It’s a common struggle for Millennials: should they grab a steady job with decent pay and good prospects? Or -- despite lower pay, tougher working conditions and a tougher road to success -- hurl themselves toward their passion for art, theater, music or a high-minded cause?

There’s no easy answer. But at least one career coach thinks that advising young people to follow their bliss has gone too far.

Not So Cool

Marty Nemko, author of Cool Careers for Dummies and host of a career-advice public radio show, says teachers, parents and friends who encourage Millennials to pursue their passion without discussing the odds for success and the possibility of alternatives are doing them a disservice.

Make that a grave disservice.

“If a doctor prescribed a medicine that was very costly and didn’t tell you the odds it would work are one in a thousand, you’d sue him for malpractice. And win in any court in the land,” Nemko says.

He has seen some heartbreaking cases: high school theater stars encouraged to go for it because they’re amazing, then they move to New York and if they’re lucky, get cast in a commercial or two before coming home to live with their parents older, poorer and discouraged.

And then there’s the smart lady he knows who is a passionate environmentalist and wrote a book about the cause. She’s 60 and lives in Section 8 housing.

Really, Really Hot

On the other hand, there’s Dan Nainan. Dan, 33, was a marketing engineer at a global electronics company, traveling the world doing technology demos. Presenting to an audience unnerved him. To conquer his fear, he took a standup comedy class.

His final exam? A routine at a San Francisco comedy club. It was terrifying, but when the audience laughed, he was hooked.

“I’ve never done a drug in my life, but it was such an amazing high,” he recalls.

Colleagues who saw him invited him to do a routine for a company dinner in Las Vegas, then a second event with 2,500 people. His employer let him to move to New York, where he telecommuted by day and plied the comedy clubs by night.

After a year, despite a lack of success on stage, he left his $120,000 job and benefits and took the plunge to try to make it as a full-time comic.

It was hardly a glamorous life.

“It took me two years to make my first five dollars,” he says. 

He would hand out flyers to his show at Times Square, where he often got dirty looks. He spent a night on cardboard in the freezing rain waiting to audition, unsucessfully, for a gig at NBC. 

He was getting nowhere in the clubs, but Nainan, whose father is Indian and mother is Japanese, began to make headway in the ethnic comedy sector, which he says is huge. His big break came when he started touring with Russell Peters, a famous Indian comedian.

He started making a name for himself and branching out. Today, he works corporate events, charity galas, cruise ships and high-end parties, and has performed for President Obama and at a TED conference. His 2013 income, though never steady, was about $320,000.

Nainan is the somewhat rare success story, the guy who took the leap of faith and made it across the deep canyon to the other side. But for every Nainan, there are a thousand other comics, artists and musicians who never make a dime.

How do you know which you will be?

Getting Real

Listen to what the world is telling you, Nemko says. If you’re determined to follow your passion, try it for two years. Then, “if your annual income from your passion is $10,000 or less, the world is telling you that odds are, you don’t have the combo to be a success.”

Which is no tragedy, he insists. If you have a steady job, a good income, nice colleagues and a decent commute—plus a fun hobby instead of a risky arts career—you have most of the ingredients for a good life.

“Some of the happiest people I know have mundane jobs and take their hobby very seriously,” he says.

If you’re drawn to pursuing a passion for a living, get realistic before diving in, suggests Ryan Hunt, senior career advisor at CareerBuilder. There’s plenty you can do:

  • Browse job boards for opportunities and salaries in areas you want to live, and decide if the work and income fit with your desired lifestyle.
  • Go to career advice sites and to learn more about the field.
  • Contact professional organizations for your dream occupation. Associations have tons of career resources.
  • Reach out to professionals in the field to get the straight dope about what you have to do as you try to succeed.
Some cool jobs may be dead-end, but could still help you in the future, Hunt says. Political campaigns often hire bright young college grads, and though the campaign comes to an end, your experience helps bolster a resume for law school or MBA programs, which often prefer applicants with real-world experience.

If you do go for a “glamor” job, remember that good work habits, networking skills and drive are just as important as talent.

Even now, when he’s not performing, Nainan is pushing—reaching out for new opportunities, answering emails, writing new jokes and making his own travel arrangements.

“From the minute I get up until I go to sleep, I’m working,” he says. A favorite poster on his wall says, “While others partied, you practiced. Now it’s your turn to play.”