Why People Follow the Wrong Passion

One of the defining traits of our millenial generation is seeking- sometimes demanding- meaning in what we do. We expect and often embrace the erosion of work-life balance, and most of us would probably say that it is important that we are passionate about what we do.

I certainly feel this way, BUT I think that the word "passion" gets thrown around a lot, and that when it comes to finding a job or career that they are passionate about, most people are looking at it the wrong way.

An Anecdote:

I moved to China partially because of skateboarding. In the Olympic fervor of 2008, opportunity in China was everywhere, and I was chasing my particular strain of it. China's skatespots were amazing, it was fast becoming the global destination for anybody on a skateboard, and there were growing local scenes in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities throughout the country. Perfect.

When I arrived, I wrote emails to anybody doing anything with skateboarding in China. This wasn't that hard, because the industry was so small that it was only a handful of people making an impact. I started a website about skateboarding and was sure to get in touch with any visiting pros passing through the city where I lived at the time, Shenzhen.

I was determined to "break in" to action sports in China, and I eventually got my break when I landed a consulting position working with a retailer in North China to open an action sports shop. Building on the momentum from that launch, I moved to Shanghai, because that's where the opportunities were in skateboarding in China. I was going to land a brand management position with a skate company, ideally in footwear, no matter what. After persistent networking and doing "all the right" things, I realized something- I was swimming upstream.

I was trying looking for a brand management position in skateboarding, an industry in its infancy in China.

I was trying to work in a capacity in which maybe 10 other foreigners worked in all of China.

I realized that working in this industry would be an uphill battle. So I quit.

I started looking for positions in other, booming industries in China, and guess what?

There they were. And they had been there all along. I had been looking in the wrong place the whole time.

And I came to realize that what I love about skateboarding is more than the act of skateboarding itself. It's the expression of creativity and the opportunity to meet new people that I love as much as anything.

And the good news is that, you can find these in a lot of different places.

If you love the act of creation, you can:

Work as a creative talent, like a graphic designer or a copywriter.

Create companies.

Create brand identities.

And some industries will really benefit from you. They'll pay you. Others won't. You'll have to work overtime, for free, and even then you might be disposed of at the end of another long day.

It all depends on where you choose to build your career.

Follow your passion, of course, but identify what it is that you love about your passion. There's a good chance that, beneath the activity itself (playing the ukulele or the hoola hoop, assembling toy trains, whatever you're into) it is a larger something that you love. 

If you really love bicycles, I am willing to bet that what you love about them is the benefit that you derive from them more than the actual bicycle itself. You love speed, and freedom, and movement, and you can find that in a lot of things. And jobs, even.

Or maybe you really do love bicycles, the actual objects. In that case, I'd ask- is it really the shape of the bicycle that you love, or do you just love shape and form in general. Perhaps assembling the triangles and squares and wires that go into making Acme Corp's Blue Widget #1 gives you the same satisfaction that putting together a bicycle does.

And if millions of people are buying Blue Widget #1 and nobody is buying Bicycles anymore, and if you find that you are as passionate about assembling Blue Widgets as you are Bicycles, and if there is no greater or lesser social value to producing one of these products over the other (this is another topic altogether), then where am I going to tell you to look for a job?

The Blue Widget Factory, of course. Because there, your passion for tinkering intersects with a market need. You can do what you love and earn a living.

Or if you are fanatical about playing tennis, and want to pursue that as a career overseas, you have options but they might not be the precise options you are expecting. Coaching, for example, might be an over-saturated market that lacks opportunities, whereas the manufacturing of tennis gear such as rackets (view them here) and other accessories might be wide open. The point: be flexible and don't become overly attached to a single idea or space within an industry. Be ready to adapt to meet the market, and don't expect the market to come to meet you.

Get tricks, tips, and hacks on career building in China by signing up for our newsletter. Just enter your email address below:

About the Author
Author: Brandon

Hi, I'm Brandon! I'm SmartIntern's co-founder and a native of California. I'm interested in all things tech, emerging markets, and writing. When I'm not working on SmartIntern, I like to skateboard through the streets of Shanghai and uncover the city's best hole-in-the-wall noodle joints.

Follow Us!