In the personal note of the Art Biz Insider a couple of weeks ago, I made a passing mention and remark about one of the presentations at the World Domination Summit in early July. I wrote:
Cal Newport debunked the “follow your passion” directive (yay!).
This caught the attention of Jeff Richards, who responded with a kind request that I expand on my “yay!” and these observations (excerpted):
. . . It’s my experience that this debunking usually is the stance of cynics who would rather we all become factory robots, or some version of a limited life that they themselves have accepted and now fear the challenge to their own submission to limitation. . . .
Most artists I know, and certainly myself, would have thrown in the towel long ago if we weren’t “following our passion”. . . .
Before I published my take, I asked you what you thought about the snippet of advice to follow your passion. Lots of you commented on this post. You had beautiful insights! You also asked me for my thoughts. Here goes.
3 Things I Know To Be True About Passionate Interests
1. Something changes deep inside many people when they start asking for money for what they’re passionate about.
This isn’t the case for everyone, but you can’t help but look at your passion differently when you must make a business out of something that used to be fun. It’s no longer just a passion. It’s work – and darned-hard work at that.
Some people can stomach it and others can’t.
If you’re one of those who can’t, you will no longer enjoy what you were once passionate about once you start trying to sell it.
2. Most of us have multiple passions.
Have you ever tried to explain to an artist that they need to focus and create a signature body of work? You’re often met with, “But I like to do so many things!”
You can’t tell an artist to pick the one passion and get on with it. They must work through the process on their own and discover the answers.
I’m passionate about art, Colorado (more on that below), bodies of water, gardening, cats, cooking, entertaining, history, and hiking. I’d drive myself batty if I were to try to please all of these parts of me in a single profession. I honor them outside of a business environment.
3. You can’t make a living from passion alone.
“Follow your passion and the money will come” is another way this piece of advice is often framed. As if you’ll get rich just because you’re doing what you love.
Okay, you might get it to work for you, but it’s not nearly that simple.
You have to do the work that you love and lots of stuff you don’t love: bookkeeping, marketing, making small talk at art openings, giving presentations, packing, shipping, and record-keeping. You might not be willing to do everything else required to make a living from your passion.
I Fell Into My Passion
Near the end of his email to me (mentioned at top), Jeff Richards wrote: “It also strikes me from observation that you are indeed following your passion with your business.”
Mckenna Hallett left a similar comment on the blog: “Alyson is the quintessential example of someone who has a deep and passionate desire to help others as well as support the art world – SHE put the two together and…voila! So glad she follows her passion.”
Both of these comments are, I believe, intended as complimentary and I appreciate them. But they don’t take into account that I came to be passionate about my work. No one ever advised me to follow my passion. And I never sat down and thought about what I was passionate about. I never considered: “What am I passionate about and how can I make a go of it?”
Yes, I have a master’s degree in art history because I loved my courses, but as a student, I had no idea what I was going to do with those degrees. In the early days of the MA program, I thought I’d like to teach, but I certainly wasn’t passionate about the idea.
In the closing days of writing my thesis, I started talking to different people in the arts (administrators and museum folks). I would have taken almost any job in the arts. I didn’t follow any particular passion except for working within the art world. If someone had told me at that point to follow my passion, I might have slapped them.
I didn’t know what my passion was. I was frustrated! I needed time to find my place in the world.
I was lucky enough to have stumbled upon museum work and ended up enjoying it for ten years.
I came upon my current line of work not because I was dissatisfied with my museum work, but because I was unhappy with where I was living (geography). I do what I do today because I was passionate about living in Colorado. I moved here to build a life, but I didn’t know what that would look like.
So, yes, in a sense I followed one of my passions, which was Colorado. I didn’t set out to start Art Biz Coach. It only evolved because I worked every day trying to build an art consulting business and listened to artists who were in need of guidance.
Today I am passionate about helping creatives build their businesses, not because I set out to do this work, but only because I paid attention to a need, tested my aptitude, and worked hard every day. I grew to be passionate about what I do.
As Cal Newport said in his presentation, and will undoubtedly expand on in his forthcoming book, “The longer someone has a position, the more he sees it as a calling.” In other words, we become passionate about some things.
I fell into my passion and embraced it. I didn’t follow it.
If “Follow Your Passion” works for you, heed the call! I’m not going to tell you not to follow your passion.
You just won’t hear me offering those words as quick-and-easy business advice, which is often how they appear in print.
Here’s my alternative version, which I hope serves you:
Follow your passion if you know exactly what that is. But understand everything that’s involved in trying to make a profession of it.
Be willing to work your butt off and be prepared to do things you don’t love because they support your passion.
If you don’t know your calling, it’s okay! Keep working. Work hard. Work on projects you like and have aptitude for. You’ll eventually find your passion. If you’re like me, it’s nothing like what you could have imagined.