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Blindly Following Your Passion is a Bad Idea

Many thanks go to reader Retire by 40 for the suggestion of this post.  A few month ago Joe wrote how following your passion is potentially bad advice.  I agreed with Joe’s premise and in fact have a personal story to relate on the matter and here we are.  My experience in why following your passion is a bad idea.

Full Time Finance at 5

Our story starts at the ripe young age of 5.  Young Full Time Finance was gifted his first hand me down computer for his room.  The first of an endless stream of such computers.  Even prior to my birth my home had personal computers.  I’m not clear on what was first but in my family’s basement there still lies a TRS-80 and a Timex Sinclair, we’re talking 70s style computers.  I am truly of the computer generation by any measure, but I digress.

My Passion

What did I do with my first personal computer, a Commodore 64 to be exact?  What any kid that liked computers did, I played games.  Oh boy,  did I play games.  Every generation of computer would bring new ones.  I very rarely played game consoles like Nintendo at friends houses, but I could rattle off the latest computer games.  And in the beginning I also coded some of them in basic.  Pre hard drives and mass computer software you often had to code things yourself.  

My Passion Begins to Lead Towards a Career

Fast forward to high school, still pre the concept of E sports as a commercial item, I was a nationally ranked player in one particular computer game.  I was also taking computer programing classes at my high school.  First I took Turbo Pascal.   I was a natural and even began tutoring others in my class. The following year they created a special class for me to learn C++.  I was rolling and I’d found my passion.  I wanted to make video games for a living.

I ultimately got into one of the top computer science schools in the country.  My future to follow my passion seemed inevitable.  And it held that way until perhaps my Junior year.  I held my own in class and was riding high with all As in Computer classes and a 3.0 overall.

A Rude Awaking, Passion doesn’t make you the Best

Then my junior year I took a team coding class.  At the same time I took theoretical Statistics.  On an aside I am not a theory person, I definitely lean towards applied.  As such I struggled with theoretical statistics.  It just so happened my team mate on my capstone project of that team coding class was a dual major also in math.  He agreed to teach me statistical theory.  As such I spent considerable time with this gentleman.

Anyway our capstone project was to build a 3-D tour of our campus.  Then for bonus points allow it to be swapped in and out for other maps.  We had a few months to do it and a team of 4.  Anyway, my friend the dual major volunteered for the hardest coding parts of the project.  Working with him for months on statistics though I noticed something, he wasn’t doing any coding.  I was sweating bullets that he wasn’t doing any work.  

In One Night What Took Me a Month is Done

Fast forward the day before the project is due, and he’s unreachable.  He has all the rest of our code and has disappeared to in his words, “work is magic”.  Anyway the next day he gives us a five minute preview of the finished product before we show the instructors.  He has not only finished the tour and the ability to swap maps.  He also built a swapped map of Super Mario Land.  All in one night!

Realizing the Limits of My Passion

This was almost inconceivable to me, the former star programmer.  But it also opened my eyes.  I might be a good coder, but I’m no superstar.   I can’t compete on that level.  This was further rammed home at graduation.  Once I finally worked out a job I didn’t land in the computer industry.  No my skills were not up to par.  Instead I landed in pharmaceuticals as a programmer.

The Passion Dies

In Pharma I was a star as a programmer, but a star of what?  I could code Enterprise software until the cows come home, but it was boring as tar.  I missed dealing with people.  Add to that I was moving away from playing games.  The addiction suddenly just stopped, and one day I found I hadn’t played a game in months.  All I wanted to do was find a job where I could deal with people.  I had no desire to play video games, let alone design them.

Abandoning My Passion, Except as a Hobby

And thus, I left the IT world only 2 years into my career, never to return.  These days I interact with IT heavily, in some projects I provide the designs that IT ultimately builds.  But the reality is my job is much more focused on process changes than IT.    My interest in video games has come back, although not the the same level.  I haven’t written a line of code in almost 15 years.

Passions Come and Go, and They are Crowded Fields

Joe’s post talked about not choosing a career based on following your passion, and his post highlighted two main reasons why.  Passions don’t always last and many people have the same passions.  If I reflect honestly on what happened to my career, that is what happened to me.  My passion left video games, at least for a time.  Add to that so many people wanted to code video games that I would never have qualified for the top tier of that field.    I’m the walking poster child for why following your passion is probably not the key to success.

That all being said, Joe also indicated you should follow your success.  While I agree in principle that success is one determinant, I have slightly different advice on how you should choose your future career.  Find out more here.

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Joe
    Joe July 23, 2018

    Thanks for sharing your story. That’s really interesting. That guy who did the work in one night sounds like a superstar. We all know those few people in engineering. Some of us study all the time just to keep up and they breeze in and make it look easy. That’s unfair, but it’s life. 🙂
    It sounds like you’re doing well at your job so that’s great. I lost my passion in engineering too. It’s just not fun anymore. Most of my friends from college isn’t doing the technical work. Life changes.
    Thanks for the mention too.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance July 23, 2018

      Thank you for the post inspiration 🙂 I’m very happy with where I ended up, but I can picture my 16 year old self wondering what happened.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story FTF. Our stories are somewhat similar but in reverse. I loved math growing up and never took a programming class until sophomore year of college. Likewise, now, I don’t like doing math and statistics because it’s not as concrete as I’d like (we have managers who don’t get it adding to the non-concreteness) and with programming, either it works or or doesn’t.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance July 23, 2018

      As always appreciate the comment Erik.

      It’s always interesting to think about how our interests change over the years. It sounds like your enjoying programing these days, perhaps it will lead to new opportunities.

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