The Perils of Following Your Passion

Right now there are thousands of graduates listening to inspiring commencement messages suggesting that you “follow your passion” or “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!” Following your passion (if you have one) can be fraught with peril.

I’m calling bullshit. Having about 40 years of experience since graduation, I have a few observations:

  1. What if you don’t have a passion? I did not. Not only did I not know what I liked to do, I didn’t have any idea what many “jobs” entailed. Just get started. Know that your first job will not likely be your forever career. Take a job that sounds interesting and will provide enough income for you to live. My first 3 jobs made it clear what I did NOT like to do, and that is equally as valuable as knowing your passion.
  2. Accept that you may never work your “passion”. Oprah maintains that we all have greatness within us and we just need to find our purpose in life. We’re not all going to be Oprah. Some of us will be excellent manicurists, some will be outstanding landscapers and some may actually be innovators that change the world. Does all of this mean my role on earth is to help companies with social media and write content? I love this job and enjoy the work but I’d rather believe I’m here to be a good partner, friend and raise decent human beings. Maybe you’re passionate about local politics, the school board or a local non-profit. Your passion or purpose may have nothing at all to do with your career or work life.
  3. When it’s your job, things that you love can quickly become work. Examples: a niece who loves shoes hated working in a shoe store. My skateboarder son discovered that when he didn’t feel like filming the required trick on a given day, it was way less fun that skating with his buddies wherever their boards took them; it became WORK. My art/drafting son found that architecture and graphic design was not as interesting as he thought and is now literally pouring his creativity into crafted cocktails behind an upscale bar. A musician that wants to play original music but must play Daddy’s Little Girl or The Chicken Dance on cue may re-think his or her passion in a hurry. Finally, if you will be a business owner, be careful. The woman who loves to make pies and starts a bakery may quickly find herself running the company and doing the books while managing others who get to make the pies. Some careful planning can ensure that you don’t get sucked into the duties that take you away from the parts you love.
  4. Find things you like about the job. You don’t have to like the whole job. Find things you like and look for paths that will allow you to do more of those things. People tend to like tasks that they’re good at – find those and get really good at them. (Sorry, you can’t ignore the rest of the job, but you can focus on the positive!)
  5. Ask for help. Caution: do not walk up to someone to ask, “Will you be my mentor?”. It IS okay to ask friends, relatives, acquaintances, LinkedIn contacts, etc. for advice and direction in finding positions that include more of what you love to do. Most people are very happy to help you find your way, as long as you’re asking for guidance and not asking them to do it for you.
  6. Take a risk. You may find yourself on a path you never expected. When something of interest presents itself, why not try it? (As long as you can afford to live on that new opportunity!). Nothing is forever. Weigh the best and worst that could happen. If you can live with the outcome, take the risk and follow a new and interesting opportunity. Your passion may find you.

Listen to all of the commencement speeches and go ahead and get inspired. Just don’t feel inadequate if you are one of the many who hasn’t (or may never) identified your “passion”. As a parent, I changed my message from “just be happy” to “just be self-sufficient, live elsewhere and visit us”.  As a business owner, it’s a lot of pressure to make sure that every employee is achieving self-fulfillment from their job.

Get started, look for a job that pays enough for you to live and then look for the things that make you happy. Finding a company that has built a positive and healthy work environment is a good start. (If the company has really high turnover – RUN AWAY – but that’s another post for later.) Remember that happiness is a choice. Your job does not have to provide personal fulfillment – that may come from your life outside of work. Congratulations Graduates!!

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