Pursuing Your Passion Isn’t Quite Right: Do THIS Instead

The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.

Updated August 11, 2023

I just finished an incredible read in The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

It is a short, brilliantly crafted fable, in which you follow the main character Santiago on his quest for a hidden treasure that he literally just dreamt about.

To pursue his “Personal Legend,” Santiago follows the omens as they lead him on a great adventure.

A Personal Legend can be defined as one’s ultimate spiritual purpose in life. Everyone has a Personal Legend, but for a variety of reasons, not everyone is willing or able to fulfill their purpose. Achieving one’s Personal Legend requires patience, humility, and above all, wisdom.


Usually, when I finish a fictional book, I may ponder the story for a day or two and move on. But something about this fable has stuck with me.

It’s really got me thinking…

What is my Personal Legend? Was it to end up Accidentally Retired? Was it to be an entrepreneur? Or was it to be a great father and husband? All of the above?

The Reality of the Personal Legend

The reality is that most people, myself included have no idea what their Personal Legend is.

We might see a 3rd grader on the news who is solving the world’s trash problems, and think to ourselves, “Man, I wish I had THAT much conviction to do THAT.”

And yet I don’t.

It’s not that I don’t want to help the world. I do. But I’m just not passionate about the world’s trash problem to go out there and dedicate my life to it.

And that brings me back to The Alchemist and a main theme of the book is that you should follow your dreams, wherever they may lead you.

You may not know your ultimate purpose, but if you follow your dreams, you’ll always be in the right place that you need to be at that time.

It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.

― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

My Personal Legend was never to build a startup or retire early.

Nor was it to be a software engineer, blogger, or any other profession.

My Personal Legend is, and always has been, to follow my heart and my dreams wherever they may lead.

The Alchemist reminded me that life is about the journey, not the destination.

In our busy day-to-day lives, that is oftentimes hard to see.

Especially those days when the journey is riddled with roadblocks, obstacles, and the other various things that tend to get in our way (most of the time ourselves).

Pursuing Your Passion VS Doing What You Are Good At

So what does this all have to do with pursuing your passions?

Well, I have seen articles lately about pursuing what you are good at versus what you are passionate about…

In MoneyNings’ Why You Should NOT Turn Your Passion Into a Job Alexa says:

When you turn your passion into a job, it becomes just that: work. You’re no longer doing something because you have an overwhelming desire to do it; you’re doing it because you have bills to pay and mouths to feed.

And in another similar article at Bitches Get Riches Don’t Turn Your Passions Into Work, Kitty says,

Work is work and play is play

Kitty @ Bitches Get Riches

Both have similar themes; you should focus on what you are good at, NOT what you are passionate about.

And it is true that the things that I have been passionate about in the past and have turned into work, do begin to feel just like that. Work.

So these bloggers are NOT wrong. But they’re also NOT right either.

There is more to life than just doing what you are “good at”. If it doesn’t bring you joy in some way, what point is there?

I am good at accounting, but if I was an accountant I would certainly be miserable.

And many people are great lawyers or doctors but hate their job.

Ideally you’d want to do what you are both “good at” and have a passion for.

What is the correct choice? Do you work only on what you are good at, or pursue your passions that may or may not make you any money, while souring you from your passion in the first place?

Or perhaps we are simply looking at this all wrong?

I don’t think anyone is talking about blindly pursuing your passions.

What I think everyone is talking about when they say “pursue your passions” is really “follow your heart.

Follow Your Heart

At the end of the day. There is no right answer to this debate.

It’s your ONE life to live, so you should live it however you want to live it.

My wife always says “You, do you.” – In other words follow your heart.

My answer has always been to do just that.

It wasn’t easy leaving a high-paying CEO job not knowing what else I’d even be interested in.

It wasn’t easy not knowing what I would do with my career…But following my heart has never led me down the wrong path.

It has only led me down the path that I needed to be on at that time.

Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.

― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

It doesn’t mean that the path forward will be easy, because it usually isn’t.

It can be long, grueling, and there are many days when you will just want to give up.

But following my heart led me to my own personal treasure: my wife, my kids, and living an enjoyable life.

I haven’t followed my passions blindly. I simply followed the path, paid attention to the omens, pursued my passions, and most of all, followed my heart.

Stay True To The Path, Wherever It May Lead

So how did I end up Accidentally Retired?

In my career (and personal life), one thing always has led to another.

This happened, so I did that.

That happened, so I did this.

I pursued my passions when it made sense to do so, and put my head down to do the work at other times. I followed the path to wherever it led.

If a decision felt right in my gut, I went with it.

It wasn’t about pursuing my passions…

I’m not passionate about software engineering, but I learned to code because I needed to make changes to our website in my first job and I couldn’t get anyone else to do it.

I never wanted to work for Corporate America. But I ended up working in Corporate America for 5 years, because the path led me there.

Not once in my career did I do anything that didn’t feel right. I had hard days. I had good days. I stayed the course when I needed to, and I pursued new opportunities when my heart told me to.

Failure Is Part of Your Journey

The thing is that I have “failed” quite a bit.

My first website business failed miserably when I went to work on it full-time.

I launched products that didn’t go anywhere.

We tried to sell a company that no one wanted.

The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.

― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

And this is just my career…we aren’t even talking about some of my personal failures, fertility issues when trying to have kids, or varying other hardships and stresses.

This is life.

Just Keep Going

When I started this article, I wasn’t exactly sure where it would lead.

I just knew that I wanted to talk about pursuing your passions, or what I want to rephrase as simply following your heart.

Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.

― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I just don’t think that you can go wrong when you make a decision that you know to be true to you.

You will still be afraid.

You will still stumble.

You won’t always be pursuing your passions.

You won’t always be good at what you are doing.

But if you just keep going, you’ll improve. You’ll find your way.

We don’t all know what our Personal Legend is. I know that I certainly didn’t. But it doesn’t matter.

Life is about the journey, NOT the destination.

If you are at peace with your decisions and you follow your heart, you cannot go wrong.

Follow your heart AND just keep going.

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  1. This morning on CBS Sunday Morning I watched a story from Steve Hartman (On The Road With Steve Hartman) about a Mustang car and a man with ALS. Strongly suggest doing a search online and watching the story. Toward the end of the story one of the guys who helped restore the car said, “do good stuff today.” It has nothing to do with following your passion or dreams or guts. But it’s my new mantra. Seems pretty simple to me.

  2. This hits home with me. I can tell you each time I have tried to make a passion into a full time job, it suddenly stops being fun and starts to be taxing.
    So far in life, the passions which have evolved into something tangible were the ones which did not feel like a job. Especially, those which offer flexibility and ease; one does them at ones pace. One just flows with them. So, you are on point here.
    Anyways, your article touches on the gnawing issues in young adults today: life purpose, passion versus career and choices. I will definitely be checking the book out.

    1. Let me know how you like the book.

      Ultimately, there are an infinite amount ways that you can go about your life. But if you’re not true to yourself, you are likely shooting yourself in the foot in some way. Passions or otherwise. Follow your heart!

  3. My personal credo is similar but also a little different. Don’t look for what you are good at, the world is full of waiters and Uber drivers who are good singers and musicians and artists. Look for something you can become world class at that the market also values. I knew I had extraordinary talent at engineering, and maybe not much else. So I found a job that valued that above all else and I became great at it, over probably about 10,000 hours. And if you can do that, which does take luck and a lot of self knowledge, you will always develop passion for it. Do you think Tom Brady wants to retire early or Patrick Mahomes? Not likely. That passion could wear off over time, mine did and maybe yours did. But I bet it was a lot of fun for awhile, mine was.

    1. Early on I saw some of my elders working in jobs as lawyers that they were good at, but really hated. So I never wanted to be like that. I think that helped form a lot of my thoughts about work.

      Above all, I just think life is too short to do something that doesn’t feel right. Sounds like working in engineering felt right to you. Your heart certainly must have been in it at least for a good period of time!

  4. The Alchemist has been on my list forever but I haven’t gotten to it. I will take the AR indorsement and bump it up the list! Sounds like there is great perspective to be gleaned from it. Always good when a piece of content sticks with you for a few days or even much, much longer.

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