Finding work in today’s economy is not easy. The recession has had lingering effects, and many people have been put out of work by globalization and automation. Some of those jobs are never coming back.

Retraining programs are available to help people start new careers. Many workers are skeptical about the long-term benefit, though. Getting certified to operate a manufacturing robot, for instance, wouldn’t be much use if the robot became obsolete soon afterward. Rapidly advancing technology has created the specter of a nightmarish future where workers routinely get laid off every few years as their occupations vanish.

Modern technology also has created great wealth for those in the right place at the right time. So it’s not surprising to see people changing careers in the belief they’ll find more success pursuing their dreams. “Do what you love, and the money will follow,” is a common adage nowadays. It often goes along with the New Age notion that visualizing success creates good vibes and thus naturally attracts the desired success.

We all filter our reality through the narratives we use to describe it. When we frame our circumstances in more positive terms, we’re likely to believe that more is within our reach. Visualization can be an effective tool for self-hypnosis and focusing the subconscious mind on a goal. The subconscious doesn’t distinguish between fantasy and reality as the conscious mind does.

To that extent at least, we do attract what we imagine, simply because we pay more attention to events that fit the storyline. We are more likely to overlook things when they don’t match what we expect to find. Some of that is just confirmation bias; but visualization also has a dress-rehearsal effect, making us more aware of the necessary details.

Regardless of what opinions one might have about attracting success with good vibes, I think it’s helpful to consider just what success is. Today’s culture encourages finding ways to “monetize” whatever we do. Until very recently, that usage of the word wasn’t even in the dictionary; monetization was something that governments did when they printed money and managed the public debt. But nowadays, there is a widespread belief that anyone who loves something ought to make a career out of selling it.

Of course, not everyone feels that way. The Information Age also has brought about a huge explosion in free creative content, such as open-source software, wikis, Creative Commons, and so forth. Free access is very important to these communities. Their philosophy can be summed up as “Do what you love, for its own sake.”

Although these two very different approaches to “Do what you love” may seem to be diametrically opposed, I see a lot of practical overlap. Putting time and effort into a hobby can improve an existing career. For example, when a software developer spends his evenings writing open-source code, he may end up getting a better job as a result of keeping his skills sharp. Hobbies and volunteer work also can provide valuable networking opportunities. And even if a hobby is completely unrelated to a person’s real-life career, developing a new skill has general positive effects such as feeling more capable and confident, which can lead to more success on the job.

Starting a new career based on one’s passion may seem a tempting idea. Anyone seriously thinking about it needs to be aware, however, that passion often is not the determining factor in whether a new venture succeeds or fails. Having a great love of gardening, for instance, does not ensure that a new landscaping company will be a success. The owner also must have enough business savvy to find clients, keep the corporate paperwork in order, manage the employees, and so forth.

Even if a small business owner does everything perfectly, the business may fail if the economy turns sour. Many companies went bankrupt during the recession because some of their clients went out of business or placed smaller orders, and the banks didn’t have credit available to cover the cash-flow shortfall.

That said, a business venture that doesn’t work out should be viewed as a temporary setback, not as a lifelong failure. Much can be learned from trying new things, whether or not they make money. As to both hobbies and career changes, when we do what we love, something good is likely to follow. It’s not necessarily going to be money, though, and we need to frame our expectations accordingly.

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