How many of us are unhappy with the jobs we have? It’s crazy to think that we spend the majority of our lives working, and not necessarily enjoying doing so. 90,000 hours in fact — that’s the amount of time an average person will work in their lives. Funnily enough, we spend a relatively similar amount of time figuring out what we really want to do.
The phrases “Do what you love” and “Find your passion” have been thrown at millennials like blinding confetti. Meant to celebrate the opportunities of the oyster that is our world, they’ve instead had us lost in the glory of our generally average selves. And we struggle to open our eyes to a reality far less colorful.
The truth is much of what we’re passionate about won’t bring us money, and the concerns that the other aspects of our lives demand of us are equally real.
It’s not to say we should settle for a 9–5 job that pays decently, but perhaps we need to analyze the slogans we hear and redefine what it means to feel fulfilled in our careers.
1. Following your passion doesn’t equate happiness
That the only way to feel happy in our career is by doing what we love is probably the most blinding misconception. It’s an incomplete, if not simplistic argument at best.
That’s because there are two things missing: one, we undeniably embark on careers that will bring us financial reward and two, sometimes we’re not actually good at what we love.
We tend to think of our career and passion as interlocking ideas that imply a one-way course to both wealth and happiness. But careers are long sought out, and passions come & go.
Studies are suggesting that instead of focusing on either one of these as the underlying purposes for a career, we could instead look at where our strengths lie and what talents come naturally to us. Because in the context of a career or job people find enjoyment in both earning a living and being good if not best at what they do.
2. We only talk about success stories
We’ve heard the old story of how John worked his butt off as a theatre actor, sleeping on couches and working three other jobs to make ends meet. And before you know it, he’s winning an Oscar. Or Jane who quit her 9–5 job and spent all her savings to travel and returned to start a beautiful yoga studio in the heart of town.
A narrative like this presents passion and success as something magical — that if you find it and follow it, you’re bound for success. But not all of us are passionate about something and there are even fewer of us who are willing to pursue our passion despite obstacles.
Crucially such a narrative implies an easy way to determine success and failure. That if you didn’t try hard enough, you failed. But for people like me, tone deaf and fearful of attention, no amount of vocal lessons could possibly prepare me for a life as a music artist. So, this strong desire to follow my music passion is wonderful, but the goal seems misplaced.
That’s because the word “passion” has a meaning akin to a “strong and barely controllable emotion”. If we’re basing our happiness in our careers based on that well, it’s no wonder most of us aren’t feeling fulfilled.
So, if we toned it down to follow an interest instead of passion, where might that get us?
Perhaps by these vocal lessons, I’ll learn more about music or maybe build on my confidence that could help me in closing more sales. Or if my passion in photography that I haven’t quite turned into a business aided me to be more creative in my job. Could we also in some way consider these successes despite not being the cookie-cutter representation of following your passion?
3. Life isn’t just our job
A third of our lives is spent at work, and while that’s a huge amount of time it’s not enough to say that’s all that life is.
The apex of human happiness we’ve found to not only lie in recognition and financial prosperity, but in deep human relationships and a conviction that our time here contributed to some sphere of usefulness.
Sadly, the current slogans of following our passion only fits to the former because they’re primarily self-serving, whereas the latter demands we look beyond our own fleeting desires.
A cursory view of the world and we see that the most successful companies aren’t always those whose founders had an undeniable passion and turned it into a business, but rather those who identified pain-points and needs within the market and sought to serve it and grew them based on the expertise, not passions of others.
In the same light, to find success is much more than getting what we want but has a fuller meaning in contributing our knowledge and talents to a need or cause whether that be the company we work for or not.
While following our passion is bad advice, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be passionate about our interests. It just means that internalizing that slogan won’t equate to career fulfilment, nor personal happiness and there’s a lot to be gained from keeping it real.