Should You Follow Your Passion?

I recently listened to the YouTube video, “Don’t Follow Your Passion”, by Mike Rowe and was rather intrigued by the title because it goes against the common advice given to musicians to “follow your passion”. I wanted to take an opportunity to breakdown his opinions, and share my perspective as a professional double bass player and private teacher.

#1 — “Look, I understand the importance of persistence, and the value of encouragement, but who tells a stranger to never give up on their dreams?”

From the standpoint of Rowe, he appears to make the case that telling strangers to follow their dreams can inevitably lead them to failure and rejection down the road. While I agree that Rowe might be helping people discover untapped opportunity in other areas, he does not take into account that people can continue to grow and learn about a field that they are passionate about while making a living in another profession — up until the point that they have developed the necessary mastery and expertise for their desired career. This can be made more difficult if one decides to start a family and have children early on, or if the person is saddled in student loan debt. But without these barriers, most people that work 40 hours a week can forgo leisure to continue to pursue their passion.

#2 — “Year after year, thousands of aspiring American Idols show up with great expectations, only to learn that they don’t possess the skills they thought they did. What is really amazing though, is not their lack of talent — the world is full of people who can’t sing. It’s their genuine shock at being rejected — the incredible realization that their passion and ability had nothing to do with each other.”

I believe that Rowe is correct in stating that meeting standards and expectations have absolutely nothing to do with passion, but he fails to come up with a solution to help someone perform better at what they are passionate about. Rowe immediately resorts to encouraging people to find other opportunities without realizing that the person might have been only a couple of pieces of advice away from being successful and meeting their desired goal. Contrary to Rowe’s advice, this is why persistence and discipline matter greatly.

Consider a similar situation where a student dreams about making National Honors Society, but is rejected because their poor grades and extracurricular activities have nothing to do with their desire to get into NHS. According to Mike Rowe’s logic, it would be best for that student to come to a level of acceptance that they quote “suck” (I will use Rowe’s words), and take a shop class where there is a greater opportunity to succeed but does not address the issue regarding the student’s desire to succeed academically. Rather than suggesting resources that can help this student improve such as tutoring, extra classes, and books that can effectively address studying habits, Rowe thinks that it is best to quit before even trying again.

#3 — “When people follow their passion they miss out on all sorts of opportunities they didn’t even know existed.”

My main issue with this statement is that the same can be said for the reverse; that if you do not follow your passion, you can potentially sell yourself short by forgoing dozens of opportunities to overcome challenges and obstacles. Figuring out the process that leads to achieving your desired goals is one of the greatest rewards in life. This advice can be applied to financial matters, career matters, and even improving your relationships with others. You can quit and wallow in regret for years; or you can try to find resources that will help you develop the problem solving and troubleshooting skills necessary to improve.

Recently I read about a violinist named Shenghua Hu that won an audition for the second violin section of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and an audition for the principal second violin within a two year period after losing 30 professional orchestra auditions. Had he decided to quit, he would never have experienced the satisfaction that comes with making it into one of the most prestigious orchestras of the world.