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Following Your Career Passion Can Result in a Lifetime’s Satisfaction

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Passion is defined as a feeling and emotion that drives you in a certain direction. What’s your passion?

One of the most well-known commencement addresses was Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford University in 2004. He told the graduates: “You’ve got to find what you love…. [T]he only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle.”

However, there is a growing number of people today who say encouraging young career seekers to “follow your passion” is bad advice.

I’ve had many passions throughout my career. I agree that a laser-sharp focus is needed to make passion a reality. You have to get comfortable with both saying no and hearing no. In other words, following a passion fervently means you may not have time for all activities you wish to pursue.

Likewise, hearing no may mean that you must put in extra time and effort to make your passion a reality by moving in another direction. It also means some people aren’t ready to buy in to your passion. Hearing a “no” does not mean giving up on your passion; it means redirecting your energy toward finding a new way forward to that passion.

Is Passion Essential for Ultimate Success?

In a TED talk, Peggy Oki, a skateboarder, surfer, artist and environmental activist, emphasized how each of us can save the world, one passion at a time. She says, “Follow your heart with vision and action and you will connect with your passion. Persistence and energy is key. Passion and ability are just two factors of the overall equation.”

Being happy and content with a job or a career is not based on the job per se, but on your interpretation of the job. That’s how two people can do the same work; one person loves it and the other despises it.

The skills gap is important too, because it is the bridge between an active, involved workforce and simply filling positions. In other words, those who master the skills gap have the tools to stay the course and be content in achieving their passion.

As I’ve said, there is a growing group of people who feel “following your passion” sends the wrong message.

Paul A. O’Keefe, assistant professor of Social Sciences at Yale NUS College, led a research study titled, “Implicit Theories of Interest: Finding Your Passion or Developing It?” His conclusion may shock you: “The message to find your passion is generally offered with good intentions, to convey: Do not worry so much about talent, do not bow to pressure for status or money, just find what is meaningful and interesting to you. Unfortunately, the belief system this message may engender can undermine the very development of people’s interests.”

Many People Don’t Have a Career Passion

Simply put, many people don’t have a career passion. Instead, they have a cornucopia of interests. The goal is to find a position/job/career that has more interesting aspects than disinteresting aspects.

In other words, any job will have good points and bad points, so you need to determine if the good outweighs the bad. For example, that dream position you’re seeking may require a totally new skill set, and you may have to take the initiative to acquire those skills.

The idea of following your career passion, however, fails to incorporate some key factors: environment, culture, personality and circumstances. They all play very significant roles in what our outcomes will be.

To make the right career choice, apart from having a passion, what is needed is a better understanding of one’s personality, value system, aptitude, character and strengths. Here are my observations on external factors that can have a big impact on your pursuit of your passion:

  1. Environment — Some people will be afforded more opportunities due to the environment in which they are born or raised.
  2. Culture — Many cultures have expectations of happiness, which can clash with the pursuit of one’s passion.
  3. Personality Type — Most successful people tend to have aggressive, assertive, driven and focused personalities.
  4. Circumstances — Life choices can help or hinder your passion to pursue your dream.
  5. Inner Drive — The ability to move forward and not quit despite adversity is important
  6. Finances — Money is key to any job, and following your passion is dependent on the price you are willing to pay to make your passion a reality.

So when choosing a career path, your passion, skill and demand are all connected. It’s difficult to calculate personal happiness in a career field or job you know you don’t like.

Channel Your Energy into Making Your Passion Happen

Actor, director, and screenwriter Tyler Perry says passion is about knowing what you want and putting all of your energy into making it happen. When others doubt you, believe in yourself and your dream. Conversely, if you love it, you can’t help but be successful.

Chris Guillebeau, author of “The Art of Non-Conformity,” says to find your passion and then craft your world around that passion. If you aren’t passionate about what you do, you have almost no chance of being successful.

Let’s Rethink the Essence of Career Passion

Writing in Forbes magazine, Julia Wuench, founder & CEO of The Authenticity Guide, says following your passion is the worst career advice you can give someone. Her article lists several reasons why:

  1. It assumes we will only have one passion in life.
  2. It assumes passions don’t change with time.
  3. It assumes we already know what our passion is.
  4. Not knowing your passion can be a source of tremendous stress and anxiety.
  5. It gives the impression that passion should come with ease, organically, or that a magical “dream job” is waiting in the wings.
  6. Just because you have a passion for something doesn’t mean that you are good at it.
  7. Once you shift your life’s passion into a job, it becomes just that, a task you must do.
  8. It’s a privileged message not afforded to all.

The issue may not be to follow your passion, but the “sound bite” itself may need updating. Perhaps “follow your passion” should be reworded as “find and foster your passion.” Following implies a passive approach; however, “find and foster” acknowledges that the process may take time and may include a mixture of self-reflection, relentlessness, and discovery.

In addition, career passion tends to be centric and self-fulfilling. However, pursuing a purpose provides direction via an inner compass to point you in the right direction.

Instead of focusing on the phrase itself, it may be the execution of that phrase that needs more analysis. Once you have found your career passion, how do you make it a reality? If you haven’t found your passion yet, here are a few suggestions:

  • Be open to the possibilities.
  • Set achievable goals that work toward finding a passion.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety; just know the passion will come eventually.

Serial entrepreneur, author and philanthropist Mark Cuban also insists that following your career passion is the worst advice ever. The things he was really good at were those to which he devoted serious effort and time. He explains that time results in expertise, and nobody quits anything for which they have an expertise. The one thing in life you can control is your effort. To be the best, you have to put in the effort.

Purpose is work and there’s no “how to” book that is 100% applicable for everyone. Passion is an experience of emotions. Objectives, goals, values, meaning and purpose can become conflated. Purpose is usually long term, and passionate people add value to the world by contributing their talents.

Passion Is How Each of Us Defines It, Both Internally and Externally

So in essence, passion is how each of us defines it, both internally and externally. Purpose is directly related to our emotions and is a long-term process of connection. Striking a balance between a career passion and a paycheck is easier said than done. So live without regrets and go after what truly makes you happy. It’s not only important to have a passion, but also to have a game plan how to execute it.

So what is your passion?

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is an award-winning author, presenter, and professor with nearly 30 years of experience in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). She is the creator of the Professor S.T.E.A.M. Children’s Book Series, which brings tomorrow’s concepts to future leaders today. A global speaker, STE(A)M advocate, and STE(A)M communicator, she holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University. She is a faculty member in Transportation and Logistics for the Wallace E. Boston School of Business and specializes in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in transportation, education, and technology.

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