Conventional career advice frequently given to recent graduates is “Follow your passion”. Unfortunately, this is very bad, and wrong, advice.
Developmental psychology says that we do not really have a clear understanding of ourselves until we are in our thirties. How can you expect to figure out your passion when you are not yet who you will become?
Research indicates that only about 4% of recent university graduates have any “passion” that is career-related and actionable. A Canadian psychologist surveyed 600 university students and found that 84% had a passion. However, they were: dance, hockey, skiing, reading and swimming – not very helpful unless your name is Mikhail Baryshnikov, Sydney Crosby or Penny Oleksiak.
The passion mindset is focused on what the world can offer you which is how most people approach their careers. This approach results in frustration when you end up in a job not aligned with what you have identified as your “passion” and usually results in a state of perpetual unhappiness because it does not allow you to answer the question, “Is this what I should really be doing with my life?”
A better approach is to use a marketing paradigm – determine what you have to offer the world and who would be interested in it. You are the product and your potential employers are your customers.
Passion is not developed in the abstract – you are not going to have an epiphany and suddenly discover your passion. You will find your passion as you develop your career. Beginning with a thoughtful approach will start you down the right path.
Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor of organizational psychology at Yale University, identified three classifications of work in her research:
- Job – a way to pay the bills
- Career – a path to increasingly better work
- Calling – work that is important to an individual’s life and a vital part of their identity.
In her research, Wrzesniewski found that the strongest predictor of someone seeing their work as a ‘calling’ was the length of time they had been doing it. Her conclusion was that the happiest, most passionate employees were those who had been doing their job the longest. Passion is a derivative not a driver.
Self-Determination Theory (SDT), which has been around for 40 years and is the best framework for understanding why people enjoy their work, identifies three necessary factors:
- Autonomy – the feeling that you are in control of your work and that your actions are important
- Competence – the feeling that you are good at what you do
- Relatedness – the feeling of connection to other people
Note that these three factors relate to skills, that there is no reference to passion and that the factors are unrelated to the type of work being done.
Combining Wrzesniewski’s research and SDT theory indicates that skills are the true path to any calling. Using your skills will generate autonomy, competence and relatedness and the better your skills become through practice the higher the level of satisfaction and so on – a virtuous circle.
Think about the people you know who are passionate about what they do. They are probably in all sorts of occupations you will likely find two commonalities among them: they are very good at what they do and they have been doing it for a while – they have invested in their careers and honed their skills over time.
So What Now?
Now that you have a better understanding of how to find passion in your career, follow these 6 steps to make your new goal actionable.
- Write a 250-word Work Manifesto – not a statement of what you want from work but rather your view of work – what good work ought to be. Address questions like:
- What is work for?
- What defines good or worthwhile work?
2. Write a 250-word Life Manifesto – a statement of what matters to you.
- What do I want to accomplish in my life?
- How would I know if I have led a good life?
3. Analyze the two Manifestos and answer the following questions:
- Where do they complement each other?
- Where do they clash?
- Does one drive the other and how?
This exercise may lead to some refinement of one or both of your Manifestos.
4. Identify three or four accomplishments when you experienced “flow” – you were completely involved in the activity and had a sense of inner clarity. You knew what to do and how to do it, you were calm, at peace, energized and time stood still.
- Write the story of each.
5. Analyze the stories to identify the skills you have and enjoy using.
- What were you actually doing?
- Where were you doing it and how did the environment make you feel?
- Who were you interacting with?
- What were you interacting with?
- Who else was there and what role did they play?
Identify organizations that are aligned with your Work and Life Manifestos and where your skills will be valued. Target individuals in those organizations with whom to network and reach out to them.
If you are still having trouble finding your path give us a call or at LAUNCHED, we can help.