18 August 2017
“Follow your passion” or the similar “Follow your dreams.” I’ve seen this advice lead people into paths in which they could not have productive lives or support themselves or families.
With this advice, many kids will choose to become professional athletes, and then fail. My daughter (Elizabeth Muller) once wanted to become a professional dancer. I think she is very glad now that she instead went to UC San Diego, majored in math and literature, and got a master’s degree in international management. (She is now the CEO of our non-profit BerkeleyEarth.org.)
One of her friends, in contrast, decided to become a professional bicycle racer (encouraged by her parents) and she now supports herself by selling and repairing bicycles. Nothing wrong with that, but I don’t think it was what she envisioned when she took this career path.
I suggest to children that before they set out on a career path, they consider what will happen if they are the 1000th best in the field.
If your field is boxing, you will either be completely out of work, be a sparring partner, or (if you are lucky) be running your own gym (or, maybe, you’ll be an enforcer for some mob.). If you are a ballet dancer, it is unlikely that you will be performing; you will probably be teaching children how to dance ballet.
If your field is physics or math, you will have very good income, have the respect of your neighbours (maybe they’ll think you are a genius), and a good diverse and productive life.
I suggest instead that you teach children to try to plan their future lives, to design their futures.
They should approach it as they would a challenging homework problem. Learn more about possible careers, and what they are like. Don’t choose too early, since many careers (running Berkeley Earth?) are not obvious to a youngster.
Get a broad education, and do a good job at it. Study hard and learn. Get familiar with the world.
Beware of childhood passions; they are based on a limited experience, and may not be a good choice for a career.
Written by Richard Muller, Professor of Physics