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Why 'follow your dream' is terrible career advice

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‘Follow your dream’ is great advice when you’re five and all you want in the world is to be a sprinkled red frosted donut. But what happens when you’re all grown up and that dream is not as practical? 

Your whole life you have been told that you can be anything you want to be, and that’s part of the problem. Your passions will not always be obvious. When they are, they may not always be practical.Following your passion will lead to career indecision and disaster. Here’s why:

It may make you unhappy:

‘Following your dream’ involves knowing your passion from day one, which is often an unrealistic expectation and can result in people becoming disillusioned and detached. People can become overwhelmed by the question ‘What am I passionate about?’. Not everyone has the answer. More often than not pursuing a goal that is ultimately bigger than you and your passions is a far more fulfilling path in life. Try this mantra instead: do what’s valuable.

It takes time

Finding your dream is often represented as a eureka moment that comes from a few hours of self-reflection and quiet walks on the beach. Again, it’s not that easy. Passion comes from mastery, hard work and realising your strengths, all of which can only come with time. Instead of following a dream, you will develop a passion slowly over the course of your career. Passionate workers are those who have invested their time wisely and have worked hard for it. Good news for those who are still searching.  

You may miss out on your true calling

By blindly following your ‘dream’ you are unintentionally building a large wall and potentially pigeon-holing your career. If you investigate all avenues tailored to your skillset and interests then you are more likely to come across a path that really ignites your passion. For those who are fired up by one thing in particular, be careful not to let that one thing close yourself off to new opportunities. It is important to follow opportunities, not passion.

Following your dream won’t bring you success

Another oversimplification is that following a passion is the key to a successful and satisfying career. Steve Jobs believed that ‘people with passion can change the world for the better’. People with passion – that is the important distinction. You don’t have to follow your passion. You just have to incorporate passion into the job you’re already in or your everyday life to reap the benefits. This is what will bring success.

Our dreams can change all the time

What fires you up each morning will change over time. When you graduate, companies with office dogs and rooftop bars will motivate you, but as you age your passion will come from interesting challenges and career progression. Interests change also. What interests you in ten years time will be totally different. Interests alone are not a solid foundation to base a career on.

‘Follow your dream’ is bad career advice. It offers a one size fits all solution to a complex career problem – one that takes years to solve. Bring your passion with you, but never ever follow it. Doing so will keep your options open, help you become more fulfilled and happy in your work and set you on the right career path.