Why You Shouldn’t “Follow Your Passions” and What to Do Instead

In the fall of 1977, a rebel country singer by the name of “Johnny Paycheck” released a song (originally written by another country singer David Allen Coe) that would shape a generation.

The first two lines of that song became an instant mantra of the late 70’s and early 80’s, that nearly everyone back then went around singing it, at least under their breath:

“Take this job and shove it. I ain’t workin’ here no more…”

No one paid much attention to the rest of the lyrics because that pretty much said it all.

But forty years ago there were no Starbucks, cell phones, broadband, laptops or social media.

So while Paycheck’s anti-paycheck lyrics may have sounded good to the corporate warriors of the 80’s none of them actually dared to act on it.

Today things are different.

Today, we aren’t motivated by an alcohol-inspired country western lyric, but rather by the allure of working from anywhere in the world, setting our own hours, and naming our own price.

So the 2017 version of Mr. Paychecks’ song would be:

“Take this job and shove it! I got my cash-machine laptop and I ain’t livin’ here no more…”

But before you hand in your two-week notice and pull out of your office parking lot with screeching wheels and a single finger salute, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves a simple question.

Is it really your best interest to chunk your education, career, contacts, steady paycheck and (most importantly today) benefits in the ditch and go chase down our digital fantasies?

Should you leave the stability and comfort of your J-O-B for your passions?

As with any important question, there is no black and white response. Things are complicated and there are two sides to this proverbial coin.

I personally feel that one side of that coin has been sitting in the spotlight for far too long and it’s high time to examine the alternative view.

In this article, I will be taking an honest and open look at the question “Should you quit your job to follow your passions?”

I think the answer may surprise you.

Why I Left Google.com (a.k.a When Pursuing Your Passions Works Out)

I first met Arman Assadi 18 months after he quit his cushy 6-figure career with Google.com

Yes… That Google.

Arman was a project manager for Google apps. (Gmail, etc. for corporations)

But there was something about his career, even with the incredible Google culture, complete with three squares a day in one of twenty-three world-class on-site cafes, amazing benefits and even an ergonomic bouncy ball for a desk chair, that just didn’t resonate with Arman.

Since he was sixteen, he knew entrepreneurship, or “solopreneurship” as he describes now, was his ultimate destiny.

Generally, I’ve found that when something calls to you that early in life, it ends up being the right course, even if you take some detours along the way.

That “hole in his soul” pressed on Arman, even amidst the grandeur of Google and for him, his job was an empty exercise in futility.  Meaningless. Unfulfilling. As he told me in an interview “If you don’t build your dreams, someone will hire you to build theirs.”

Adding, “That’s so true. I was building Larry Page’s dream.”

At the ripe old age of 26, Arman told Google to take his job and shove it.

Well… He did it with a little bit more tact than that.

He left on excellent terms keeping many of his fellow ‘Googleites’ as close friends and speaking highly of his time with – as he puts it – “one of the greatest companies in the world.”

So if he loved the job so much, why did he quit?

He told me that he always felt held back.

When given a little free reign, it was quickly retracted. “Politics. I was stifled. Creativity started fading away, and that was a huge wake-up call,” he said.

Arman launched into the world of entrepreneurship without a product or a client.

He knew the only way he could make it work was to cut the cords. “Burn the boats,” as he said.

(Referring to a legend of a warrior long ago who led his army to battle against a foe with vast more troops and resources. As their ships reached the enemy’s soil and his army stormed the beach, this warrior-leader left orders to burn the ships. As his men watched their rides-home going up in flames, this wise and ballsy leader told them they would either win…or die. They won.)

One of Arman’s lessons-learned was it took longer and more resources to get the new business off the ground than he anticipated. There were some scary days and nights that he wondered whether he had made the right decision.

If you go to his website, you will see that he rubs shoulders with some of the industry’s giants. Neil Patel. Jason Silva. Lori Harder. Huff Post. IBM and Intel.

Now, he is in the launch-phase as CEO and co-founder of Project Evo, an education, e-commerce and mobile app company pending release.

Arman is living his dream, and being rewarded handsomely for it.

Benefits of “Burning The Boats”

What are some of the benefits of going it alone? Cutting the cords. “Burning the Boats?”

  • You’re in control of your life and career. The buck stops with you. Either you’ll win, or die. Well, probably not die. But if it fails, you might have to go back to a 9 to 5, which for some might be the near equivalent of.
  • You’ll be doing what you love. If your soul is free, there’s a higher chance of success. You will work harder and with more dedication than if you’re a salaried employee with little or no incentive.
  • You will grow into the position. If you truly “burn the boats,” like Arman did, you will either rise to the occasion (win the battle as in the legend above) or you’ll end up failing and succumbing to the humiliation of defeat.
  • Life will be more of an adventure. It goes without saying that when you’re on the hook to generate your monthly “nut,” it’s an adventure for sure. You’ll end up in every role, performing every task, setting the strategy and vision, and navigating the choppy waters of sink-or-swim.

Benefits of Staying Employed

Every coin has two sides.

There is a Universal law of polarity, that says for every up, there’s down. Hot’s opposite is cold. We wouldn’t know love if we didn’t experience hate, etc.

So on the flipside, here are some reasons why you should consider staying in your current career and keeping your boats as far away from the flame as possible.

Then, we will examine a tragic story that recently took place near where I live and a subsequent Facebook discussion on this very topic that followed.

Slow-and-steady can win the race and makes a lot of sense:

Especially if you’re younger (under 45 let’s say), you have a lot of time to build wealth. Contributions to a 401 K, regular savings on top of that (If you can bank 40-percent of your take-home, you’re a financial rock star), regular dollar cost averaging investing into a growing economy, paying down debt, will all get you to retirement age with a nice nest egg to carry out your lifestyle into the golden years.

Benefits have become more valuable as health insurance premiums skyrocket:

It’s highly likely you’ve already been affected: Deductibles soaring through the roof. More patient-responsibility at the doctor’s check-out window. More incentive to get, and stay, well. Try quitting your job and finding insurance outside your employment. I’ve tried and it sucks.

Employers today are a lot more accommodating to the Millennial generation:

What does that mean? More flexible work hours. Working offsite. Flexible comp time. Funky, hip workspaces that make the environment a lot more palatable than the stale, dull cubicles of the 80s.

I consulted with a company recently that built their very open “cubes” out of bolted together wooden beams and called them “casitas.” They were creatively decorated to the max by their occupants with anything from Mardi Gras beads to elaborate artwork; all Millennial style.

The conference rooms had a theme, including one decorated somewhere between a library and a wine tasting room. It had concrete floors and open ceilings with exposed ductwork. It was a really cool workspace. More and more of that is showing up in offices around the globe.

You can enjoy the benefits of “Entrepreneurship” without the downside

If you find the right “Job” you can enjoy many of the benefits of entrepreneurship from flexible hours, competitive pay, and the freedom and autonomy to make your own decisions without any of the downsides.

We refer to these careers as “Intrapreneurial” because you are acting as an entrepreneur inside of an organization.

You don’t have to deal with the paperwork, hiring, firing, or the stress and uncertainty of being the boss but you still get to enjoy most of the upside.

When A Passion Turns Deadly

Typically, when we think about telling our boss to “take this job and shove it,” the stakes aren’t potentially fatal.

Nobody’s going to get hurt pounding on a laptop at the nearby Starbucks.

But in some cases, pursuing one’s passion has potentially life-threatening risk.

Such was the case this year for mountaineer and climber Hayden Kennedy and his girlfriend, Inge Perkins.

Kennedy was born and raised in Carbondale, Colorado, a mostly working-class and farming community about 45 minutes down the road from glitzy Aspen. It sits adjacent to the Elk Mountains, a jagged set of 12-14,000 foot peaks in the central Rockies known for being tough to climb.

This is where Hayden grew up and where his passion was also born.

It was in his DNA. His dad is an accomplished alpine climber and owned and was editor of Climbing Magazine for two decades. His mom founded a local film festival dedicated to alpine adventures taken to the extreme.

As a young teen, Hayden began learning his Spiderman-esque techniques on the local peaks. He became so good, so young, that (partially due to his family’s influence in the sport) he became renown as one of the best alpine climbers worldwide.

One of his hallmark ascents was in 2012 when he and a partner scaled the so-called corkscrew approach of Patagonia’s Cerro Torre, ending in a straight-up sheer rock wall, topping out at 10,262 feet.

It was hallmark because, on the way down, Kennedy took it upon himself to remove hundreds of climbing bolts installed years before by Cesare Maestri, who first scaled the “impossible” peak in 1970, amidst claims it couldn’t be climbed.

Maestri installed the bolts thinking it would make the ascent safer for future climbers.

Kennedy felt the bolts insulted the purity aspect of the sport, so he cut them off, returning the cliff to, as Kennedy claimed, its purest form.

This guy was pure badass and had suction cups for fingers.

See his paranormal climbing skills here:

His girlfriend, a beautiful, vibrant Scandinavian-looking blonde with long golden locks, made her own mark in the sport as an up and coming ski mountaineer and climber. The couple knew what they were doing, and were known around the world for their unique skills.

They were pursuing their passion to the max.

Haden, 27, had moved in with Perkins, 23, in her hometown of Bozeman, Montana.

She was finishing her undergrad degree while he was getting an EMT certification. Following a series of several early-season snowfalls that left several feet of a layered snowpack on Montana’s tallest peaks, the couple launched out for some irresistible early-season fun the morning of October 7, 2017.

Having scaled most of Imp Peak in the southern Madison Range, a relative cake-walk for these two, an unexpected avalanche triggered as they stood atop the gully they thought they were about to ski down.

The 2-foot-deep slide took them both under and down the mountain, burying Perkins under three feet of snow. Hayden was able to dig himself out. But unable to free herself, Inge suffocated under the dense, wet early-season snow.

Hayden looked and looked frantically but, silent and unresponsive, the love of his young life was nowhere to be found.

An avalanche beacon was in her backpack but it was switched off, sealing her fate.

Heartbroken, Hayden knew that walking out for help surely meant he would never hold her again. He stumbled away from the scene, took out pen and paper and scratched out precise instructions where to search for his love’s body.

Then, he wrote a note to his parents telling them how he could not stand the thought of her death, nor living without her. He folded the papers, attached them to his person, and took his own life.

Not far from the mountains, and the lady, that were both his passion.

Why You Shouldn’t Pursue Your Passions as a Career (and what to do instead)

The couple’s deaths sent shock-waves through both hometown communities.

In Colorado, theirs were fatalities eight and nine of the deadly summer of 2017 in the Elk Range. In Bozeman, a local psychotherapist and radio host Timothy Tate, wrote an article exploring whether young people today might feel a bit too invincible, driven by several factors:

“…members of (t)his generation have been reared with such praise by their parents and teachers that they believe they can do anything they want, almost to the point of believing in their own invincibility. This attitude, combined with instant access to the escapades of peers showering the Internet with selfies about all the grand times being had, creates the compelling illusion that indeed, anything you want to do is possible.”

Kennedy and Perkins knew what they were doing.

But the mountains they sought to scale didn’t care about their talent or expertise, and they didn’t forgive.

In business (and in life), are there instances where it might be best to throttle back a little, and take a safer approach?

In Aspen, another experienced mountaineer with a worldwide reputation weighed in on Facebook as to why he specifically chose not to make his passion his profession.

Mike Marolt, along with his twin brother Steve and their Aspen-native and lifelong friend Jim Gile, have climbed and skied down most of the world’s tallest peaks, including three times on Everest.

The trio’s adventures have been documented in “Skiing Everest,” a 2009 film release with a sequel coming soon.

Mike and Steve are both CPA’s and specifically chose not to climb and guide professionally.

Said Mike (via a Facebook exchange with a local friend):

When you make your passion your job, you never get a break and your reality is lit up with competition, arrogance, and ego. If climbing and skiing are your end-all, I guarantee there isn’t a mountain big enough or powder light enough to sustain you. Nothing material ever can.”

I got a job as an accountant because I found my passion abroad in the higher ranges.

I thought about bumming it, but the reality was, I didn’t want to rely on sponsorships and babysitting clients as a guide to do it, so I got a job.

That job gave me separation from my passion, which allowed for growth. And a funny thing happened. After a decade of that route, I never had to pay for a piece of gear or an expedition.

Kids today get so immersed in this stuff in an effort to be the best that they never give their bodies, and more importantly their brains, a break. The guy who climbs Denali 10 times this year has nowhere near the experience as the guy who climbs a peak every year for 10 years.

It’s like Gretzky says about youth sports: “If you play all year without mixing it up, you get stale, bored and miss opportunities to find other cool aspects of life that enhance your hockey after taking a break.”

EVERY article ever written on Steve and me highlighted the fact that we are accountants in irony, but (they) missed the baseline reality that because we are accountants, we were able to climb and ski the greatest peaks in the world.

It’s not a way for everyone, but a way nonetheless.

It gave us an ability to understand that climbing and skiing is awesome, but not terribly important relative to a lot of aspects to life. Different ways to achieve passion is key. Also, I didn’t say I don’t respect people that did it another way. I do, greatly. I’m just glad for me that I didn’t go that route. I’m satisfied.”

Words of wisdom from a highly-skilled 50-something who will again soon climb above 20,000 feet in ski boots, unstrap two fiberglass planks off his back and float down through the barely-breathable air for the umpteenth time of exhilarating, passionate fun.

Then, he’ll pack all the gear up, go home and do tax returns.

In Conclusion

As Mr. Tate mused above, might it be that photos of a dude in a coffee shop, shirttail out, staring blankly at the front side of an LCD screen with a white Apple on the back has created a mental image of freedom and success that is in a way glamorously surreal but not easily achievable?

Should we pull it back a little and culturally elevate the image of a good old fashioned, albeit somewhat boring, J-O-B?

In an office.

At a desk.

Doing things like tax returns or designing marketing plans.

Not as sexy, but stable.

Should we, collectively, make it more “in vogue” to have health insurance, paid for by someone else, than to glamorize virtual globetrotting and not planting any roots down anywhere?

Then, if one is totally driven to solopreneurship, should he ease himself into it – or burn the boats, like Arman did? Or, would it be better to find work that can fuel your passion occasionally, like the Marolts did?

Certainly, there is no “right” or “wrong.” There’s plenty of room for both. The point here is to shed a little light that perhaps the pendulum has swung a bit too far one direction, and it’s not a bad idea to aggrandize the alternative, which for generations before us hasn’t been a bad option at all.

Whatever you do, don’t over-glamorize images alone, whether of climbing a mountain or handing in your resignation letter.

There are risks to everything. Calculate yours carefully. Don’t get to the end of your life with a bag of regrets, like is discussed in this KFM podcast.

Oh, and if you’re ever anywhere near Aspen and want some good advice, stop by the Marolt’s CPA office. If Mike and Steve are around, one or both of them will always pull you up a chair and talk shop. Mountain shop, that is.

Or, if Aspen is not in your immediate future, you have the opportunity to change your life with the help of a coach who’s been there and will walk with you on your journey.

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