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Forget following your passion. Instead, pick a fit and make it fantastic.

You’ve probably been told by someone to follow your passion and look for a job you’ll love. On the surface, this sounds great, but in reality, it’s bad advice for several reasons:

  • You may get hired for one thing you think you love, but as your role evolves, you may find yourself doing things you hate.
  • The nature of what you love may change over time.
  • Loving your work is largely environmental. What happens when you get a new boss you hate?
  • You can love your work all day long, but when the market goes bad, your work will dump you in a heartbeat.
  • Do you even know what your passion is?

Following Your Passion Can Cause Unnecessary Stress During Your Job Search

Let’s start by unpacking that last bullet. Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, the authors of Designing Your Life who have worked with countless individuals, estimate that 80% of the people they’ve come across have no idea what their passion is. If you’re one of those people (and, statistically, you very well may be), being told to “follow your passion” can cause feelings of stress, thoughts of inadequacy, and depression. How can you follow your passion when you don’t know what you’re passionate about? You can’t. And you don’t have to try.

Work Won’t Love Your Back

I love the title of Journalist Sara Jaffee’s new book, Work Won’t Love You Back. Chances are, you know someone who has been laid off. Maybe you’ve been laid off. The brutal nature of the workforce has been poignantly illuminated by the Covid pandemic (according to the Congressional Research Service, the unemployment rate peaked at 14.8% in April 2020, and we’re not out of the weeds yet). The title of Sara’s book is so revealing: loving your job is a one-way relationship. As soon as you lose your utility, you’re out on the street looking for a new squeeze. Why should you love something that won’t love you back?

It’s OK to Leave Your Lover

The 1950s school of thought was to find a job and stick with it. This thinking persisted until the emergence of the tech industry, where start-ups rose and fell like the opening to Game of Thrones. For myriad reasons, people began changing jobs frequently. The result has been that now, for many roles, you’re doing great if you’ve stuck with your organization for more than two years! This has not only caused a huge paradigm shift in how we think about work but also presented a fantastic opportunity for us to live better work-lives. What do I mean?

The Value of Shorter-Term Relationships

Although this blog is starting to look like a love advice column today, I’m talking about your work. Chances are, your work isn’t into you for a long-term relationship. You’ll take the break-up better if you accept that and plan for it. The good news is that now, more than ever, you’re free to try things out. Designing Your Life talks about “prototyping” experiences. What they mean is giving things a try. There are many ways to go about this, but here are some ideas:

  • Conduct informational interviews with people who have jobs or work at companies that interest you. Dig deep; get to know their story. How did they end up here? What do they like about it? What would they like to change?
  • Volunteer with causes that interest you in roles you’d like to explore.
  • Get an internship with a company you like.
  • Vividly imagine yourself in a role that interests you for a few days. Try to live that life as much as possible (physically and in your mind). How does that life sit with you?
  • Get a job you might like. Try it for a while. See how you can optimize it. If it doesn’t work out, rinse and repeat.

Find an Environment You Like and Create a Job You Love

Environment plays a huge role in workplace happiness. Even if you love what you’re doing, being surrounded by the wrong people, culture, and values will wear on you and eventually turn that dream job into a nightmare. What’s the solution? Getting good at making lemonade. Here’s how:

  • Find an environment that works for you. By “environment,” I mean the physical environment (remote vs. office, commute time, pet friendly, etc.), people (independent vs. collaborative, reasonably nice and supportive colleagues / boss, etc.), benefits (pay, paid-time-off, sick leave, insurance, etc.), culture / values, etc. “Environment” is a comprehensive term meaning the things that come attached to the actual work you’re doing.
  • Give yourself time to settle into a new role, and then look around and ask yourself, how can I make this better?
  • Create opportunities within your role to grow toward a “happy place.” For example, can you create some side projects that will allow you to collaborate with colleagues that might help your career advancement? Can you offer to do some things outside of your scope that will help you to grow? Create your own path, even if you don’t get instant recognition or approval for it – you can go wherever you want if you’re proactive.
  • Continue evolving and changing. Leave yourself open to opportunity, and it will find you.
  • Know when it’s time to move on. Pack up all the lessons you’ve learned and take them with you as you go.
  • Try something new!

How I Overcame an Unfortunate Break-Up

I LOVED working in the circus. After a diverse career in sales, entrepreneurship, publishing, and teaching, I had finally found my calling as a flying trapeze artist in a Japanese traveling show. I was 34.

Don't follow your passion

Sure, living at the circus wasn’t easy. There were environmental things that drove me crazy – like living in a third of a shipping container and slogging to the tent in typhoons — but for a long time, I was able to overcome them because I loved my work so much. However, even in this “dream job,” the issues began to wear on me. We suffered extreme weather while “enjoying” outdoor plumbing, our work was physically demanding, my catcher (the Head of Arrogant Assholes United) and I weren’t seeing eye-to-eye (or wrist-to-wrist, rather), and the show continually demanded more from us without providing additional pay.

After a little over two years, I quit. And I became miserable. For nine months, I searched for a new passion and couldn’t find it. I hoped — begged — the passion would find me, but I remained lost.

Finally, the call I had been waiting for came.

My teammates had bought out the insufferable catcher (who owned the team) and invited me to rejoin the show. Yeah, baby! I was going back to Japan.

For the next 4+ years, I again thrived as a performer. It was an amazing time; all day, all night, I felt like I was “in the zone.” The only problem was that about halfway through those four years, the work stopped loving me. My shoulder began having problems. At first, it was manageable. Then, it got worse. During my last year, I was at the doctor every week getting hyaluronic injections just to be able to lift my arm for our finale pose.

There was nothing I could do. My job had enraptured me with a deep embrace and then, over time, it had chewed me up and spit me out. I had to move on. It was devastating.

No Choice but to Make Lemonade

Lucky for me, during my second round at the show, I moonlighted as a Resume Writer. It wasn’t something I was passionate about, but in a pinch, I knew it would pay my bills. So, when I came back to the States, it was natural that I would edit resumes until my new passion appeared.

This is where things get really relevant.

For about six months, I kept on editing resumes while aimlessly looking for other work. Finding nothing, I reached out to the person who ran the freelance editing program and asked if he had any other opportunities for me. I had done well for them as a Resume Writer, so he invited me to become a Quality Editor in addition to my writing work. The job paid $18/hour — better than nothing — and I was happy to take it. Would this be my passion?

No, it wouldn’t. I quickly found quality editing to be hugely unenjoyable. My days consisted of rewriting others’ sloppy work. It took forever and made me feel horrible to have to reject their drafts again and again. The one good thing that came out of it, though, was it boosted my confidence that I was actually doing a decent job for my clients! This wasn’t enough to make me want to continue, though, so I went back to the manager and asked if there were any other options.

This time, he presented me with the chance to become a Job Interview Coach. I hadn’t been on a job interview in years, but I recalled kicking ass at them back in the day. Plus, I had experience teaching at the university level, so I knew how to communicate concepts with adults. I decided to give it a try.

At first, I hated coaching. I felt like an imposter and sweated my way through every session. After time, though, I started to find my groove. I even began developing some of my own tools and feedback mechanisms. A year flew by with happy customer reviews, and, slowly, I began to realize that I had found something special. I wasn’t sure whether it was my passion, but I could clearly see it was a place where I excelled.

More often, I began talking about launching my own business.

One day, I realized I was being grossly underpaid by the company I was working for. For career documents, clients were being charged $400+, while I was only receiving $60 – $80. For coaching, clients were paying $150, of which I received $35. I never thought about the pay discrepancy before because it wasn’t useful to me. I believed I couldn’t control what I was being paid. But, suddenly, something became very clear to me: For more than five years, clients had believed the service I was providing them was worth $400. Clients were paying me $400. I was just leaving $340 of it on the table!

This, I had to fix.

I had already built a wealth of knowledge by scouring the internet daily for tips from Human Resources thought leaders. I read books from experts, took courses, and gathered client feedback. I had a lot to share, so I structured my offerings, built a website, and started marketing my services. People kept paying what they were paying (and, in fact, I found that people were happy to pay even more!). This helped me realize my own self-worth as a passionate, dedicated career professional who knows her shit and is invested in customer success.

Today, I LOVE MY WORK.

Don't follow your passion

Not because I followed my passion, but because I turned a very mediocre job (resume writing) into a highly enjoyable business that allows me to make a genuine difference in people’s lives. The environment – remote work, little oversight, unfettered room to grow — suited me and aligned with my values (helping people). I pursued opportunities to explore and grow, which led me to a role that inspires me, delights me, and fits my financial needs.

You Can Do It, Too

One thing that helped me get here was remembering how, when I was a National Sales Manager for a rock climbing wall company, I could have been more proactive in implementing improvements. I did create some positive change in that role, but I could have done so much more had I adopted this growth-focused mindset. In confronting this reality, it taught me a lesson that I brought with me moving forward — that there are always things I can do to improve myself and my environment.

The opportunities the manager presented to me, just because I asked, further solidified this. Additionally, they taught me that it’s great to try things. And to cut them off as soon as possible if my gut tells me they aren’t a good fit. But, even cutting them off is a lesson I can take with me moving forward.

What to Do Instead of Following Your Passion

Instead of stressing yourself out by trying to follow a passion you can’t identify, improve your prospects of living your best life by doing the following:

  • Don’t follow your passion; instead, uncover hidden treasures in all that you do. You never know where they’ll lead you.
  • Proactively create opportunities for yourself. How can you expand your knowledge? Your network? Your skill? Go for it. It doesn’t matter if your efforts are officially recognized. What matters is how the experiences make you feel.
  • Create a list of your core values. What’s important to you? Now, create a list of your skills. Seek out jobs that align with those values and skills, rather than overthinking the nature of the work.
  • Try. And fail. And take the lessons you learned with you as you try again.

Need Some Help?

I’ve got you! I just developed a new advising series to help you identify a direction aligned with your values and skills, launch a powerful and exploratory job search, and land a role where you can grow and thrive (or learn and leave – either is valuable!). Contact me for more information.

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