Follow your passions… Actually no, don’t!


Have you ever been asked the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” What age were you when you were first asked this? Maybe 5 or 6, right?

It seems that we get asked this question from such an early age. And, the truth is, at this age no-one really cares what you say. When I was 5 I wanted to be a ballerina, so that year for Halloween I got to be a ballerina. Easy! It seems the intention is to inspire young kids to dream big, with the idea that you can do anything, be anything. Follow your passions.

But, the pressure starts to build, and this idea that starts out as inspirational when you are 5 years old starts manifesting by the time you’re at university. You might start to feel a bit like:

Now, when someone asks “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or “What are your passions?” it can be triggering. It’s like ‘oh my gosh I have to come up with a good answer for this!’

And, I bet you are getting careers advice from everyone – your family, your friends, and academics. A lot of it is probably to “Follow your passions” or “Do what you love and the money will come”.

The rise of ‘follow your passions’ advice

This careers advice has increased exponentially since the late 90’s and is currently the most popular careers advice to give.

But, is it good advice? 1000 university students were interviewed and asked what they were most passionate about. What do you think they said?

Well, 90% said something related to sports, arts, or music. However, if you pull the census data, only 3% of jobs are in this field. Therefore, even if only 10% of these students pursue their passion they are likely to fail.

Being told to follow your passion is unhelpful because:

  1. you have to first know what you’re passionate about, and
  2. what does ‘follow’ mean?

This is not a plan or actionable advice!

Passions change

And then, on top of that, passions are just interests. And interests change! When I was 5 I was passionate about becoming a ballerina, then by the time I was 8 I wanted to be a police woman. What you are passionate about now might be different to 6 months, a year, or five years from now.

Most people think their career path will be a straightforward journey – a linear progression from university to CEO. Whereas in reality, it will probably be more like this:

You might love the first job you get out of university, but the company could restructure and you get made redundant, or you might not like the first job you get, you might move overseas, you might get headhunted for a role you hadn’t considered, or you might start your own company. So many factors will affect your career journey.

Therefore, career planning is more about setting goals and developing the right skills, so that when opportunities present themselves you are ready.

There are thousands of different jobs out there, so trying to pick one can be quite overwhelming. It’s just not possible to research or experience them all. But something you can do is start with the one thing you know really well: YOURSELF!


The better you know yourself, the better you will be able to assess a job, a company, even a university major to decide if they match with who you actually are – not just what sounds interesting. You are all smart people (you’ve been accepted into university after all), you could all do a lot of jobs. However, finding ones that will suit who you are authentically is where true job satisfaction comes from.

So yes, have passions and goals. But, more importantly know yourself, your skills and your motivations so that you can truly pursue a career that will lead to success and happiness.


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash


By Nicole Papworth

By Nicole Papworth

Career Coach

Nicole Papworth is a career coach with almost 10 years’ experience working with students and graduates starting out their careers. She spent time in large corporate banks, consulting and accounting companies studying who they hired and why. Nicole now uses this knowledge to help UTS students figure out their career ambitions and start achieving them.