At a 2014 charity presentation in Washington, Chris Gardner offered unusual advice: don’t follow your dreams.

The inspiring author of “The Pursuit of Happyness” recommended that people put their passions on hold at first in order to focus on paying the bills, putting food on the table, and helping their family.

He shared his life as an example – he never let go of his dream to someday be successful and help people, but initially needed to provide for himself and his son, even if it meant briefly being homeless and working hard until things turned around. Today, three decades later, he lives out his passions as the owner of a financial brokerage firm and touring the country as a motivational speaker.

It can be a smart move to search for ways to combine your career and your personal passions, but you do need a realistic outlook. A compelling reason to go to work every day may be enough to merge passion and pragmatism, whether it’s using your love of teaching to educate the next generation or turning your passion for helping people into a career as a counselor.


Here are five questions to help you discover where your heart (passion) and your head (pragmatism) align:


1. “What do people say I’m good at?”

Don’t automatically do what people suggest for you, but trusted family and friends may be able to recognize how well you perform certain skills, even if you don’t initially recognize these talents.


2. “If I could trade a job with a friend, what would it be?”

Studying the occupations of your peers is a good exercise to see what might be interesting to you.


3. “What’s the long-term outlook for my interest?”

Talk to someone in a career that appeals to you. Doing so can provide insight into what skills or interests might be useful for the future. For example, if you’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram 24/7, you could turn that passion into a career as a community manager who uses social media to connect brands with customers.


4. “What’s my personal long-term outlook?”

Look at your ideal personal path along with your career path and find where your interests converge. You don’t need to get specific on dates or ages, but you can answer questions like:

  • Would you like to be married and/or have children at a certain point?
  • Do you want to live in your current city, or is moving an option?
  • Do you want a job that involves more travel or less?
  • When would you like to retire?

Answering these questions can help provide some direction, like setting a goal of “exploring” for a few years and then settling down, or creating a firm financial foundation first and exploring later.


5. “What tools exist to help me further determine the right career path?”

There are plenty of resources available to assist you in finding a career that fits you personally and professionally. Some to start with include:

  • O*NET Interest Profiler™, a self-assessment tool that helps identify interest areas, which in turn are linked to career paths.
  • ISEEK Skills Assessment, in which you rate yourself on 35 different skills and are matched with occupations that use the skills that are important to you.
  • StrengthsFinder 2.0, which begins with an online assessment to identify your talents and related occupations.


The Career Center’s mission is to empower students and alumni to proactively manage their careers and make meaningful, and effective, career decisions.