Great Career: Why You Will Fail to Have One


And 11 One-Click Tweetables to Make Sure You Don’t

Great title, right?

Well, I stole it. Blatantly.

In November of 2011, Larry Smith, Professor of Economics at Canada’s University of Waterloo, dropped it like a bomb at TEDxUW. With just under 3 million views and more write ups than I could count on Google, I figured I should be upfront.

But enough about my lack of originality.

Here’s the obvious question …

Why will you — yeah, you (beautiful, talented, wonderful you) — fail to have a great career?

Because …

You aren’t following your passion.

Sound cliche? It should.

Here’s how Smith put it:

No matter how many times people tell you, “If you want a great career, you have to pursue your passion, you have to pursue your dreams, you have to pursue, the greatest fascination in your life,” you hear it again and again and then you decide not to do it.

And what lies beneath this killer mistake?

Simple: fear.

“You’re afraid,” says Smith, “to pursue your passion. You’re afraid to look ridiculous. You’re afraid to try. You’re afraid you may fail.”

In other words, our fears trump our passions. And we miss out a truly great career.


Because our fears are real: existentially, emotionally, viscerally real. And our passions … aren’t.

Our hearts — the very core of who we are — feel our fears. Our fears have weight. Substance. Gravity. Mass.

Our passions, on the other hand, don’t.

Our passions are vague, toothless things. Wispy cliches like, “I wanna be happy.” or “I wanna be loved.” or “I wanna feel secure.” Compared to the dark, lumbering beasts stalking our nightmares, our dreams are banal. They are trite. Stale. Light. Laughable.

It is absolutely incredible how few people can answer the simple question:

“What do you want?”

Go ahead, try it yourself.

In one sentence, try and summarize what you want most out of your work. Or out of your relationships. Or even out of your life.

It is staggering how few of us can fill in those blanks. And yet, having a clear, impassioned vision for what you want is the very first step in getting it.

In fact, as Warren Bennis famously wrote, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”


Carmine Gallo, in his uber insightful Talk Like TED, lays it out plain:

In any language, on any continent, in every country, those speakers who genuinely express their passion and enthusiasm for the topic are the ones who stand apart as inspiring leaders.

That means you have to be able to answer these questions:

  • What’s your passion?
  • What inspires you?
  • What sets you apart?
  • What makes your heart sing?

Do not close this article until you answer those questions.

In fact, do not close this article until you write it out … until you root it in your heart, tattoo it on your brain.

Give your passion teeth. Make it existential. Make it emotive. And make it real.

Here’s mine:

I want to be a blessing — a source of relentless positivity and enthusiasm — to my clients in a way that reflects and is rooted in God’s staggering and ridiculous love for me.

I’d love to hear yours in the comments.

And now, those 11 One-Click Tweetables …


[Tweet ““Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.””]


[Tweet ““Passion will help you create the highest expression of your talent.” Larry Smith”]


[Tweet ““Nothing great has ever been achieved without enthusiasm.” Ralph Waldo Emerson”]


[Tweet ““#Passion is energy. The power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” @Oprah”]


[Tweet ““You will miss a hundred #sales because you’re not enthusiastic enough.” @TheZigZiglar”]


[Tweet ““When you are #inspired by some great purpose, all your thoughts break their bonds.” Patanjali”]


[Tweet ““We must act out #passion before we can feel it.” Jean-Paul Sartre”]


[Tweet ““As if you were on fire within / The moon lives in the lining of your skin.” Pablo Neruda”]


[Tweet ““The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” Ferdinand Foch”]


[Tweet ““Chase your #passion, not your pension.” Denis Waitley”]


[Tweet ““Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18”]
  • An excellent reminder, Aaron, to follow one’s passion and be what God has intended one to be. Thank you!

    • Aaron Orendorff

      Thanks, Sven. So encouraging!

  • Interesting quote from Sartre. Whenever I think of him, I think of his play “No Exit” and the big takeaway being – Hell is other people. Maybe I was reading too much of his stuff when I was a moody high school teen.

    In any event, totally agree that doing something – anything – that you love is a very good thing. Playing around with copy most of the day is top on the list.

    • Aaron Orendorff

      I make my PHL201 students read an excerpt from Sartre — “Existentialism” — every Fall. (Don’t know if I mentioned this, but my day job is teaching philosophy and communication at the local college.)

      I always think “existence precedes essence” when I think of Sartre. BTW – I totally don’t buy that line … but it’s a great discussion starter. 😉

      What I LOVE of Sartre is his emphasis on freedom, choice, and the necessity of action.

      Whether that action is torturing undergraduates or playing around with copy … well, honestly I love both.

      • Ahh… yes. The freedom to choose and the angst that goes along with it. It’s an unfortunate byproduct.

  • I just barely came across this post – but I love it. It’s tough to ask yourself what you are passionate about. I think the big hangup most people have is in the ‘what’ vs. the ‘why’. People think that their passion is the ‘what’. But as you stated, your passion is “to be a blessing – a source of positivity, success, and life – to [your] clients”. There are a million things you could do to be that blessing – the ‘what’ – without changing the ‘why’.
    Now the tough part – figuring out the ‘what’ that best suits my ‘why’.
    Thanks for this post – keep up the good work!

    • Aaron Orendorff

      Oops, just commented instead of replying.

  • Aaron Orendorff

    Wow … thanks Brad. Both for the comment and for following me over to my site.

    So glad it was helpful!

    And yes … now the trick is matching the what to the why. 😉

    BTW, I’m a teacher too. My full-time gig is communications and philosophy at the local college here in Oregon.

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