Career Experts Advise Balancing Passion With Realism

By Staff
November 2, 2009

Experts are telling people to follow their career passions--but within realistic limits. reports that a recent study co-authored by Patrick Carroll, an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University at Lima, indicated that people are often so blinded by passion for a career that they may not listen to common sense. Results of the survey, which appears in the most current issue of the journal Social Cognition, found that students often had to hear harsh realities and dismal employment possibilities before finally giving up on a goal.

"It's not enough to tell people they fall short and it's not enough to tell them they won't achieve what they envision," Carroll said. "People aren't good at calculating the potential consequences of failure."

He noted that his research was not about finding a way "to kill a dream or make a dream die." Rather, he said, it's about maintaining a realistic outlook which can potentially "maximize long-term mental health."

But others say that dreaming is important, provided that it's accompanied with realistic outlooks. "It's absolutely, 100 percent, OK to dream," said Paula Caligiuri, human resource management professor and director of the Center for Human Resource Strategy at Rutgers University. But she added that people must also maintain a healthy self-awareness about their abilities as well as the strength of character to overcome doubters and naysayers.

Curt Rosengren, author of "101 Ways to Get Wild About Work," told US News & World Report that realism can sometimes go too far. "I agree wholeheartedly that, yes, you do have to be realistic," he writes. "But it's important to be clear about what realistic means. For many people, what they really mean is 'Here's a wet towel I'd like to smother that dream with.' Realism becomes another word for unquestioned pessimism, and it becomes a great (and often unfounded) reason to say no."

He noted that looking at a situation realistically and acting accordingly--what he termed "positive realism"--will very likely increase the likelihood of success. But negative realism, he said, "takes stock of the obstacles and simply stops."

Elizabeth Nill, 61, knows a thing or two about pursuing passions. She told that after working as a chief operating officer for the philanthropic organization and later as a managing director for a consulting firm, she decided to launch a clothing company in Cape Cod. Although colleagues have said that her aspirations are unrealistic considering her lack of experience in fashion and manufacturing, she is determined to try.

"Once we get our sights on something, as human beings, we're going to stay with it until we run into bumps ourselves," she explained.

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