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Why “Follow your passion” is foolish career advice 

Why is this important? There is a predominating but misleading myth that you should choose a career based on what you are passionate about right now.

What will you learn? Passion, aka “Cupid’s choke hold”, encourages laser focus, while blinding you from looking more broadly, at all of your options.   This is critical because you cannot financially afford to choose the wrong path, nor can you live a good life if  you have bitter end-of-life career choice regret.  But, sadly, statistics show the majority of people do have end-of-life career regret.  This blog will reveal a brand-new career guidance approach to avoid this type of devastating regret. 

Can you remember the first time you felt passionately attracted to someone?  Maybe this was your first true love, or maybe it was a fling. Regardless of how hot and high your bonfire of passion burned, your passion cooled over time.  As you dated more people over time, you learned that you cannot solely rely on your feelings, no matter how intensely gripping they are.

In fact, as you have dated more people, the type of person you have the strongest feelings for has likely changed over time.  Your experiences changed your passion preferences because they allowed you to see choose from a much larger group of options.  What you are passionate about can change dramatically after you broaden your perspective.  For example, your high school sweetheart often does not seem so special once you date many people in college.      

As a clinical and talent development psychologist with two decades of experience, I have worked with over a thousand people, and many of them tell me that the type of person they were initially attracted to has changed over time, as they have matured.  Part of the reason is they identified biases that were leading them down fruitless paths. 

The bottom line is the more people you date, the more you learn about what combination of characteristics is healthiest for you.  And by learning what combination of characteristics is healthiest for you, you maximize the chances you can choose a long-term mate with whom you can have a sustainable, long-term relationship. 

Anyone who has been in a relationship more than a couple of years knows the highest long-term romantic match quality between yourself and another is based on a formula that goes far beyond passion, and includes the following: shared loyalty + matchup of key values + personality compatibility + shared sense of humor.  There are certainly other factors we can identify. 

The same is true when you are trying to find the highest career match quality; passion is only one of many factors. But how many times have you heard “Follow your passion!” ?.  The predominating effect of the “Find your passion” is peope rush their career choice decision.  Meanwhile, a recent survey indicated 9 out of 10 people regretted rushing their career decsision.  

The History and Neuroscience of Passion

Let’s look at the etymological root of the word passion The word passion, when identifying its original meaning in Greek, means “to suffer, to be acted on”.  And in Latin, “passio” means “passion” or “suffering”.  The word passion denotes a barely controllable emotion with respect to a particular person or thing, and is often used in the context of romance or sexual desire.  Admittedly, the word passion can also imply a deeper or more encompassing emotion as well. 

But however you use this term, we can all agree that passion does not call you to look around – beyond the object of your desire.  Neuroscientists are increasingly talking about the difference between “hot” and “cool” cognitions, and passion involves hot cognitions.  Let’s admit it, your passion can melt the more logical and analytical processes your brain carries out to protect you. 

These cognitions run so hot that they burn through the protective mehcnaisms built into your brain circuitry.  Passions are like cravings, and can be accompanied by very powerful biochemical reactions.  This is why some people call it the “passion trap”, because you feel caught inside that passion.   

Because the human mind is so vulnerable to being magnetically pulled in by an object of desire, leading neuroscientists like Dr. Daniel Kahneman (a Nobel Laureate and author of the best-selling book Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow), have pointed out that human decision-making needs to be accompanied by a checks and balances system. 



Especially when you are choosing a career, which will involve investing 100,000 hours of your life funneled into a narrow pathway.   Your passion may also lead you to choose a major in college that will end up costing on average about $150,000.00 across four years.  

As Kahneman once famously said, “No thought is as important as you think it is when you’re thinking it”.  This is especially true with passionate thoughts related to career selection.

Career guidance methdology must change 

One of the most difficult and life transforming decisions you’ll ever make is what career you choose.  So why is it that very few people put themselves through a methodologically rigorous process to make sure they examine all their options?  One reason is the hypnotic effect that “follow your passion” has had on people.  Another reason is your typical career guidance method is shallow and based on superficial analyses through fluffy personality tests.  But the era of “personality test your way into a career decision” is fading quickly.  Reasons for this include those discussed in HBO’s recent documentary entitled Persona.


What does the Next era of Career Guidance look like?  

I am about to publish a book outlining a completely fresh and much deeper approach to career guidance that rewrites the career guidance playbook. 

Dr. Brunner’s upcoming book

Called Precisely Engineered Career Guidance™(PECG), my trademarked 10-step method draws many lessons from Artificial Intelligence (AI), because it involves a recursive process which is self-correcting.  PECG is engineered to identify biases leading you down the wrong career path.  PECG method is based on the idea that you have to identify the most recurring but often hidden patterns in your life, both healthy and unhealthy patterns.  Personality tests can help with career guidance, but they are by no means sufficient.  In fact, as I talk about in my upcoming book, personality tests tell lies as well as truths.  This is why I decided to design a career guidance approach that weaves together information from a wide variety of cources far beyond personality tests.  

PECG also involves the most rigorous, intimate and diversified road testing versus other shallower methods.  If you do not look far and wide, and use a methodical process to do so, it is incredibly easy to fall for the wrong passion.  And who wants to sit in their rocking chair feeling regret about how they chose to spend 70% of their life?

Your experiences can overfocus you on the wrong passions

I cannot tell you how many times I have conducted career guidance with people who had unhealthy childhoods, where the household was full of anger or abuse, and who were passionate about going into law enforcement, becoming a therapist or becoming an attorney.  Through PECG we came to find out that those individuals were interested in those careers not because they had high match quality, but because of unconscious dynamics that they had never dealt with.  Cognitive scientists like Kahneman appreciate the hidden influenceof the unconscious facet of the mind on decision-making.  In fact, a mountain of peer-reviewed, scientiifcally sound studies reveal that these decision making is in many ways predminantky driven by these unconscious factors.   

The bright side is you have the power to become significantly aware of these unconscious “actors” operating in the darkness of the theater of your mind.  Time after time, after my clients and I worked to “light up” these actors,  the career paths they felt passionate about changed, sometimes dramatically.  Passions transform from wanting to become a therapist to feeling passionate about becoming a biologist. 

Bottom line: before you follow-up your passion, you have to understand the factors driving your passion.

There are over 16,000 careers, and over 1,800 college majors.  The only way to have a decent chance of finding a sustainable career is to first make sure you look at options you are not currently aware of.  Your passion-based brain circuitry will only work with what you can see for now. 

Even for those who think they are sure they want to go to medical school will go through my PECG process and then discover other serious options that they explore intensely. 

Most people choose a career pathway as if they are living in a small town and they consider their high school sweetheart to be the one they should definitely marry.  No real rigorous searching outside of the current bubble they live in.  The problem is, when that bubble pops, you’re not just going to be sad, you’re going to feel devastated. 

When people are asked at the end of their life what they have regrets about, sadly one of the top regrets his career choice.  Don’t become one of the statistics.  Because there are few things sadder than feeling like you could have done something better with your life. 

To be notified of when my upcoming book will be published, sign up here 

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Meet Doctor Brunner

Dr. Thomas (Tom) Brunner is a Tucson based psychologist and published expert who has a 20 year track record of clinical excellence, scientific research, teaching, publications, awards and podcast interviews.  He is the senior author of a psychological measure adapted into 14 languages worldwide, and has written over 250 blogs, many of them have gone viral.  He is revolutionizing the field of career guidance with his fresh and trademarked approach that is spreading like wildfire. Sign up here to be notified of soon to be published book, Find Your Real Me: Career Guidance Making You Truly Free.