Following Your Passion Will Alienate, Offend, and Generally Piss People Off

Travis Somerville

The Road to Realizing Your Dream is Littered with Haters

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift.” – Charles Bukowski

Following your dream is an act of empowerment. In a world where most people are still struggling to figure out what even makes them passionate, veering from the beaten path to pursue a calling is a daring move.

Unsatisfied with merely reading about forging a life worth being excited about, entrepreneurs take the universe up on its challenge. Armed with an idea, a drive and enough adrenaline pumping through their veins to delude themselves as to how much work the endeavor will actually require, they begin their businesses and wait for the world to recognize their genius.

Creating something worth caring about takes work. Suffering, scrimping and sleepless nights are endured in the service of building a fulfilling career. Without bosses to commend that dedication, many entrepreneurs fall back on their family and friends to assuage their battered ambition after a long day in the trenches. When those closest to them lack enthusiastic support for their mission, the surprise can be especially cutting.

Some of this opposition will be legitimately born of good intentions. Following one’s passion is notoriously difficult and the starting salary is garbage, so it’s fitting that the people who care about you may harbor concern for how the workload will affect your emotional well-being or question if the effort will generate enough income to make ends meet. Still, it can be exasperating to have to explain oneself, particularly when the people who offer advice don’t possess any experience in the arena in which they offer it.

While we can understand the protective impulses of our loved ones, those good intentions aren’t paving the road to realizing your dreams. And having admirable motives doesn’t presuppose that the people we surround ourselves with obtain the ability to convey their worry in a way that is productive or less than insulting.

When I left a twenty-year career in hospitality to make time for writing, acquaintances who didn’t know how to pronounce my last name felt emboldened to ask me about my finances. On more than one occasion an evening out was interrupted when I was cornered so that they might inquire as to how I planned to support myself. These people would never have asked me to divulge my salary. It was as if becoming my own boss somehow opened me up to the same scrutiny as a publicly-traded corporation.

A friend of mine still receives envelopes of newspaper clippings from his mother. The articles feature noteworthy companies in his former field – in a city he no longer lives in. Being told to “get a real job” can be offensive and deprecating, regardless of whether the words are uttered or just implied.

However, not all critiques come from a place of concern. Some people can only feel happy for those who have less than they do. You will mistake them for advocates until your success begins to eclipse their own. Then their time will become scarce; their advice, cutting.

These haters will conveniently forget how much work was involved in propelling you to your current station. We live in a society where we are expected to downplay our trials and highlight our accomplishments. This isn’t inherently bad. Everyone is dealing with their own issues, and those looking for an eager listener for complaints stemming from following a self-imposed path would do well to enlist the service of a therapist. Entrepreneurs who are successful are the ones who would rather toil quietly at something they feel passionate about then garner accolades at a position they merely tolerate.

The most recent Workplace Satisfaction Statistics state that while 89% of employees surveyed purport to be satisfied with their jobs overall, ⅔ of them believe those same jobs have a negative effect on their well-being. There are a myriad of reasons why people enjoy the work they do, many of which are more nuanced than because it is their single impetus for getting out of bed each morning, but these numbers suggest that the bulk of society doesn’t consider workplace stress and negativity enough of a reason to be unhappy with their situation.   

A vast majority of the population has not so much designed their career as settled into it by degrees, accepting compromise after compromise until they’re not even sure how they ended up where they are. Ask people what they would do if they won the lottery and a good many of them would leave their jobs. Those who live by the rules rarely receive the autonomy and respect that being your own boss affords.

Indulging the idea that others are envious of our circumstances can be foreign and uncomfortable. While it’s natural to compare our careers to those of our peers, entrepreneurs tend to see the successes of others as motivation, proof that any belief in their limitations can be expanded or eliminated.

There will be those who will view your lack of adherence to the prescribed path as offensive, an affront to the societal norms which they themselves have obediently followed, but curb the impulse to be patronizing. It’s important not to presume that resentment of your perceived freedom is the result of living a life of morbid dissatisfaction. People can have unequivocal financial and personal success, experience moments of intense joy, and still exude bitterness when confronted by the reality that they spend a lot of time doing something they don’t find engaging.

Be compassionate. Having less inclination toward introspection may make it harder to reach one’s goals, but even those with laser-focus will struggle to hit that moving target. It’s part of the human condition to meet each achievement with some new aspiration. The struggle to reach a state of repletion is universal.

While most entrepreneurs understand that launching a business requires exertion, they may fail to anticipate the cost of that effort. Newton’s third law of motion states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Time put towards following a dream is unable to be spent on other ventures. Energy may be renewable, but it isn’t infinite. Resources aren’t just utilized, they’re diverted from other things.

Even proprietors who manage to attain that ever-elusive balance between their work and personal lives will attest that the initial few months, or even years, as a business owner were an exercise in endurance. Invitations are declined, pennies are pinched, in the name of furthering their company’s objective. Personal connections require contact to maintain their bond. Extracting oneself from one’s social life is going to displace some relationships.

While an inability to keep up with Kardashians will certainly hinder your capacity to contribute the next time one of their meticulously-staged antics commandeers the conversation, a lack of time may not be the only reason preventing you from tuning in. The things we choose to focus on become amplified, removing the importance of the peripheral.

Dedicating yourself to your dream has the potential to instill you with a new set of values. It has the power to change your perception. Not every relationship will be strong enough to survive that growth. By the time your schedule allows an opportunity to ingest the latest saga, you may discover you find that specific brand of drama distasteful.

The loneliness derived from laboring through long nights or detaching oneself from a team well enough to effectively lead it is a foreseen cost of creating a career from a passion. What isn’t divulged in the bargain business owners make with themselves is how others will react to the pursuit of their goal. There will be just as many detractors, spanning the gamut from somewhat impolite to downright hostile, as there are supporters eager to cheer you on.

The best advice for dealing with those who want you to adhere to their standards of success is the same thing drilled into all of as children. Be yourself. It may seem juvenile, but in my experience, most adults aren’t as mature as their age might lead one to believe.

Fortitude is the single, most important thing one can pack for their journey. It’s what will sustain you when the first throes of excitement have dissipated. Being someone who can celebrate your own progress will go a long way toward self-preservation. Stumbles and failures are a certainty, but they can serve a purpose for someone with the grit to use them as tools. An easily-bruised ego only prevents learning from one’s mistakes.

Having passion isn’t a panacea. It won’t eliminate the need to complete the mindless, boring tasks that are often required of us. Passionate people are able to focus on what drives them while understanding that payroll and taxes and responding to email are all necessary for advancing their goals. They appreciate that they are building towards control of their occupational destiny and believe the rewards are worth the sacrifices.

“Be like Bukowski,” said no one ever, but the man had a handle on the range of human emotion. And he was right. Isolation is the gift. It will perpetuate growth and weed out the people who aren’t fit to be companions to the person you aim to become. Have the conviction to drive yourself. It will be hard and also great, just as anything worthwhile is hard and great, and what will remain will be the people worth your precious time.


Artwork by Travis Somerville.

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