Passion and Pragmatism

One of the big trends in career advice has been telling young people to “pursue their passions.”  Yet this advice is both simplistic and problematic.  I enjoyed this take by music producer Paul Cantor:

“Kids now aren’t taught to find careers. They’re taught to find their ‘passions.’ Then they’re encouraged to pursue them.

Except the world doesn’t bend to everyone’s beckoning whim— it doesn’t really give a shit about your passion— because it needs people to do normal stuff like collect garbage, police streets, put out fires and process applications at the DMV.

Which makes it hard. Torturous, even. Here you were, told that you were awesome and that you wouldn’t have to settle for a life of mediocrity, and that’s all you’ve got. That sucks.”

This passage reminds me of a conversation I had recently with an entrepreneur friend.  He was pondering whether to join a new, highly speculative venture.  He’s a successful entrepreneur, but hasn’t made “FU” money and has plowed a lot of his net worth into angel investments.  And with three kids in private school, he was worried that pursuing his entrepreneurial dreams would place too much stress on the family finances.

Yet even after I helped him analyze all the potential issues with his venture, he still had the entrepreneurial itch.

It’s easy for me to tell 25-year-olds to quit their jobs and start companies–the downside is minimal.  It’s harder when passion and pragmatism collide.

When Ted Cruz was a long-shot Senate candidate, he went to his wife Heidi and asked her permission to plow their entire net worth into his campaign.  Heidi, a Goldman Sachs VP, was the family’s main breadwinner.  She didn’t hesitate, and told him to do it.

Foolish?  He won the election.  And even if he had lost, he and Heidi were young enough to make up for the financial hit.  But it certainly highlights the conflict between passion and pragmatism.

I didn’t give my entrepreneurial friend a firm recommendation.  I simply told him, “Make sure you can live with your decision, then don’t look back.”

2 thoughts on “Passion and Pragmatism

  1. Anonymous

    What is your cite for the Ted Cruz anecdote?

  2. The Ted Cruz anecdote comes from this New York Times profile of his wife:

    " In a glimpse into their marriage that Mr. Cruz called “illustrative,” he recalled saying to his wife in the weeks before his Senate primary, when he was still behind in the polls, “Sweetheart, I’d like us to liquidate our entire net worth, liquid net worth, and put it into the campaign.”

    “What astonished me, then and now, was Heidi within 60 seconds said, ‘Absolutely,’ with no hesitation,” said Mr. Cruz, who invested about $1.2 million — “which is all we had saved,” he added — into his campaign. "

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