DON’T FOLLOW YOUR PASSION: Career Advice for a Young Person Looking for Success

A while back I heard that one of my nephews, William, was having trouble determining what kind of work he’d like to do in his life. After sending the note below to William, I realized that the ideas I shared with him were things I wish someone had told me when I was in my 20s. Perhaps you know someone young in your life who could use some career direction. Don’t let them re-invent the wheel. Help them out. Here’s my note to William . . . I’m sure not everyone will agree with all these ideas, but I have certainly found them to be very true. All financial numbers coming up apply to Canada and our currency and labour markets, but the idea is universal.


Dear William,

I was talking to Grandpa and Grandma a few days ago, and they tell me you’re not pursuing the carpentry training you began. That got me thinking about some suggestions I can offer you on identifying a worthwhile career and making it happen. Perhaps you’ve thought of these things before, but I wouldn’t want to leave it up to chance. Careers are too important for chance. So here are some things I’ve found to be true about work, life and careers . . .

Don’t Follow Your Passion

One of the worst pieces of career advice that young people often get is “follow your passion”, or “follow your dreams”. I used to believe this, but years of experience and observation has convinced me this is completely wrong because it puts you in a position of following your feelings. Feelings are never consistent enough to build a career on. More reliable career advice is to follow the opportunities the economy offers. In terms of a career, “opportunities”, they’re those things the world pays good money for. This leads to my second point, but watch the video below first. It’s wise and true. I didn’t make this video, but it’s definitely worth watching:

Don’t Train for Work That Makes Less Than $40 Per Hour

This eliminates a lot of fields you’ll find training for at universities and colleges.  The main purpose of a job is to financially support the life of human beings, and ideally to support a complete family without a second income. Home life is important enough that one person should be focussed on it exclusively, if at all possible. You need to earn at least $40 per hour (that’s $80,000 a year) to do this in Canada. More is better. It always amazes me how many young people invest years of their lives and tens of thousands of dollars (sometimes more than $100k) pursuing a job that only earns them what they could have earned without that training (or perhaps a bit more, i.e. $20 per hour). In my experience no career is worth post-secondary education unless it has the potential to earn at least $80,000 per year. One huge reason for family breakup happens when both adults are working flat out outside the home, living frazzled lives, hardly at home, kids growing up without direction, and still there’s not quite enough money. One adult earning all the money for the family is something to shoot for, and don’t believe the lie that says every household needs two incomes these days. If one income is not sufficient, then it’s time to prepare yourself to deliver more value to the world so that your single income grows to be sufficient. Any normal adult can earn enough to hit the $80,000 per year threshold if they prepare themselves properly and work at least 40 hours each week with diligence and energy. Don’t settle for less. One of the reasons the buying power of a full-time wage is substantially lower than when I was a boy is because too many people agree to work for less money than they need to earn.

Consider a Heavy Equipment Career

This is just one suggestion out of a universe of options, but it’s worth looking at. There are construction unions you can join in your area that will pay you while you learn as an apprentice. Your cousin Joseph looked into this and found some very attractive opportunities in your area of southern Ontario. One heavy equipment union, for instance, will train you in a 16 week program after which you can earn big money running excavators, backhoes and bulldozers. Air conditioned cabs, union benefits, safe working conditions and lots of work. What could be better than that? Fully trained, unionized heavy equipment operators earn $60 per hour regular wages in your area, and $90 per hour overtime (which there’s usually lots of, at least where you live in southern Ontario). Even at “just” $60 per hour x 40 hour weeks, this works out to $2400 a week or $120,000 per year. That’s an income you can build a family on.

Don’t Expect to Love Your Work (At Least Not All the Time)

Almost all work in the economy is something no one wants to do for free. That’s why people offer money – “compensation” it’s called – to those who do the work. Rather than ask “what would I like to do”, ask “what hard ships and hassles am I most willing to put up with in my career”. Every job is painful and many jobs are very painful all the time. Look around for the least painful opportunities, then follow those opportunities. If you’ve started in the correct field, a field with sufficient financial potential, don’t quit. The whole purpose of paying money to people who work is because the work itself isn’t payment enough. Don’t expect it to be.

The whole career thing has been made far more complicated than it needs to be for young people. The path to success is simple:

  • Choose an area where the world pays at least $40 per hour to top people. This is a minimum. Don’t bother training for anything that pays less at the top end. More is better.
  • Get the best training possible for that work. You need to have a financially valuable skill that most people don’t have. No special skills means no worthwhile work and insufficient money.
  • Don’t expect to find work you love. You may like your work (or even love it sometimes), but feelings come and feelings go. You can’t build a career on feelings.
  • Work hard and long, especially for your first 10 years of a career. Cousin Joseph got himself his first full-time job in Austin, Texas, and he told me something I believe is true. In his own words: “If you want to build a good career and financial life, you need to work at least 10 hours a day, 6 days a week at first. It’s amazing how much fun this is when you’re building a career that matters to you.” Joseph is back in Canada now that his work visa ran out and he has never worked harder than he is right now with his current company. He tells me he’s never been happier. Not even close.

On a related note, your cousin Joseph spent 5 years at a fancy and highly-rated US university essentially cost-free. His athletic scholarship paid for almost everything, yet he’ll tell you that it was pretty much a complete waste of time in terms of what he learned. Even with this university education nearly free, Joseph considers it just barely worth the time he spent getting his business degree. In my own case, I consider the four years I spent getting a degree in the 1980s to be the biggest waste of time and money of my life so far. This is why I’m suggesting you go for some kind of focussed skills training rather than just a regular, white collar education.

Don’t feel badly about not getting a white collar education, since there are many great opportunities that have nothing to do with university. A smart plumber, for instance, can earn more than a general medical doctor. When your oldest cousin, Robert, was 18, I advised him not to go to either college or university but to pursue self-directed study in his area of interest and aptitude – photography and videography. Robert is now 30+ years old, he operates his own business, he has lots of work, he hires trusted colleagues to help him when work gets heavy, and he financially supports his wife Edyta (who absolutely loves her life as a stay-at-home mother and homemaker) and their daughter Lily. All this while working at home and being a constant part of his family’s life, eating meals with them three times a day. This is about as good as a work life gets in my experience.

I hope this article helps someone in your life, perhaps you. Please consider helping me cover the costs for creating and publishing content like this. Click the button below for a safe, simple and fast way to make a contribution. I certainly appreciate you helping to keep this website up and running.

– Steve Maxwell