Is “Follow your passion” bad advice?

Parents want their kids to be happy. Period. But, are we steering them wrong when we insist they should do what they love and the money will follow?

The New Year is a natural time for making plans and looking forward — and that couldn’t be more true than for students in their final year of high school (and their parents!). With just six months to go until graduation, it’s deadline time for university and college applications for the fall semester.

I vividly remember this time in my own life as one of extreme optimism and excitement, as I spent many hours imagining where my professional desires would take me. (In what now seems like an uncanny prediction of my future career, I applied to two Journalism schools and a Business school.) And so it is for today’s young people, with 96 per cent of Canadians aged 14 to 25 saying it’s important for them to be able to do what they love most when it comes to a career, according to a recent Youth Optimism Study conducted for RBC.

But is the “follow your passion” mantra setting our kids up for disappointment? Indeed, the same study shows that less than two-thirds of 22- to 25-year-olds think they’ll land a job in their preferred field, and in an earlier survey 55 per cent of students aged 17 to 24 acknowledged they’d likely have to take a job that pays the bills rather than one that’s fulfilling.

Add the fact that the average student debt load exceeds $28,000 in some parts of the country, and all of a sudden the stakes skyrocket on those post-secondary school application decisions. Should we, instead, be encouraging our kids to find out what jobs are in demand, and choose a field of work accordingly?

Not necessarily. According to a study by psychologists at the University of Michigan, it’s a wash. Workers who placed a high level of importance on following their passion at the beginning of their careers had “similar levels of satisfaction, subjective measures of success, and annual income” after a few years in the workforce as did those who put less stock in pursuing their bliss.

In other words, this is one less thing for parents to worry about. If your child happens to have a burning desire, and wants to pursue it, great. And if he or she still hasn’t found a passion, and instead decides to go a more practical route, that’s great, too. Research shows they’ll be just as happy and successful either way.

Keep the conversation going

Do you think it’s important to tell kids to follow their passion? Or do you think that’s unrealistic? 


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada).

About the Author

Tamar Satov

Managing Editor, CPA magazine
Tamar is a journalist specializing in business, parenting and personal finance. She blogs regularly in this space with advice and anecdotes on her efforts to raise a money-smart kid.