This is the No. 1 mistake young people make when ‘following their passion,’ says career expert of 20 years

J.T. O’Donnell, Contributor

Diverse classmates chatting, walking after classes in university campus outdoors

When it comes to choosing the right career path, many people will tell you, “Just follow your passion.”

But it’s not that simple — and I understand the struggle. In my 20 years as a career coach, the biggest mistake people make when trying to “follow their passion” is getting sucked into thinking about what they’ll say when someone asks them, “What do you do?”

I hear it often with my clients, especially the younger folks:

“I want to make my parents happy by becoming a doctor.”

“I want to be a successful attorney because it’s viewed as a prestigious position.”

“My friend is a successful entrepreneur, and her life looks great. I want that, too.”

“I’ll be happy with any job as long as it’s at a big-name company like Google, Apple or Microsoft.”

The consequences of trying to impress

We tend to base our career choices on how we think other people will react when we tell them our profession (e.g., “Will they respect me more if I said I did [X], instead of [Y], for a living?”)

Science confirms this, too. It’s called praise addiction, which is when we try to accomplish things that we think will impress others, because it gives us a temporary feeling of happiness.

But the consequences are likely to appear years later, when we may find ourselves in careers that leave us feeling miserable, empty and dissatisfied.

How to pursue the career path that’s right for you

The solution is a complete change of mindset. Put more focus into answering: What do you want to do?

Stop worrying about how other people might perceive you and instead focus on your strengths, the tasks you enjoy, the skills you can leverage, and the type of problems you’re interested in solving.

For example, if you love to write and have an appreciation for good storytelling, you might want to consider a career in journalism. Or even marketing, where using narrative to communicate a message that captivates viewers is essential.

You won’t find your perfect career path immediately. It takes a constant and deep level of self-assessment. More importantly, you have to be honest with yourself.

Remember, you can’t build a satisfying career around someone else’s hopes and dreams. The smartest thing to do is to put your own happiness first.

J.T. O’Donnell is the founder and CEO of Work It Daily, an online platform dedicated to helping people solve their biggest career problems. She has more than 15 years of experience in hiring, recruiting and career coaching. For career tips, follow her on TikTok @jtodonnell.

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