“I don’t know. I just don’t have any passions!”
For the great majority of my life I was under the impression that I was one of the cursed unique who milled about the world without a single passion, and thus without an ounce of hope for a fulfilling career. As I got older, my anxieties about being forced to pursue an unsatisfying profession, one in which I would be prisoner to a fate of work-work-work-die, were only exacerbated by the guidance counselors and career advisors who promised life-long contentment if I could just identify my passions. From finding my passion, it was then a simple decision of choosing the obvious career that matched and, voila, “I would never work a day in my life.” While the idea is quaint, it is tragically misguided. The idea that our jobs and careers should appeal to and mimic these “passions” is an unfortunate myth.
For as long as I can remember, teachers, parents, and my own peers, have propagated the idea that “passions” are those thing we simply cannot live without. They are the reasons we get out of bed in the morning and the motivations behind our every action. Me? I cannot live without food, water, oxygen and a few other basics, and I typically get out of bed because I have to pee.
The idea that our passions are these instinctual, undeniable urges inside us is accurate for a select few. The reality is, our passions are simply our interests, our likes, and are ever changing. While there are undoubtedly some constants in our lives, for instance, I have always loved music, these often evolve and take on different forms as we age (as an adult I have opted for songwriting as a musical form of expression rather than the air guitar and head banging routines I perfected as a child). To pinpoint our chief affection at eighteen and pick a college major and career path based on this potentially fleeting love is a recipe for disappointment.
Additionally, the majority of us have a wide range of passions, hobbies, and fascinations, and the summation of them is what makes us who we are. To reduce a complex human being’s future to one passion is to grossly oversimplify the talents, abilities, and priorities that may abound. Choosing a career is more than chasing one primary devotion, it is about finding a balance between our interests and our skills. If you are extremely passionate and knowledgeable about art but have trouble mastering the stick figure, a career as a painter might not be your calling. However, noting that interest and identifying your natural inclination toward curating may lend itself to a more promising future. Blindly following our passions is not a key to success. Balance is.
Furthermore, an important and often overlooked complement to our interests and skills is our priorities. When I sat in front of my teachers and whined that I didn’t have any passions, I was choosing to ignore the things that I surrounded myself with, occupied my free time, and dominated my conversations. I had plenty of “passions” and loves, however, I also had a strong desire for financial security and a future estate on a Malibu cliff side, dreams not guaranteed if I pursued my passion of cacti collecting. Our passions are often something as simple as the little hobbies we take up, and unfortunately, these are not always viable careers. The key is to find what we love, what are good at, what we need, and marry them together with a career that meets all the necessary criteria.
Aside from being only partially developed advice, “follow your passion” is full of other problems and incorrect assumptions. One of the most misguided conclusions those advocating for a passion-driven career come to is that a career you love will never feel like work at all. In fact, quite the opposite is true. If you are deeply passionate about your work, you will never settle for anything less than perfection. Doing what you love will make what could be an ordinary occupation for someone else a personal, consuming investment for you. A director, enthralled with the concept of film making, will not accept anything less than what they dreamed the final product to be. The result is many takes, long nights, and a lot of stress. Additionally, this misconception fails to account for factors outside our control such as intolerable coworkers, tyrannical bosses, and meaningless or degrading work (though sports may be your passion, accepting a back office job as the chief paper-stapler for an NFL team is unlikely to be very rewarding).
A similar fallacy that follows the tired advice is that true joy is a guarantee for those who follow their passions. However, joy rarely comes from pursuing personal gain, but rather from serving others and finding a way to use our talents for the betterment of a good greater than ourselves. Achieving a career in which we are the sole beneficiaries is seldom as fulfilling as finding a career in which we can pair our talents, joys, and interests and use them to make a genuine difference in the world. The converse is equally promoted; if you don’t follow your passion, you will undoubtedly detest your occupation and dread waking up every morning. This conclusion assumes that happiness is circumstantial and the product of what surrounds us, rather than our own personal mindsets. Joy and optimism are choices we make.
At the end of the day, we are not entitled to a job we love. However, it is an achievable and rewarding goal, one which is not the product of a formula so simple as “find your passion.” Our passions do not need to be found, they are the things inside us, that help make up who we are. Our passions are the things that consume our time and thoughts, and they are complex, bountiful, and ever changing. The key to a rewarding career is to recognize these, acknowledge what talents, priorities and desires we also value, and then find a compromise to blend them all. Few people have one magnificent reason for being, most of us are just wandering along, but that’s what life is all about.