Passion and Practicality (Choosing a Career)

Advice From Other Humans and What it Means

The Advice

Frustrating advice received by countless other humans: “You can always write in your free time, but you should really get a stable job.”

When moms and dads and cousins and teachers and distant cousins thrice removed give you this advice, it inspires two thoughts in your head:

  1. Are you saying I’m going to fail as a writer (or artist or musician)? Don’t you believe in me?
  2. You just don’t understand passion. PASSION IS LIKE FRUIT WITH SEEDS AND POTENTIAL AND ALSO SMOOTHIE-POTENTIAL. Or something like that.
  3. I know that not everyone has what it takes, but I DO!

Those things might be true. But, as a fledgling adult who has a job (I work as a contracted technical writer), I can tell you with a small dose of retrospect that they mean something different.

The Translation

They mean:

  1. I don’t want you to end up starving on someone’s couch, endlessly berated by bills and with no suitable job-slash-life-experience.
  2. Don’t let dedication to passion blind you from the practicality of survival.
  3. Statistics is not on your side, and don’t let your ambition blind you.

When people say these things, they’re trying their very best to be supportive and realistic. “Be practical,” they say. “Passion can only get you so far.”

The reverse is true: Be passionate. Practicality can only take you so far.

Break that down into Steps for Living Life

  1. Get a job. Practicality can get you a job. In fact, Practicality = Job. Success in life is not the same thing as success in career.
  2. But passion? If you are passionate, and you’ll excel at your job and find happiness no matter what. Passion—be it for art or science or writing or music or math—means that we find joy in what others find simple.
  3. Keep your passion. Also keep your determination and ambition and faith and hope. Those things make for a full and rich life if you can apply it to more than just your passion. Apply that same attention to the people and things that you love—that’s how you live a good life.f

Overall advice: Find a job that involves your passion. That way, you can find a balance of passion and practicality, and you’ll enjoy the work you do. Turn your passion into a paycheck.

The big question is HOW? How do we get a job that combines that ever-sought and ever-vital money, but also fulfills our wildest dreams and passions? We’re thinking about the question wrong. The question should really be:

How do we Choose a Job?

As luck would have it, I discussed this very topic with Twin Sister a few weeks ago. Twister loves art. She dreams of being an artist. But as with writers, very few go onto become bestselling/self-sufficient superstars.

She seemed to be under the impression that if she pursued art, it had to be wholly and without reserve, and she would either rise to the stars or sink into the Marianas Trench.

NOT TRUE! The world is not filled with either success or failure. It’s filled with a million different moments on a spectrum of “Exceeding all Dreams” to “Met Expectations” to “Shattered all Hope.” (I think that’s how feedback surveys work, too).


The secret to this scale is that you decide where “Met Expectations” sits. Do you tend to put your Expectations nearer to the Dreams like Twister? Or do you slide Expectations closer to disappointment so you can be pleased by the average? Finding a balance is key. And that key opens a door to the future. And that door is tied to the window across to the room so that when one door closes, the window opens so no one suffocates. And that, folks, is an escaping metaphor. See? There it went. Out the open window.

I bet you weren’t expecting philosophy advice when you clicked on this post. Let’s move onto the practical advice.

How do we FIND that Job?

It’s all well and good to get advice to find a career that balances passion and practicality, but that advice is a bit too vague. How do we physically go out and find the job that fulfills our desire to succeed at not failing at life and also fulfills our desire to enjoy life?

Thing 1: Discover your interests.

Back when I was in college (an ancient time of at least a year ago), my academic adviser gave me some advice. He said, “Don’t just focus on your passion. Look at your interests. Then find a crossover between the two.” I liked chemistry and creative writing. Now I’m working as a technical writer on engineering manuals while working on my books after work and on weekends.

What do you love? Do you like working with people? Traveling like a nomad? Working with numbers? Working on computers? Working in an office?

What is your passion? What are your interests? What would you enjoy doing on a daily basis?

Thing 2: Look for crossovers.

I refer you to the advice in Thing 1. Find your interests. Know your passion. Discover crossover careers that link interests and passion.

For me, it was a love of chemistry, precision, correctness, and data crossing over with a passion for writing and language. These things intersected in Technical Writer. I get to tell people where the commas go! I get to correlate project data and outline a process for structuring work. And I love it all.

Thing 3: Know WHERE to look.

I had an academic adviser with good solid quotable advice. I had a friend who recommended me for the position he was leaving, but you can’t rely on word of mouth. Know the resume sites. Examples:

  • LinkedIn (My current boss and supervisor both checked out my LinkedIn profile when they invited me for an interview, so keep it updated!)
  • Monster (my current coworker was contacted by a contracting company after they saw her resume posted, and she has worked through them since)
  • Indeed (Find a location or job and receive job notifications. I still receive notifications for positions in my area, because it’s always good to know what’s out there)
  • TheLadders (who approached me to do a post about passion and finding a career in something you love, and who also provides subscription-based employee-employer match-ups)

Thing 4: Know HOW to look.

You can list your interests in Linked In, and employers can take them into account. When searching for jobs on Monster, try listing skills and passions and interests instead of your dream job.

If you get so focused on a dream job (or if you don’t even know what to look for), then you won’t cast a wide enough net. There are a lot of jobs out there even if it doesn’t always seem like it. You won’t even know about half of them unless you learn to look in the right places.

  • So, you want to be an artist and get paid a million dollars for an oil painting? Take a look at graphic design and illustration, where you can incorporate your love of art into a paycheck while devoting yourself to painting after-hours and weekends!
  • So, you want to be a writer and publish a bestselling novel? (This one’s me!) Take a look at technical writing, where you can incorporate your love of words and language into a paycheck while scribbling and revising early mornings and weekends!

Keep Your Passion, Fight for Practicality

Even if you end up working a dull office job when you really want to be out in the world having adventures and painting, don’t despair.

For those of you afraid that getting a job will distract you from your artsy passions, there are plenty of people in the world who complete their passionate work while working full-time (myself included!).

It’s possible if you have the spirit for it… and caffeine. Caffeine helps.


8 thoughts on “Passion and Practicality (Choosing a Career)

  1. Pingback: How to Live a Good Life | words — and other things
  2. Pingback: Passion & Paycheck | words — and other things

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