“When I was younger there was something in me. I had passion. I may not have known what I was going to do with that passion, but there was something –and I still feel it. It’s this little engine that roars inside of me and I just want to keep going and going.” – Sheila Johnson, co-founder of BET and CEO of Salamander Hotels and Resorts
The virtues of following one’s passion have been cornerstones of 21st-century motivational speeches. We’ve been taught that excelling at — and monetizing — our favorite activities is the only true way to lasting professional and personal success. Some argue that social media platforms make it possible for everyone to make a living from their talents without requiring acceptance from the traditional gatekeepers of industries.
With platforms like SoundCloud and YouTube, musicians don’t need record labels to distribute their music anymore. Publish platforms, like Medium, allow writers to share their work directly to the internet, and engineers can now seek venture capital (VC) funding rather than needing to join established engineering companies.
However, can everyone really have a lucrative career following their passion? Let’s examine some of the arguments for following your passion and the challenges young Black people might face.
There’s no doubt that having the protection of a roof over your head and food on the table weighs heavily into the decision-making process. Plus with the prevailing racial wealth gap in the United States, this security is less available to young Black people. This means that a Black family will be less likely to be able to assist a young entrepreneur as he or she pursue their passions.
You only have to reference a beginner psychology textbook to learn about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which explains that a person’s basic physiological needs (like food, water, rest, and warmth) must be met before they can focus on anything else. Even Mark Zuckerberg’s father credits the stability he provided his kids as one of the most important factors influencing their entrepreneurial spirit.
Entrepreneurship seems to be the new #lifegoals, especially among millennials. For Black entrepreneurs, business and tech experiences are often different from their white counterparts. The numbers are staggering. Some polls have shown that only one percent of VC-backed startups are Black-founded. This funding issue means that Black entrepreneurs typically have less money to start their businesses and will also have less access to professional mentorship and networking.
Even after you’ve established your business and excelled in your field, you’ll probably never escape racial bias. A study by Stanford University said that “Venture capital funds led by people of color face more bias the better they perform.”
For the study, Stanford psychologist Jennifer L. Eberhardt collaborated with private investment firm Illumen Capital. The research showed that people of color with high credentials were judged more strictly than their white counterparts with similar credentials.
So, should you follow your passion? My answer is “yes.” I’ve found that having a stable job in a career that I hated was much more miserable than the challenges I face as an entrepreneur. Life is going to be tough either way. I’d rather fight the battles that mean something to me.