4 Reasons You Shouldn't Do What You Love

Last Updated Apr 26, 2011 12:55 PM EDT

Penelope Trunk's recent post The Worst Career Advice: Do What You Love was quite the sensation. With that headline, how could it not be? Might as well write a piece on Why Mothers are Overrated.

She's right, of course, in this sense: Just because you love something doesn't mean you can make a business or a living out of it. On HBR.org, Dorie Clark gives us four reasons to think twice before creating a vocation out of an avocation.

  • "You love it, but you're not great at it."
  • "You're too emotionally attached."
  • "No one will pay for it."
These problems are pretty self-evident. But Dorie's fourth observation, "You're skilled at your passion -- but hate the work that surrounds it," struck home for me.

My friend, an avid fly fisherman, got it in his head to open a store devoted to serving these passionate sportsmen and women. His location was great -- not an Orvis in sight to compete with. He knew the equipment backward and forward. He had work experience in retail, although not on the management side. And he had enough cash and two investors to fund his startup for at least two years.

But what he didn't have was an innate sense of how cash flow works, or any inclination that he should bone up on the subject. Running a small business without positive cash flow is like a doctor trying to keep alive a patient whose vital signs are failing one by one. The flatline is not long in coming.

It turns out my friend had a great business, which he discovered after he sold out to one of his investors -- someone who had his own passion to grow a small business using proven business principles. My fishing buddy was skilled as his passion, but hated the work around it.

Have you talked yourself out of following your passion? Are you still happy you did?

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(Photo by Flickr user kasperbs, CC 2.0)
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.