Taking the pressure off “following your passion”

Is there something wrong with us if we don’t immediately know how to make passion pay? The answer is a firm no. Here’s a healthy dose of perspective.

pressured senior student deep in thought passion
Dr Selina Samuels Education expert BA(Hons), LLB, PhD, MEd Monday, 24 June 2019

The idea that you have to understand exactly what you love then turn that passion into a career can feel quite debilitating for many people.

Career advisors often tell us that we should follow our passion. But what happens if you don’t have a passion, or at least not one that could conceivably become a career? Does that mean there’s something wrong with you?

Not knowing is half the fun

With any luck, you’ll probably live until you’re 90 and work to the age of 75, so how can you feel strongly about what you want to do for the next 50+ years?

What’s more, current school students will likely have 17 different jobs and five different careers in their lives, many of which haven’t even been invented yet. So, in thirty years, you’re likely to discover a passion which hadn’t even been conceived of when you were at school.

The problem may lie with the word “passion”

Truth be told, “passion” is a rather dramatic word to apply to something as long and multifaceted as your career. We all have different motivations at different points in our lives. Sometimes it’s important to absolutely love what you do. Sometimes you might just want to make money to fund an unrelated goal.

At any given time you might struggle to make a living doing something you absolutely love. You’ll take a job which sparks no joy but offers you stability. And you might find a middle ground, doing something you enjoy for a decent income.

This might seem super confusing, but the most important thing to keep clear in your mind is that you don’t have to know what you’re going to do for the rest of your life right now. Chances are your passions and reasons for working will change several times over the course of your life.

How to have a career if you’re not blindly passionate

If you don’t feel a passionate attraction to any particular job, that’s absolutely fine. In the absence of passion, think about skill and confidence. Focus your attention on what you do well and, most importantly, which skills make you feel good. Do you feel more confident with numbers than with words? Are you more comfortable in the Science lab? On the sports field? Helping people?

And if you do feel passionate about doing something, but worry that you won’t be able to turn it into a paying job, please realise that it’s not an either/or situation. You can be passionate about baking cakes or gardening or playing cricket without having those things fund your life.

Many people happily reconcile things they love to do with things they’re good at to make a more inclusive life. These same individuals swear by this diversity as the best way to stay busy and happy. And it removes the pressure from feeling absolutely passionate about your job.

Don’t wait for passion to dictate your career decisions

You’re probably familiar with the saying, “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” It’s certainly true that it’s much better to enjoy your work than not. But this – like waiting for passion to dictate your career decisions – sets a very high bar for professional satisfaction.

The reality is that all jobs, however exciting or glamorous, have aspects that are not so much fun. There’s no one in the world who loves every minute of every working day. If your expectation is that you’ll feel passionate about what you do all the time, you’re likely to be disappointed no matter what you do.

If you’re struggling to hone in on your passions, or if you’ve decided to keep the things you love separate from your professional pursuits, there’s still plenty of opportunity to enjoy a meaningful and fulfilling career. If you develop useful skills and knowledge, you’re more employable, while the feeling of adding value to the world will give you a sense of fulfilment. That sense of being valuable and helpful and contributing positively to the lives of others is probably the best feeling of all. And maybe that’s what passion’s all about.

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