If you’ve ever told someone you don’t like your job, chances are the person responded by telling you to quit ASAP and just, like, start “following your passion.” And, even though your current position provides status and security, the world (or at least the internet) promises that you’ll be happier once you start “doing what you love.”
While this push to follow your passion makes sense—after all, no one wants to spend years stuck in a cubicle doing tasks we dread—we rarely hear the other side of the argument. That’s why Ben Horowitz’s 2015 commencement speech at Columbia University titled “Don’t Follow Your Passion” surprised the audience. Horowitz, co-founder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley’s top investors, gave the unconventional advice that our futures shouldn’t be shaped by what we love. Here are his reasons:
1. Passions Are Difficult to Prioritize
“Are you more passionate about math or engineering? Are you more passionate about history or literature? Are you more passionate about video games or K-Pop?” Horowitz asks. It’s usually difficult to answer these questions when you truly feel equally excited about two completely different things. On the other hand, Horowitz believes it’s much easier to determine what you’re good at. Are you better at math or writing? Most people can answer that in an instant.
2. Passions Change Over Time
What Facebook pages did you “like” back in 2010? What pages have you liked recently? If the two are completely different, then you know what Horowitz means when he says that what you care about is always changing. “What you’re passionate about at 21 is not necessarily what you’re going to be passionate about at 40,” Horowitz explains. “This is true for boyfriends as well as career choices.” Even if you finally land the dream position that magically combines everything you love, there’s no guarantee that you’ll still be as crazy about it five years later.
(Before you roll your eyes at how cynical this advice is, keep reading—Horowitz does provide an alternative that’ll make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.).
3. You’re Not Always Good at Your Passion
As heartbreaking as it is to admit, sometimes we suck at what we love. Using the contestants on American Idol as an example, Horowitz says, “Just because you love singing doesn’t mean you should be a professional singer.” So, while there are ways to become better at your favorite hobbies (think: online classes and hands-on tutorials), oftentimes these beloved activities lead to you neglecting your real strengths.
4. Following Your Passion Is a “Me-Centered” View of the World
Horowitz says that doing what you love is a self-centered view of the world because it focuses on what you take out of the world—whether that’s money, cars, accolades, or something else—rather than what you put into the world. According to the Silicon Valley investor, the latter is much more important. Yes, you can chase after your happiness. But what are you doing to help the more than seven billion other people in the world become happier, too?
Hence, instead of following your passion, Horowitz recommends that you “follow your contribution.” “Find the thing you’re great at,” he says, “and put that into the world. Contribute to others and help the world be better—that is the thing to follow.” By pursuing your contribution, you instantly move from me-focused to them-focused. And who knows? You might even grow fonder of some of your current responsibilities because they’re helping you make small, positive dents in the universe.