Follow your passion — but don't abandon your 9-5


Follow your passion — but don't abandon your 9-5

Donna P

Thursday, December 12, 2019

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It's that time of the year when there are many shows, markets and related activities showcasing a wide range of entrepreneurs. I've been to a few so far and been quite excited at the range of art, craft, jewellery, books, clothes, food, condiments, plants, shoes, and other goods that were showcased.

It seems to be a real dream of many employees to “dash weh the shackles of a '9 to 5' job overnight” and delve deep into their passion as a full-time enterprise. They want to run their own business in an area that they love.

I recall reading a personal interview in one of our daily newspapers some years ago. A young lady in her early 20s spoke passionately about her life 10 or so years into the future. She would awake late in the arms of her wonderful husband, while her cooing baby lies in the cradle close by, get up to have coffee on the patio overlooking the mountains, and then, around midday, drive down to her wonderful café, the very successful business that she would be running. The idea of an unsupervised café and the notion that successful businesses run themselves all seemed very fanciful and unreal — more like a bad dream of how to not have a job.

The mantra “I left my job because it wasn't my purpose” or “I left my job to follow my dream” has gained a great deal of currency in Jamaica today. Backed by many brilliant, young, and not-so-young people all showcasing how utterly successfully they claim to have become from following their passion on social media, finding their purpose, and starting their own business. There are podcasts, online and face-to-face courses, hard copy and e-books, audio packs, seminars and conferences which sometimes run into an entire weekend all promising to show you how to be successful at following your passion for a price.

But is this really true? Can you just quit the “slavery” of your '9 to 5' job, follow your passion, and emerge a success almost overnight? Is passion all you need? The word passion comes from the Latin root word patior which means “to suffer”. Mel Gibson's 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ provides a useful example of the religious applications around suffering and sorrow that are tied to this root word. I remember crying what felt like the entire Mona Reservoir of tears while watching it alone in the Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax, Virginia, and wishing that I was in Carib Cinema surrounded by my Jamaican family with their interactive outbursts. That passion was definitely not rationed. But the meaning of passion has changed over time. Sometimes it is associated with an intense desire that is sexual. To follow your passion today also suggests following an intense desire for an object that is the focus of your attention. If you are really passionate, then your desires are so strong that you may be willing to endure pain, suffering, and loss for whatever it is that is the focus of your attention.

So is there suffering and pain involved in following your passion? I really believe it has more to do with who you are and what is your point of entry. My concern is for the incomplete stories that come from those who claim to be the gurus, the go-tos, and the examples that one must follow. There is never any mention of the hidden privileges that many benefit from and utilise in their so-called grand abandonment of “corporate slavery” for the joys of being their own boss. There is never any revelation of the different and very unlevel playing field that those who come from the working classes and the base of the society will face if they decide to get up and leave their full-time (or even part-time) jobs, with a set and guaranteed income at regular intervals, many with health and leave benefits, to follow their passion. Indeed, there is often no mention of a mantra that I hold dear: “It takes 20 years to become an overnight success.”

If you come from the working and poorer classes you usually do not have the luxury of generational legacies that others can use as their platform or backative for success. But no one will tell you this. They will not tell you that they can live rent-free in a home owned by their family, and drive a vehicle loaned to them by their father or mother. They will not tell you that even though you sat in the same classes at the university, their degree was fully funded by their parents and/or family. Others will prattle on about their successful businesses, while driving high-end vehicles and wearing the latest fashion, but will forget that their entire lifestyle is being funded by their spouse or by that hefty divorce settlement.

If you are from the working classes and your parents were not able to carry you beyond high school because of resource constraints, you will have to be paying the Students' Loan Bureau for that degree, paying rent, sending money to your elderly mother or parents out of every pay cheque so they can survive and to “tek shame out of your eyes”.

If you have younger siblings or family members still in school and have the kind of generational responsibilities that many like myself carried, you will have to help pay school fees, provide books and bus fare to help these young family members achieve their dreams. It's all part and parcel of being “the one” who is out there. A steady income from a job is important in this kind of setting. Rent has to be paid. Electricity is not there for free. Transportation is not free. Food is not free. Water is definitely not free. Regardless of what you will hear and read, passion does not pay the bills.

If you do not have the kind of hidden privileges that do not make it on the fancy slide shows, into the gripping speeches, or into those how-to books, do not leave your full-time job to pursue your passion. Make sure you have the right framework and resources in place before doing so. Stay in your '9 to 5' and carve out a niche for your passion on weekends and after work. Being your own boss can be very fulfilling, and you can wear the most fancy titles, but you will be responsible for every failure, every challenge, and every single issue that comes up. You will have to face the frustration of finding money to capitalise your business, navigating business plans, proposals, and rejections. You will have to work hard to ensure that it provides some form of income so you, and those who depend on you, can survive. You will often have to choose between paying yourself a liveable wage, or any wage at all, and paying someone to work for you, or for some input into your business. You will have to massage your customers' egos to ensure that you maintain your relationship with them. You will usually have to abandon the fancy title and be janitor, bearer, driver, receptionist, typist, accountant, secretary, and every single other job description that you avoided in your 'wicked and evil 9 to 5' because it was “not in your job description”. You will have to learn to live with the stress of an irregular boom and slump income, sometimes more slump than boom. After the first hype of entry into self-employment, when everyone congratulates you on how brave you are and how much they want to be like you, you will find that it becomes a daily grind to ensure that you maintain this hype. And, sometimes, you will fail and have to start over. There is pain and suffering involved in following the desires of your passion, and even more so when you do not have those hidden privileges that are never disclosed. It takes real hard work to start and maintain a successful business, regardless of how passionate you are.


Donna P Hope, PhD, is professor of culture, gender and society at The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or



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