students and wake up in the morning with inspirations for lessons and the like.

    Our calling is that itch we need to scratch, the thing we’d want to do even if we didn’t get paid. The key is, when we figure that out, we have an opportunity to figure out how to improve our financial circumstances while still following that calling.

    I doubt anyone is called to eat pancakes. But plenty of people are called to help others with all sorts of things, and there’s money to make there. Not out of exploitation, but as the energetic exchange that money really is. We can do meaningful work and still get paid. At least, I’m working on that.

  19. Good read, Brett.

    It’s too bad so many people equate exercising discrimination as being jaded or judgmental. I appreciate your distinctions.

  20. Brilliant post. I get tired of telling people that being passionate does not make you competent. Glad I’m not alone in this thought.

  21. I wish I could help meet your expectation of hearing from disappointed commenters; alas, I’m going to join the chorus of appreciation.

    As a life coach, I have found myself in an industry that espouses such ideology and while I agree with a previous commenter that it’s assuredly a backlash to the work-in-a-job-you-hate-for-30-years-and-tell-yourself-it’s-okay approach to life, I think the road is a tad slippery when we start talking about making boatloads of money. Much in the self-help arena is damaging, imo.

    Maybe the real concern ought to be one of meaning, not passion. Especially when passion is understood as a “pants-on-head, might need a grown up diaper obsession.” :)

    Thanks, Brett!

  22. Oh man, your writing cracks me up :)
    Well played.
    CB

  23. Like so many, i also dunno where my passion lies, and so it’s become frustrating instead of an enlightening read when a self-help book i pick talks about living your passion. i hate my job, but it pays my bills so i can’t leave. i love photography, but it’s not the drive that wakes me up every morning.

    What the heck. All i wanna say is that i love this post!

  24. Hi Brett,

    It was truly amazing post… it’s eye opener to me :-)
    I have the list of my hobbies… but still i need to find my passion… i will find it!

    Thanks,
    Savi

  25. Miss Rhei says:

    Thank you for this. Yes, I’m gonna yell at you. Where the hell have you been that I only get to read your post today?

    Or probably not. Maybe it was I who were into wrong places all the time.

    I love your post about passion. You are right, the web’s clouded by that word and sometimes the meaning is lost or misuse or overuse, whatever.

    Bye. Got to sleep and see what makes me up in the middle of the night –

    More power and should I say passion?

  26. Great article, and also, some great comments here. I think the Aristotle quote really resonates with what you’re saying here, and has definitely given me food for thought. I think you’re also quite right about the overuse of the word “passion” in the self-development arena.

    There are very few things I would say I am passionate about. My kids are THE thing. After that…I love and care deeply about teaching (and in particular about helping people embrace their sexuality and own their bodies,) about dance (and teaching it), and about natural childbirth and breastfeeding (and, hey what a coincidence, teaching about it), but at the end of the day, although these topics fascinate me, and I do in fact wake up with ideas about them, they are not on the level of OMG COMPELLING OBSESSION. Frankly, I find a bit of detachment vitally necessary to function in the world – otherwise I would be so horribly upset on a *daily* basis by what some women go through trying to breastfeed (or never getting a chance to try due to pressure) that I would be constantly miserable and likely not get a damn thing done.

    Hey, I am rambling! Anyway, I think the trick is to find what brings you a measure of happiness, and find ways to work that into your working life. While I could possibly make money in the field of sexuality (counseling, perhaps) or as a doula or lactation consultant, I am happy at the moment recognizing that I love being able to teach and assist people, and as long as there are ways I can do that in my current position (and there are), I am good with that.

  27. I genuinley really enjoyed reading your post, you just brightened my day :)

  28. Shelly Dunne says:

    Now I want to hear your take on what I discovered: trying to do things you take pleasure in for money can really suck the joy out of it. People always tell me I should focus myself on one of my talents and really excel and make “big money.” Or, I could enjoy being a really happy dabbler who doesn’t make a ton of money, but really enjoys her off hours. The etsy reference cracked me up because my current theory is that the only difference between “art” and “craft” often boils down to how much you have the nerve to charge. And that is part of what sours my bliss, having to take into consideration the consumer’s perception of value, workmanship and style. It is pure joy to make a gift, drudgery to make product.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Kelly has written a great post about defining your passion and making a living off of it: “I obviously can’t say this for sure, but when I hear [...]

  2. [...] $(function(){ $("#startbox").html("Brett Kelly has written a great post about defining your passion and making a living off of it:“I obviously can’t say this for sure, but when I hear somebody [...]

  3. [...] Read it. It’s hard to spend more than a few minutes reading blogs centered around life improvement without stumbling onto a post describing how you can totally make a very comfortable living doing what you love (your “passion”), no matter what that thing is. Instead of grinding away at your soul-sucking day job at the accounting firm, you could pull down six figures if you only pursued your true passions of photographing slaughterhouses and playing competitive Parcheesi. Perhaps I’m jaded, but I think a good portion of what’s said in this arena is, frankly, a huge load of crap. [...]

  4. [...] Paid to Eat Pancakes: The Truth about “Passions” – Brett Kelly [...]

  5. [...] thing to be. This is the new status symbol. If you’re not working with something you’re passionate about, you’ve lost the [...]

  6. [...] Kelly offers a useful corrective to a lot of “find-your-passion” arguments: If you really enjoy reading 19th century [...]

  7. [...] the gist of the 52Tiger piece and the piece that it links to in turn, is that it is ok if you aren’t passionate about something. That most [...]

  8. [...] people I talked with last night are incredibly passionate about what they’re doing. And yes, Brett, I mean passionate: excited, fired-up, feeling-strongly-about, thinking-about-it-all-the-time, [...]

  9. [...] people I talked with last night are incredibly passionate about what they’re doing. And yes, Brett, I mean passionate: excited, fired-up, feeling-strongly-about, thinking-about-it-all-the-time, [...]

  10. [...] people I talked with last night are incredibly passionate about what they’re doing. And yes, Brett, I mean passionate: excited, fired-up, feeling-strongly-about, thinking-about-it-all-the-time, [...]

  11. [...] I loved this article from Bridging the Nerd Gap. I’ve honestly never had anything that I was truly passionate about for more than a couple of years. And that passion didn’t happen all the time. From “Paid to Eat Pancakes: The Truth about ‘Passions’”. [...]

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