Don’t Do What You Love

Last year, I finished directing a documentary film called The Work of 1000. Our heroine was Marion Stoddart, a woman who in the 1960s spearheaded a cleanup of the massively polluted Nashua River in Central Massachusetts — one of the most dramatic environmental success stories in American history. Amazingly, however, the river was her second choice for an advocacy project. She had originally wanted to help with the adoption of Korean children, and could have gone down that path, but she decided she’d get “too emotionally involved” to do a good job — and thus became an eco-pioneer instead.

It’s common wisdom these days that you should follow your passion. But executives can hurt their careers when they care about something too much. Here are four reasons to think twice before “doing what you love.”

  1. You love it — but you’re not great at it. Years ago, when I ran the communications department for a presidential campaign, I supervised Scott, a hard-working, smart, insightful employee who loved the glamour and rat-a-tat action of the press office but was not a great writer. I liked his enthusiasm and could see he wanted to learn but it’s hard to succeed in any media job if you don’t have a knack for banging out good copy. So I worked hard to instead steer him to policy-research assignments and, after the campaign ended, he turned that into a career. It’s hard to judge yourself accurately, so ask your friends and employer what your talents and weaknesses are, and then play to your strengths, even if they don’t lead you to what you would currently describe as your “perfect” job.
  2. You’re skilled at your passion — but hate the work that surrounds it. Many businesspeople are masters at their craft but drop the ball when it comes to everything else. Angela is a brilliant graphic designer who worked in-house for big companies before striking out on her own. But — although she loved working closely with clients and helping them create just the right branding — she was simply unable to manage her pricing and cash flow. It’s possible to learn these skills, but, for many, the process sucks the joy out of their chosen field. (Michael Gerber writes about this extensively in The E-Myth.

Read the full post on the Harvard Business Review blog.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You. She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, the National Park Service, and Yale University. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.