I am lucky. I get to follow my passion!” she told me. She is a professional violinist. My wife and I had just attended a performance of the Darlington Chamber Concert series in Perth. Semra was the violinist at the first performance for the year. She is also a lead violinist/assistant concertmaster at the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and tutors violin at the University of Western Australia.

Darlington Chamber Concert Series


Semra pointed to one of the real dangers inherent in the persistent pursuit of one’s passion. It’s not always easy to make a living from it!

Semra had just performed in a splendid rendition of Smetana’s Piano Trio Opus 15, in an intimate environment with a good crowd. (At the start of the trio’s performance, Semra bantered with good humour that she didn’t want to hit the front row in the face when striking out with her bow – she was being serious, it was that close up). All of the performers from that day are professional musicians and it showed in their technique, depth of performance and synchronicity of aesthetic, timing and feeling.

In conversation over tea, Semra pointed out that her students were passionate about their music as well, but that limited opportunities meant there were only so many who would be able to make a living from it. And in her opinion, that was disappointing. She is one of the ‘lucky ones’ because she gets to do it full-time.

The Dangers of Pursuing Your Passions

My research and observations of high performers indicate that they all are pursuing their passions in some way. But in a business and career environment, for it to be productive, that passion has to hit the sweet spot:

Your Gifts at Work
Productive Passion Network © 2008-2015 Peter J. McLean

This is similar to how a business functions in general – you need process, product and people to operate together to serve a market opportunity. Likewise, people without capability or talent who endlessly pursue their dream sometimes need to be told, simply, “No”. Or at least, “Not now”, or “Not yet”.

It’s like those contestants on the various “[Your Nation]’s Got Talent” or “[Your National] Idol”. They come to audition. They’re full of hope and passion. They start singing. And then your ears start hurting. And your heart bleeds for them (if you’re compassionate and if they’re not just too plain arrogant or oblivious) and you want to say, “Child, you go right on singing. You should. But you are not going to make a living out of it right now, because you are just plain bad. Please don’t go on deluding yourself. You simply don’t demonstrate the talent at this point in human existence.”

For this reason, the simple mantra to ‘pursue your passion’ can be a dangerous one. Yes, it’s important to be enlivened and empowered by your passion, but you need to back it up with resources, with capability and with appropriate opportunities. For example, when I was a kid astronomy and all things to do with space were some of my passions, but there was zero opportunity (anyone heard of the Australian space program?), so I pursued more fruitful passions.

In my ‘Gifted Leadership’ video series, I address how you can continue deliberately continue to develop your professional skills and your passions through and in your leadership. For entrepreneurs, for those in leadership and for those in constant development of their careers, developing talents and passions in yourself and your people is paramount.

BUT, pursuing passions without alignment to a solid purpose and opportunity can be reckless and undermine you. How many adults have wasted their lives and undermined their children’s future pursuing some passion that never yielded a result? Simply because they didn’t properly assess and develop the right opportunities?

When employees branch out in wild directions pursuing their passions, without commitment and alignment with the direction and opportunities of your business or industry, it equally undermines the performance of your endeavour. Part of leadership is harnessing individual passions towards a greater purpose.

You should pursue your passions, absolutely. But if you want to make a career or business out of them, then you should also carefully seek and cultivate opportunities, resources and develop the capability to make you or your organisation valuable in that pursuit.

Develop the Capability for the Right Opportunities

A good, popular, example of talent development is all of those marvellous dancers on “So You Think You Can Dance.” In the US, in particular, there are now contestants who have grown up watching the show, wanting to compete. They know they will have to compete in a demanding format, in different dance styles, in a career that usually is unlikely to furnish full-time income. And so, they grow up developing themselves and their abilities to outstanding levels, determined to compete in a viable market opportunity (the show), with something people (the paying audience) find valuable, at a time that is right.

I am constantly astounded by the level of performance now being displayed by contestants on these dancing shows around the world. And it’s because these young people have seen an opportunity and worked hard to be a part of it.

In other words, if you want to successfully pursue your passion full-time, then you need to have a workable plan.

It took considerable commitment for those talented and skilful musicians to get to where they can consistently put on the kind of performance we were privy to the other weekend. It will require equal commitment, resources and effort for you to become a high achiever in pursuit of your passion. Do so thoughtfully, strategically and with clear objectives and rewards in view.

And if you want to support some talented musicians pursuing their passion, then attend a concert series like the Darlington Chamber Concert Series or their corollaries in your area and you will be greatly rewarded with some fine, moving music and the arousal of your own passions in life.

© 2015 Peter J. McLean. http://petermclean.co 

The Perils of Following Your Passion

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