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Andre Agassi was living the dream. He traveled all over the world, had hordes of fans, and did something for a living that most people see as a hobby in their pastime. He boasts of being a former World No. 1 in tennis, an eight-time Grand Slam champion and an Olympic gold medalist.
Formerly married to actress and model Brooke Shields, Agassi’s life off court was as vibrant as his tennis performance. He would collaborate with brands such as Nike, Adidas, and American Express on multi-million dollar endorsement deals. Agassi was the ultimate sports star.
So why was he unhappy?
In his autobiography Open, Andre Agassi revealed that he hated tennis. He hated it with what he calls a “dark and secret passion”.
At the age of three, Agassi began playing tennis under his father, who was a former Olympic boxer for Iran. When he showed aptitude for the game, his father deemed education unnecessary and even a hindrance to his tennis practice. At thirteen, he was enrolled in tennis camp, which felt to him more like a prison.
As a youth, Agassi was pushed relentlessly by his father to practice for hours each day, hitting hundreds of balls in the court. As an adult, he pushed himself to the limits and past it, all the while battling with depression, drugs, and a tormented spirit.
He hated it. And yet, he couldn’t stop playing. Everyone, including himself, was counting on him to win.
The Disconnect Between Passion and Success
Considering the grueling practice sessions and the pressure to reach the top, it’s no wonder why any enjoyment Agassi had for the game, if he ever did have it, was sucked out. He’s not the only athlete who feels this way.
Professional soccer player (i.e. footballer) Benoit Assou-Ekotto surprised many with his open admission that he played the sport for money, rather than for the love of it. He says, “I don’t say that I hate football but it’s not my passion.” Yet still, he shows up for practice every day and gives it his all.
Conventional wisdom says that loving what we do is a prerequisite to making it our career. If we don’t love our work, then we won’t want to work at it. And if we don’t work at it, then we won’t be successful at what we do. So what’s the point?
Consider a different view. Just like how a love for what you do isn’t necessary for success, having a passionate interest in something doesn’t automatically translate into pursuing it as a career. You might love doing something as a hobby, but it doesn’t mean you should earn a living through it. When you rely on your hobby to pay your wages, everything changes.
- You love preparing delicious home-cooked meals for family and friends, who rave constantly about your food. Does that mean you should become a chef? If so, then be prepared to undergo hours of strenuous physical labor each day, frantically making dishes during the restaurant rush, and working when most people are relaxing.
- You want to work in consulting because you’ll have the opportunity to work on a variety of projects with different companies. The constant traveling involved may sound exciting at first, but it’s incredibly draining to constantly be on the go, far away from home, while working long hours.
- You see your love of traveling and travel photography as a perfect merger of interests and career. Freelancing can be tough though, and it’s hard to enjoy your surroundings when your wages depend on the quality of your work.
Combining your career with an interest means that there’s a lot more pressure to excel in your work. Your well-being becomes linked to what you do, which takes away the fun of experimenting around and working on your hobby whenever you feel like it. Now you have to do the work every day, rain or shine.
What Do You Want Outside Your Passion?
When we think about what we want to do, we often simply consider purely what the job has to offer. We look at the salary, the type of work we’ll be doing, and the amount of prestige and recognition that the position will give us. Or, we might simply follow the crowd and go wherever our friends are headed.
But the most important consideration that we dismiss too easily is the lifestyle. How well does the career fit into the life we want? Does the career we pursue give us the financial means to be comfortable? How much time are we willing to spend on a daily basis on our work? Spending more on one aspect of our lives means cutting back on another.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto decided to become a soccer player because he was afraid of working in an office making a modest salary. At 16, he was expelled from school because of his poor academics, which pushed him to soccer. Advancing in his career required him to relocate to a place where he didn’t speak the language or know anyone. It has also meant dealing with the downsides of the sport, such as the media and shallow relationships.
It’s interesting how we love to look at the highs of a career, but rarely do we consider its lows. To reach success in a field, you strain yourself physically and mentally. To get recognition and admiration, you attract unwanted attention. The more you have of one thing, the more you get of its unwanted aspects as well.
Are you willing to pay the price? What are you willing to give up in order to achieve something? Pursuing a passion isn’t just about doing what you love every day. It becomes a matter of accepting what comes along with the work, and whether you’re willing to make the sacrifices to take on those burdens.
Before You Consider Your Choice, Consider Your Values
There is no right choice to make. Knowing what type of career you want and how it fits into your life is a personal choice that varies by person.
Some of us are willing to pursue something we love, even if it means less time for loved ones and undergoing financial or emotional strain. Others place a priority on a comfortable and stable lifestyle, so we’re willing to perform mundane tasks if it provides the means to what we want.
Being passionate about something shouldn’t be the sole requirement for choosing what you want to do. It’s about accepting the benefits and trappings of your work before making a commitment.
 “Benoît Assou-Ekotto: ‘I play for the money. Football’s not my passion’.” David Hytner, theguardian.