Why 'Follow Your Passion' Is Bad Advice for Freelancers

Updated: Sep 5, 2019

Freelancing isn't a hobby. It's a way to pay the bills, and you need practical skills that are in demand.

Growing up, I often heard the idealistic advice to just "Find your passion and be yourself!" This is a beautiful lie that ends up torturing many freelancers.

I found out the hard way that we should, by all means, pursue our passions, but that they may not pay the bills. Being poor isn't much fun. Neither is living purely for money and doing something you hate. As with many things in life, we must find the middle path.

A Square Peg Trying to Fit in a Round Hole

In my school years, my father pushed me to study math and science. He wanted me to be an engineer with the logic that, "Whether the economy is good or bad, there's always going to be something that needs fixing."

My attentions and fancies kept straying towards the arts throughout high school, but I relented and let him push me into engineering school where I struggled and flailed. Eventually, I quit and ended up getting an arts degree.

It was the mid-1990s, and companies were starting to want to have websites. I started doing freelance web design work and managed to leverage my "portfolio" to land a job at a software startup. While I had disappointed my father by flunking out from engineering, I had somewhat redeemed myself by gaining employment in a tech company immediately after graduation.

Being Overly Idealistic

I naively assumed I had found my dream job where I could work on my passions to my heart's content. I railed against anyone who disagreed with my design choices and arrogantly strutted around, knowing that I had it all figured out.

Not only that, but I blissfully skipped out of the office each day at 6 PM to pursue extracurricular passions. Meanwhile, my colleagues soldiered on into the night and often came in on the weekends too.

My self-delusion came crashing down when they fired me. Looking back, they had been overly generous giving me six months there. They should have gotten rid of me earlier, but they kept giving me chances to redeem myself that I blindly steamrollered over again and again.

Forgetting Myself

Brought to my knees by being overly idealistic, I snapped and made a 180-degree change, becoming entirely mercenary and money-crazed. This lead me to bounce around different companies and even starting several ventures. None of it, however, stuck because they weren't in line with my interests.

However, over time, patterns began to emerge and I was able to see what kinds of work suited me. It was easy in hindsight to see what got me into a state of flow, and what felt like ice-skating uphill. Part of this was realizing that I preferred independence rather than being a full-time employee. Indeed, the ‘security’ that the latter offers is just a mirage, but I digress.

Finding My Niche

About ten years ago, I made a full circle and came back to marketing. However, having no formal track record in it, I had to be self-taught and gain experience. This was the beginning of my freelance career.

Working on different gigs taught me how vast the field of marketing is, and I found the parts of it that I did well. I also learned the hard way how to ensure that clients had a realistic expectation of what I could and couldn't do.

I now work doing something that suits me. It does connect with a lot of my passions, but rather than say I'm "Following my passions," I'd say that I've found work that is a good fit. I feel good doing it, and my clients feel looked after.

What is Passion, Really?

The word passion comes from the Latin word "passeo," which means to suffer. When we are passionate about something, we are willing to suffer for it. It almost seems like there is a requisite amount of suffering that the universe requires, hence the concept of "paying one's dues."

Later, because of the investment we have made, it can be difficult to let go of the commitment. However, just like any investment, sometimes we have to cut our losses and learn from them. This applies to clients whom we are passionate about serving, but who don't appreciate the work we do for them.

Having a "Growth" Perspective

Telling people to "find their passion" can be harmful. We may stubbornly stick to what we perceive to be "passion" out of fear and switching gears when required may feel impossible. If we invest everything we have — all our time, energy, and emotional reserves — into a single pursuit, it can cause us to drop it when the load gets too heavy.

Instead, it's healthier to see passion as a malleable quality that can be cultivated, which makes us more open and more resilient. This thinking leads us to express greater interest in new areas, to expect that pursuing interests will be challenging, and to maintain enthusiasm in the face of resistance.

We need to be more flexible and willing to let go of our fear of failure. Don't let a rigid idea of success was hold us back. Rather than needing to follow a neatly defined career trajectory, we can use our skills in new areas of interest. A growth mindset helps us face challenges with curiosity and allowing ourselves to see difficulties as building blocks for further cultivating our talents.


With the world changing as fast as it is, we cannot afford to get stuck in a rut by believing that we are only cut out to do one thing. To grow requires staying detached, being open to new opportunities, and observing to find what fits our nature.

The Xtra Freelancer Community Blog brings you inspiration and tips on how to get better gigs, earn more, and live a balanced life. Be the first to get our latest content by subscribing to our newsletter (scroll down to join). Or, if you're listening to this article off-site, visit xtra.blog (xtra-dot-blog) to sign up.

About This Blog

Xtra.blog is a resource for freelancers including tips and advice on how to earn more, improve your skills, get better gigs, and live a balanced lifestyle.

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Freelancer Forum
  • Freelancer Jobs