This fall, I tried to write an opinion piece on why I think “follow your passion” is bad career advice. I saved three different drafts on my U:drive under a variety of mature titles such as “Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ Sucks” and “Passion to Profit and Other Bad Career Advice.”  I quit a few weeks in, realizing it was more academically “profitable” to focus on thesis instead.

Back then, my argument was as follows: “Follow Your Passion” is a rhetorical crutch we feed hungry liberal arts college students when we don’t know what else to say.  It seemed painfully intuitive that everyone would prefer to do what they loved if given the option.  Being told “follow your passion, and the money will come” annoyed me; I was already stressed out.

Around the same time, Fast Company published a piece by Georgetown Professor Cal Newport titled “Do Like Steve Jobs Did: Don’t Follow Your Passion.”  Newport wrote, “When you look past the feel-good slogans and go deeper into the details of how passionate people like Steve Jobs really got started, or ask scientists about what actually predicts workplace happiness, the issue becomes much more complicated.” Essentially, Newport argues that, if Jobs had followed his passion, he would have remained an instructor at the Los Altos Zen Center instead of going on to found Apple Computers.  At first, I cheered that someone was challenging conventional wisdom, but I found Newport’s conclusion unsatisfying.  Not following your passion seemed even worse than following it.

For about a month, I became obsessed with the topic of careers, passion, and profitability, debating it around my apartment and over sliders at Some Crust.  A quick Amazon search turned up a laughable series of books on the subject, all of which had almost the same exact title: from Turn Your Passion Into Profit to Turn Your Passion Into Profitsas well as Turning Passions Into Profits and Passion to Profits. I asked myself the same question a thousand times: what is this thing called passion, and why is it running away from me? And how does one convert it into a pot of gold at the end of the metaphorical rainbow?

English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes devoted the first part of his Leviathan to a discussion of basic human passion.  Hobbes lists some simple ones: “appetite, desire, love, aversion, hate, joy, and grief.”  These seem intuitively correct but too basic for the type of passion we refer to in a career setting.  When people say, “Follow your passion,” they do not usually mean, “Follow your appetite.”  (We do not know how successful Jobs might have been had he chased only strawberry flavored cupcakes.) Nor do most career advisers intend “follow your passion” to mean “disregard anything but desires and pleasures.”  Most acknowledge that even a career in your passion will involve at least a little elbow grease.

Still, if passion is taken simply to mean an ardent desire for an outcome, children are perhaps among the most passionate people I’ve ever known.  Anyone who has ever taken care of five-year-olds knows the vicious passion with which they will fight for that last ten minutes of staying up late—or the heart-in-mouth venom they can spit when the whole world depends on that second cookie.  As we grow older, we learn to taper off our passions with reason.  Education, in some ways, is an exercise in passion restraint. So why are we so obsessed with telling young college grads to follow these things we ourselves struggle to define?

Why did I care so much about a silly debate? In retrospect, it’s because I was terrified. I was intimidated by my undergraduate program and its notoriously successful alums. At one admissions event, the professor listed off the careers that the class of 2012 had taken: Ivy League Law Schoolers, Fulbrighters, and Deliottieans.  Not to mention that one that took a year off to travel, but—don’t worry—he had already signed a book deal. PPE students spend undergrad hearing about how successful they’ll be as grown-ups, but what if you’re that outlier?

I began to ask myself the big, important questions, namely: what is a Bain and how do I get one?

Around this time, a sharp girl sent me a 600-word email from Ecuador, in which she painstakingly listed fourteen pros and cons of undergoing the junior year recruiting process.  She was reaching out to me for career advice, unsure which path to chose.  Her analysis was not only on point, but also laugh-out-loud funny. Still, she worried. “I may be the most impressive-seeming but unemployable person in Claremont,” she lamented in her sign off.  A month later, as I read the back of her program at her memorial service in frigid Minnesota, I realized just how wrong she was about her employability.

I worry sometimes CMCers are in a rush to grow up.  We’re starving to change the world by twenty, and I love that.  But we’re equally starving to be able to say we have post-graduation plans. Don’t get me wrong; I am absurdly proud of my friends who have signed with the Big Three and the Big Four.  But I’m equally, if not more, proud of those of us still submitting cover letters, fighting the good fight.

Today, I turn 22.  I’m not employed—passionately or otherwise. ASCMC is holding elections outside of Collins Dining Hall, and in two weeks, the junior class will take over the reins of the student government. I will transition out of Forum editor and back into whatever it was I was before.

Dean Vos is already insisting that I vacate my apartment by Sunday, May 19.  And when that happens, I’m not sure where I’ll go.  I have no plans; no plane ticket is booked.  And I’m beginning to love that.  Six months ago, I would have panicked.  But there’s a life lesson that wasn’t captured by the passion-career debate.  The future is her own creature. Through all the change, the moments that come so quick, the future always comes as she wishes.  You just have to throw your head to the sky, disregard the philosophizing, and let that be.

Because leaders or not—we are, as humans, perpetually and persistently in the making.  And that is wonderful.



  1. I think it would behoove you to add an oft ignored CMC subgroup, the students who don’t have a career lined up and who literally cannot afford to wait around. True panic kicks in when you graduate with 10,000+ dollars of student loans without a job or family with the means to help you out while you find your passion. I think it would surprise many 5C students just how many of their classmates had to get by post-graduation working an 40+ hour internship on a stipend in addition to holding down one or more service jobs.

    • I think Caroline was simply showing that there is something beautiful about being unsure – regardless of the issues that come with it. It is not that she believes it will be easy, but rather that she has learned to recognize that there is still excitement in it.

      Rather than continue to lament in the difficulty that comes with not yet being employed, don’t you think there is some value in Caroline’s pursuit? It is about taking a difficult situation and not only recognizing the fear that comes with it, but the endless possibility.

      • Of course there beauty and excitement regarding what possibilities are forth coming. My point was that forum articles often overlook students who don’t come from an upper middle class background. Not everyone can find beauty in a situation when they know they will not be ok without a monthly paycheck. Economic realities quickly overtake Bourgeoisie angst and wanderlust. I’m not saying one I better or more noble than the other, just that the forum produces articles targeted to a certain class of students.


        • Lol. I’m just suggesting she acknowledge the proletariat exist as a portion of the student body.

        • Lol. I’m just suggesting that the forum acknowledge the proletariat exist within the greater student body. Also, Capitalist overlords imply the forum writers earned their money. I think forum editors are more akin to beneficiaries than capitalists.

  2. “Because leaders or not—we are, as humans, perpetually and persistently in the making.” Perfect.

  3. Loved this article. It captures the uncertainty I’m definitely going through as well. I’m sure we’ll both end up doing interesting and fulfilling things. Not knowing exactly what they will be is not necessarily a bad thing. Are you still looking at writing/journalism stuff at all?

  4. I got to have dinner with the philosopher Ronald Dworkin a few years ago, and one of the questions that came up was how he decided to become a philosopher. His answer was so surprising. He said that first he became an investment banker and worked until he couldn’t stand his life a second longer. Then he quit that job and started writing philosophy. With no precedent whatsoever. He didn’t badmouth his career path at all, but did stress that we shouldn’t be afraid of following our passions, however unmarketable it may seem during our first few job searches.

  5. Being one of those ‘stressed’ people fighting the good fight… glad I’m not alone in the struggle boat. Thanks for the piece! I came across it at the perfect time! 🙂

  6. Seriously? Caroline is probably the most useless Forum editor of the last three years. Instead of writing some real analysis of the election results, or interviewing the President-Elect, or doing a feature piece on the RA selection process, or pursuing countless other interesting stories — she writes about how she feels on her birthday? Is there anything that isn’t about her?

    Come on, Mimbs. You might be in the making but you are a supposed to be a campus leader NOW. Please act like it.

    • I have to agree. Caroline, just because you’re the Editor-in-Chief doesn’t give you the right to just post an article because it happens to be your birthday. No one else would get to do it, furthermore it’s incredibly lacking in substance.

      • Wait until next year, juniors. Then, maybe you will understand the substance in this. I do agree, however, that those alternative pieces would be pertinent to current campus issues. No reason they still can’t be done.

    • Jesus, harsh much? This was an editorial piece, I’m sure if somebody else on the staff had written it on their birthday it also would have gotten published. This is relevant, ask pretty much any senior. And it’s unfair to attack her for posting something that isn’t entirely “news.” By the way, most of those article ideas were irrelevant when this was posted, elections results came out AFTER this article was written. There’s still news here, in case you haven’t noticed.

      • I highly doubt that. I know for a fact that people have written articles and have had to wait weeks to get them published. I’ve heard that from multiple peers of mine. So no. She’s pulling her strings to boost her own ego and make many of my friends waiting to publish more relevant articles on the Forum.

    • Election results came out last night. This article was published in the afternoon. Last I checked you can’t write an article about something that hasn’t happened yet.

  7. Why not just walk around with a sign saying it’s your birthday instead of plastering it on the school’s online newspaper?

  8. This article is just one of many examples of how the Forum, and CMC for that matter, is not socially or culturally inclusive at all. Nor do they seem to much make an effort to be. Not everyone has the privilege of embracing uncertainty.

  9. Caroline, loved loved this piece. I wish CMCers discussed this issue more often, it is so important to consider and weigh these options carefully. To Alum and CMC Junior, i think you totally missed the point of this. Whether you are rich or paying your own way through school (and whether or not Caroline is a wonderful B-day girl), a successful CMC student you will have a number of choices their senior year and can pursue so many different options. Do I apply for jobs or invest another round of school? If I am starting my career now, then which careers am i interested in and which careers have the best earning potential, where is the overlap? This uncertainty faces each of us, and, as Caroline points out, it is important to embrace the moment.

  10. Love the article. Remember to embrace and enjoy the uncertainty! Once you make into the working world you’ll wish you had that much time for introspection. Once you are ready, be decisive and go after what you want.

  11. Holy s*** did this resonate with me; I might even admit to getting the chills from it. Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been feeling this semester. It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one in the class of 2013 feeling like this and, in some ways, that’s one of the best feelings to have.

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