Scott H Young

Society Doesn’t Care that You’re Good at World of Warcraft


Fun, but who is going to pay you?

I’ve had a few recent email conversations about the subject of passion. We usually agree that passion is important, people have initial interests that guide them towards a passion and that passions develop over time.

However, then I bring up what I believe is an equally important point: society needs to recognize, reward and value your particular passion.

At this point, most of my recent correspondents disagree: “why should that matter?” they argue, “you shouldn’t limit your passions to those things that ‘society’ declares as valuable.”

Passions Don’t Exist in a Vacuum, Incentives Matter

This point of view seems to be a surprisingly common one. Howard Roark, in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, was lauded for his ability to ignore societal wants in favor of his personal vision.

Author, Steve Pavlina, doesn’t go quite as far in offering career advice. But he does recommend putting your passions before economic interests or the value you provide to society. His theory is that if you lead with the heart, that the money and purpose will follow.

But for every Roark who successfully answers to no man, how many never leave the quarry? And for each millionaire leading solely with their heart, how many are broke and miserable?

Unrewarded Passions Are Fun, They Just Don’t Pay the Bills

If you’re passionate about something that society doesn’t reward, that’s fine. That’s why people have hobbies.

I didn’t construct the title to attack gamers. I used to love online games, and I’ve had different phases of deep interest in a particular game or hobby. The point that was obvious to me, and most other gamers, is that since society doesn’t reward this output, they are just for fun. You can cultivate a passion, but they aren’t a substitute for a career.

Note: Yes, I am aware that some online gamers have begun to monetize their game playing. But, considering the ratio of dedicated players to those who have it as a career substitute, for the overwhelming majority they are just hobbies.

The Myth of Specific Passion

I believe the real crime in passion-only career advice isn’t that it can result in economic failures. Instead, I believe it is because people can ultimately have many passions, so why choose those that make it difficult to support yourself or large impact on the world?

I’m passionate about entrepreneurship and I love running this blog and the business attached to it. But while the passion may have specific manifestations at times, there is flexibility.

Before starting this blog, I had worked on trying to start an online games business and later software. I don’t know whether this business will be forever, or whether I will shift into another manifestation. I’m also sure I could find a way to integrate my passions, even if my area of mastery turned to computer science, nutrition, psychology or something completely different.

General Interests, Specific Passions

“Love consists of overestimating the differences between one woman and another.” – George Bernard Shaw

I believe with every specific passion there are general interests which can become passions, given effort, time and a little success. It doesn’t make sense to me that we would focus on a particular manifestation that will be extremely difficult to get rewards, when shifting our focus a few steps to the left might make it considerably easier.

This difference in specificity means that you might have a very strong interest in online gaming, and are currently passionate for World of Warcraft. But that space of interests, may also include game design, programming, psychology, graphics design, or other interests which share commonalities.

Picking the skills you will focus on for the next several years, therefore, shouldn’t be just about what your current passions are. They should look at the interest spaces you have, and be a joint decision between your interest in the direction and the impact you can have if you pursue it fully.

Don’t Be the Struggling Artist (Because We’re All Artists)

The idea that “art”, whether that is impressionist paintings or writing database software, should be elevated completely above societal pressures is a popular one. So much, that there is often a sense of pride at being dedicated to a creative pursuit without broader societal value.

However, if passions are just specific manifestations of more general interest spaces over time, is this a sensible way to live?

Why force yourself down the least likely path to success, if you could develop an equally fiery passion for something society actually cares about?


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22 Responses to “Society Doesn’t Care that You’re Good at World of Warcraft”

  1. I think one of the biggest misconceptions is, “you cannot make money doing something you love”. Therefore people slave over their jobs and settle for the one offering the biggest paycheck.

    At the same token there is a sense of responsibility, keep working that job. And work on turning your hobby into a business as a second job.

    Cheers,
    Rishi

  2. Dave says:

    It’s important to remind people that you can easily have more than one passion; you should. I believe that your career should also be you passion, but I do realize that as long as we live in a free market where price is the primary criterion–it will be difficult to be entirely congruent with your passions and values and remain competitive in the market. That is why I think a philanthropic passion is a nice complement to any career that’s less than perfect (all of them). I also think it’s useful to find passions that benefit other areas of life like exercise or meditation. If such a practice is your passion within itself–the fringe benefits become effortless. i’d like to believe there’s still room for more passion, i you should find a passion that is entirely enjoyable but offers virtually no fringe benefits as well, so that you may truly enjoy such a hobby as meaningless fun rather than a way to self discipline or fitness—it will come as a welcome relief.

  3. Sid Savara says:

    I agree with the general principle, but the difficulty I think lies in what passions may potentially be rewarded in the future.

    Consider professional sports (basketball, baseball, etc) and perhaps more recently, the X-Games. Professional snowboarders? Skateboarders? Unthinkable perhaps 30 years ago, and now the top guys make boatloads of money (disclaimer: using the term boatloads as I have no idea how much they make, but I saw Tony Hawk’s house and it is huge).

    I’ve always been more practical myself, preferring to find things I have some passion for that appear to have at least the potential to grow into something – moneywise, opportunity wise, etc.

  4. Max Leibman says:

    This reminds me of an idea from Stephen Covey’s The 8th Habit. I’m not crazy about the book, but in it Covey wrote about finding one’s “voice”–one’s unique calling or contribution. He talks about the intersection of passion, vision, talents, and needs (“including what the world needs enough to pay you for.”). It’s not enough to care about something, have a great idea, and develop the skills; it has to fill a need (or want) of someone else.

    There’s a certain elegance to market capitalism, at least in theory: in order to support oneself, one has to figure out what someone else needs or wants badly enough to pay for. If one can figure out where that circle intersects with one’s interests and talents, then one has a nice little Venn diagram of Thriving.

  5. Johnny says:

    There is a fine line between following your passion and being realistic. Great post!

  6. I think this isn’t a real problem you face Scott, your passion is learning, so you can do whatever you like, whether it is paying your bills or not, you will like it, as long as you can develop yourself. I think I have something similiar.

    But I have friends also who aren’t really passionate about something they can make their work from. A friend likes to go out with friends, play on his Xbox360 and sleep till late in the afternoon. Of course, this isn’t going to get him somewhere, but how can he find his passions?

    There is some good advice in here though! You keep me thinking Scott, thanks.

  7. Ben Weston says:

    Although I believe that we should create a life around our passions, I do understand that ultimately, it is upon to what society values. Whether we can live off of our passions is determined by whether society values it or not. With that said, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should leave our passions as hobbies. I’m sure if we’re creative enough, we could find a way monetize at least one of our passions. There’s no reason to be the struggling artist.

  8. Nazim says:

    Absolutely brilliant post. The best I’ve read from you or at least one of the best. Pure brilliance, sir. Pure brilliance.

  9. Maureen says:

    One is passionate about what one is good at.

    Expose yourself to as many things as possible; keep an open mind all the time.

  10. Wendy Irene says:

    Keeping an open mind about ways your passion or passions might be valuable to others will help you to support yourself with it. As well putting a lot of hard work and effort behind your passion is necessary in most cases to be successful. The good thing is if you spend time doing something you are passionate about and keep that in mind whether or not it brings you money, it should bring happiness regardless of the monetary outcome. I believe it is important to value the joy your receive from spending time on your passion either way. Maybe it is about being creative in trying to find ways of merging your passion with what society needs.

  11. Funny title.. Yes, you are right!! No matter how good you playing the game, it will never improve your life.. In here, I can see that many of my friends love playing poker (Facebook), when they won, they will scream, when they lost, they also scream. Is that game bet the real money?? I don’t think so.. Instead, it just wasting time

  12. Craig Thomas says:

    Nice post. My passion is slowly picking up money and I’m loving it. I know eventually it will fund my life. That day will be great. :)

    Another point on games, they’ve started to be monetised now but in the future I suspect they’d be some of the best paying hobbies around. Warcraft players may actually have it right. :) (I don’t play games btw)

  13. Scott Young says:

    Stefan,

    Yes, I’m lucky that many of my passions–entrepreneurship, writing, learning, programming–could easily be aligned with a career.

    But even a passion for socializing, for example, could be translated into a sales job or marketer. Some people will need to stretch more, admittedly, but I think for almost everyone there is a way to translate latent interests into passions that count.

    Craig,

    Maybe. But there’s a difference between *potential* to make money (which could be found in almost anything) and relative probability.

    Say you like basketball. You could try to join the NBA (incredibly difficult) or you could take up a job working with athletes in the sport, become a high-school coach, etc. all with much greater chances of success when the initial pursuit doesn’t work out.

    I hesitate to mention that point because there is a “grass is greener” effect where you get overly discouraged on your current goal, thinking you should switch to something more *commercial*, when in reality all goals are hard, especially making a decent career.

    However, there are cases more straightforward than others.

    -Scott

  14. BHud says:

    Really liked the whole post.
    Really really liked the last paragraph about how some people elevate art over other things. Acting, specifically, improv, is a great passion of mine. I study great actors, improv actors, and stand up comedians. I once read an interview with Jerry Seinfeld where he basically said that there’s no integrity in art- that what artists bring to their art might add value…but by itself, art is pretty worthless. This changed my attitude towards art for the better.

  15. Scott Young says:

    Sid,

    I agree, there is a difficulty in prediction. Today’s hobbies may translate into tomorrow’s booming careers. Especially with trends within information technology.

    However, I don’t think the uncertainty of the future necessarily means that we ultimately know nothing about what people will value.

    I also agree in the importance of creativity. Many hobbies can be translated into careers through a creative insight. My point is that passion isn’t enough (or even the primary prerequisite) since finding an economically viable path within your interests can be more demanding.

    -Scott

  16. Colbycheeze says:

    You know this post was funny to me because when I was really reflecting on and writing down all of my passions and trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I kept thinking to myself, “Man, I REALLY love to play online games…I can stay up all night doing it. That is true passion right?”

    Anyhow, needless to say I didn’t make the decision to become a full time gamer haha. I write about personal development, and I grow businesses now.

    I am now fully content with some of the decisions that I have made now after reading this post. It really does make sense.

  17. Joquard says:

    Who is interested in whom society cares of?
    We have arrived in postmodernism!
    Combining skills from others is cool, having your own highly polished ones is not.

  18. Andrea says:

    Hi

    I found your article really interesting as I have taken a break from my previous career because I lost the passion for it (or should I say it was beaten out of me by the long hours!) and I’m now taking the time to remind myself what my other passions were.

    I doubt that they will all be money making but then, perhaps I haven’t yet found the angle that will allow them to become part of my income. Or perhaps the reason they have remained my passions over the years is that I haven’t attempted to make money from them and have simply enjoyed them for what they are.

    I think if you are going to follow your passions then you need to have a dose of reality too.

    Andrea

  19. Brannon says:

    Growing up I was encouraged to take personality tests to find what I would be happiest doing career-wise. However, even at a young age, I marked the answers I thought would be important in a predetermined career choice. (Hmm, lying to myself at such a young age.) I never thought about what I really wanted to do, only what would make me the most money. I’m just starting to wake up and follow my passions. Luckily my passions do have potential and probability of paying me while I contribute. :)

  20. Jasileet says:

    There’s also quite a difference between passion and escape, obsession. As a former gamer I know a lot of people who fall into those last two categories and I can tell you quite frankly that there’s no life to be made from either. It’s hard to tell where you are sometimes and even harder to change it.

  21. Mathieu says:

    This is a very interesting article. I believe that there is such thing as healthy escapism, but it should only constitute a very small part of you. The rest should be dedicatd to being a productive member of society and doing things to actually benefit the life of others. If something escapist can become a tool for creating things people care about, you are all the better for it. Otherwise, keep it for you, and work on your life skills on the outside.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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