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Of all the popular career advice, “Follow your passion” seems to have the most sticking power, so much so that it’s now accepted as a given. Two of the questions we hear most from people who are anxious about setting out on the right career path are, “But what if I can’t find my passion?” and “But what if my passion can’t support me?”
Feeling like you have to find the thing you love more than anything and hoping it will lead to a self-sustaining career puts a huge amount of pressure on anyone who’s trying to figure out what to do next.
Here are a few reasons why focusing on “following your passion” can do more harm than good when it comes to careers:
1 - It implies that our passion is something waiting to be uncovered deep within each of us, as if it’s something we’ve had since birth. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Passions develop over time, and sometimes we discover them outside ourselves. For example, have you ever taken a class you didn’t want to but ended up finding it to be fascinating? Or have you ever had to work on something new that you were dreading but then found you were actually very good at it and really enjoyed it?
2 - Just because we’re passionate about doing something, doesn’t mean we would like the day-to-day of doing it for a living. Your passion isn’t going to lead to career happiness if you hate how you’re actually spending your time or how it impacts your personal life. For instance, I love to cook and tried working in a restaurant; but long hours on my feet, providing meals for other people while not spending time with her own family wasn’t a good fit for me.
3 - It may not be a financially sustainable career path. Many people we know love to read, but no one gets paid to read what they like unless they also write reports or reviews, which is a completely different activity.
But don’t worry. You can find and do what you’re passionate about and make a living doing something meaningful without assuming they all have to be wrapped up in one. We call this designing your life.
We should make space in our lives to do many things. You should have a job that’s a great fit for you. And you should absolutely enjoy doing it and look forward to showing up every morning. But you shouldn’t rely on your job to fulfill all of your needs, and your identity shouldn’t be reduced to your career. There should be many things in your life that you are excited about.
Margaret H. Willison is someone who has managed to build an incredibly rich life as a cultural commentator outside of her day job as a librarian at MIT. Her current side gigs include: occasional guest host on Pop Culture Happy Hour, co-host of the podcast Appointment Television, and co-writer of the weekly newsletter Two Bossy Dames. Having always been passionate about pop culture and literature and sharing her opinions, each of these ventures developed organically. For instance, for years before she became a guest host on Pop Culture Happy Hour, Willison was an avid listener and perhaps the most active participant on the podcast’s Facebook page. They often referred to her as “our favorite listener, Margaret H. Willison.”
All of this happened because Willison spent her time outside of work doing what she loves – reading and watching TV and movies and then talking about them. Had she wrapped up her entire identity in her salaried job, her life would feel far smaller.
One common trait of people who are happy and fulfilled is that they are focused on many things and not just one. Everyone should have a job that’s a great fit for them, no question. And everyone should absolutely enjoy doing it and look forward to getting up every morning. But no one should rely completely on a job to bring meaning to all aspects of their life.
In a nutshell, “follow your passion” is limiting advice – you may focus on one thing (if you even know what it is) but miss out on all sorts of other things that you would find very fulfilling.
At ArcVida, we guide clients through an exercise called Design Your Life in which they look at all the hours they have in a week and consider how they want to spend them. We ask them to consider what matters to them and then find ways to incorporate those things into their lives.
Instead of worrying about getting paid to follow your passion, design your awesome life instead.
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Published on 8/5/2019