The voices of Pragmatism and Passion sit opposite each other, one on each of your shoulders, telling you what you should—or shouldn’t—do. We’re here to tell you that you should study what you love. If what you love happens to be practical for your career, so much the better. If it’s not, you’ll figure out a way to make it lucrative. Want to paint? Paint. Want to act? Act. Want to manage money? Manage money. Want to teach? Do it. Want to sing? Sing your heart out. Here’s why:
1. Money ≠ Happiness
A 2010 study by Tim Judge shows what we’ve heard all along: money doesn’t buy happiness. If you study something that you don’t enjoy in the hopes of getting a job that you don’t enjoy, but that pays well, there’s a good chance you won’t be happy. You’ll just have lots of money. The results of that study show that the correlation between salary and job satisfaction is weak. Corollary: if you want to engage with your job, money isn’t the answer—it doesn’t buy engagement (see #2).
You can go through the motions of a job or course of study for which you don’t care and do just fine. But why would you want to? You can pursue something you love and have a job you like less—but the ideal? Pursue something you love, engage in it, and let it drive your job search and your life. Studies show that to have work engagement, you need to find something that gives you meaning and that you enjoy doing. The desire to do what you want will allow you to engage in your work and feel inspired (see #3).
Not only will you feel inspired by engaging in meaningful work that you’re passionate about—you’ll inspire others, too. When you’re excited about what you’re doing, your co-workers will benefit from your positive energy. People who see you doing something you love for work will feel inspired to do the same.
Consider Nikki Lee, of Sydney Australia, who quit her corporate job to follow her dream of becoming a baker—and succeeding. She says it’s “one of the most satisfying things” she’s ever done. Feel inspired?
4. Doesn’t Matter What Others Think
Study something you care about, learn everything you can, do your best work, and don’t waste your breath on people who try to bring you down. Typically, humanities majors face the brunt of criticism from parents, friends, and even some professors. While their intentions may be kind (or maybe not), what you choose to study is yours—make sure you care about it, and don’t get too wrapped up in any hot air others might feel the need to share with you. A polite, “Thanks, but I love it,” will usually do the trick.
5. University ≠ Job Training
Learn lots at university and worry about job training later. Do a summer internship, if you’re that worried. The key is to engage in university in subjects that tickle your brain—and take that passion with you when you look for a job. The purpose of a university education, once upon a time, was to give you the time and space to study something that interested you—and learn how to read, write, think, and talk about it—all skills that you need to have in the workplace anyway.
University time is one of the few in your life when you have unrestricted time to delve deeply into subjects you love—and new subjects about which you know nothing. It’s a time to learn and figure yourself out—inasmuch that’s possible. Enjoy it. Get the job of your dreams later.
Studying something you love can open doors. You may not realize that by studying English literature as an undergraduate could lead you to a career in medicine. If you love drama, study it—you can act, teach, write… or even work in a lab. Employers want to hire employees who are passionate about what they do. As your passions evolve, so will opportunities. Cast a wide net, study what you love, and you’ll find opportunities—some might even find you.
Of course, we realize that there are plenty of stories of passions gone awry. Things go awry for different reasons—loss of focus, settling for mediocre. If you stick with something that you love and want to learn more about, do your best, strive for excellence, and have integrity, studying what you love may just translate into a job that you love, too.