"Finding your passion" is a riddle that confounds many people, but we're told that once you do, things get a lot easier in your career and life, right?
Not according to research!
In a recent study, psychologists at Stanford aimed to take a deeper look at the science behind "Finding your passion," and question how valid the advice was.
The researchers surveyed Stanford students from different fields of study (either science/tech or arts/humanities) and measured their interest in academic articles both related and unrelated to their fields. Additionally, they also measured the openness of the students to learning more about other potential areas of interest.
So what did the researchers find? Is "Finding your passion" the key to discovering and leading your ideal career path?
The short answer is no, it's not. According to the study, passion is better "developed" than "found."
Essentially what the authors are arguing is that if you are solely fixed on "Finding your passion," you risk closing yourself off to other potential opportunities that may bring fulfillment in your career. Along with that, you might be more likely to abandon potential careers and areas of professional interests when you face challenges as you "follow your passion."
The authors of the study use the analogy of dating. If you're searching for your soulmate, or "The One" (e.g. "your passion"), then you probably have a set criteria by which you are strictly judging potential partners. If someone doesn't meet the criteria, or you face a challenge in that relationship, you might give up on that person thinking that they're just "not the one." But if you're open to the idea that there may be many potential options that can lead to lasting love, it expands the opportunities you're willing to pursue.
In many ways, moving forward in your career is similar to dating. If you're too strictly tied to finding THE passion that you want to pursue as a career path, it may set you up for the possibility of disappointment and discouragement when challenges come along the way of pursuing that singular path. You might also close yourself off to other overlooked opportunities that you can discover and develop a passion for.
So what does this mean for finding a satisfying and rewarding career path? It means that the path of your career isn't fixed to one thing, like a passion. There likely is no one job, company, role or passion that will bring you the ultimate fulfillment you're seeking.
Instead, try new things, find unique opportunities, take more risks, and push past the challenges that come your way. Don't try to find the one passion to follow, but develop many passions in your career with openness, flexibility and curiosity.
When I was in college and ran competitively for my school's cross country and track teams, I devoted myself completely to running.
Running, training and competing was all I thought about. For better or worse, it affected how I ate, slept, studied and socialized. It was more than a desire that kept me going, it was a need. I was passionate about running. I was obsessed.
I needed to run every day and push myself to get to a higher level, no matter how it affected me otherwise. I never wanted to take a day off, so I even ran when I should have rested, which probably held me further from my goals.
Now, however, I run for other reasons. I'm still passionate about running, but I don't run for need. I run to relax, feel healthy, and reduce stress. I also use it as a way to keep myself motivated and feeling good at work and home. It's something that supports my life and career in a positive and harmonious way.
The psychologist Robert Vallerand identified two types of passion that people experience- Obsessive passion, the passion that's more rigid and is more of a "need" in life; and Harmonious passion, the passion that isn't overpowering and operates in harmony with other aspects of your life.
Obsessive passion, in the long term, can affect us negatively in multiple areas of our lives because there is a need to pursue it at all costs. Harmonious passion, on the other hand, isn't driven by need, but rather by desire. It fulfills us, makes us happier, but doesn't control us.
Think about this in terms of your career. What are your interests, skills, strengths that you consider "passions," and make you happier to pursue in your work life?
Which aspects of your career would you define as "obsessive" or "harmonious"? How do they fit in to your life in and out of work?
If it's an "obsessive" passion, how is it affecting your job performance? For example, you might be obsessed with preserving your reputation with your colleagues at work. How does that manifest itself in your work, and do those behaviors really help you move ahead? Explore where these passions might be hurting you and see how you can consider pulling back.
As for your "harmonious" passions, how do you see them supporting you and fitting into your life? Which of these passions make you feel more in "flow" and excited to include them into your work life. If you're passionate about being creative, for example, where can you add that to your daily work tasks, or outside of work so it feels like you're fulfilling that desire to push you forward, rather it feeling like life support?
Being passionate about your career and aspects of it isn't a bad thing, but it's important to reflect how that passion fits in to your overall goals and the progress you're making towards them. Do your passions complement your work life in a harmonious way that you desire to have more of them? Or do they hold you back out of obsession and need to pursue them at all costs?
In your search for more passion in your career, focus on the things that support you and make you feel happy and fulfilled without requiring excessive sacrifice. Devoting more time to your harmonious passions will make you feel excited, motivated and encouraged to work towards your bigger career goals.
We all have things that we're passionate about in our life. It could be a hobby, people you have close relationships with, a pet, a skill you're good at, a subject you enjoy learning about, and for those that are lucky, your career.
You may feel that you're not really all that passionate about your current job or career, and passion for your work is something you want more of.
But sometimes that search for more passion in our careers can keep us stuck, because we believe that if we're not passionate about where we are currently, then a fulfilling career can only be found "out there" in other jobs and companies that will provide the answer we're looking for.
One of the biggest blocks I see getting in the way of clients moving towards what they want in their career is the idea that they need to find the perfect position at a company that they're passionate about before they decide to take any action.
The hard truth is that you'll never know what's perfect until you get there, and that might take a lot of time, effort, and trial and error to get to that place in your career. And even then it might not always be what you expect.
But what if you could create more passion and excitement for your career right where you are, instead of searching for it like a mystical quest for a lost city?
It's possible to have more passion for your career no matter what your current circumstances are. Here are three ways you can find it in your career right now:
Follow the feeling - What aspects of your job or career make you feel excited, in the flow, and satisfied? Think about what you do at your job, and then more specifically think about how that makes you feel. Is there anything, even the smallest aspects, that make you feel happy and fulfilled? When you're chasing a career you're passionate about, it's not always about WHAT the specific job is that you're pursuing, but the WHY- the feeling that your dream job will bring you. How can you experience that feeling in what you do in your current job?
Take control of your circumstances - In your job there are aspects that are in your control, and others that are out of your control. Shift your thoughts and your energy in the areas that are in your control. You may not be able to change the fact that you've been assigned a big project on a tight deadline, but you can change how you respond to it. Instead of thinking "why did this happen to me?" ask yourself "what's the opportunity for me in this project?" When you feel more in control of your the way you view your circumstances, you can create a positive energy, and more passion for even the most difficult or mundane tasks.
Bring your passion to work - You've probably heard the idea that it's better to "leave your work at the office," which is harder and harder to do these days in a more connected world. Instead, find ways to include things that bring you pleasure outside of work into your job. If you like to workout, start a running club with your co-workers. Enjoy reading in your spare time? Carve out time during your day, even if it's a few minutes, to break away from your desk and catch up on a book.
In the search for more fulfilling work, there's no need to get caught up "following your passion" via a change in your job, company or career path. Passion for your work isn't something you have to chase, but can experience at any point in your career right where you are.
We often think about getting evaluated and receiving feedback in an external way. Most often through performance reviews, surveys or assessments, or even "likes" on your social media posts.
That kind of external feedback has its place, but it's usually given because your employer, company, or colleagues are trying to help you improve so you can better serve the goals of their organization or team.
But how often do you take the time to evaluate yourself on the goals you're setting for your career? Are you taking the time to determine if you're moving forward to where YOU ultimately want to be?
You want to be happier, more fulfilled and successful in your career based on your personal benchmarks, but at the end of the day you're the only person that can determine how you are making progress towards the goals you set for yourself.
The road to a fulfilling and successful career is a step by step process, and every step you take can give you valuable lessons to make the next step easier and less daunting.
So how can you make sure to evaluate yourself effectively as you set your goals, so that you can take longer strides towards a better career? Start by regularly asking yourself these questions:
1) What happened? The first and most important step is to evaluate what happened in the past. Think about it step by step. For example, if you've been successful in landing a new job in the past, what was the process you used to get you there? You may be able to replicate that in the future.
2) What did I learn? Ask yourself what the main lesson(s) are that you took away from the process. If you set a goal and didn't reach it, what got in the way? Identify what went right or wrong so you can feel confident about doing more (or less) of that in the future.
3) What do I want to improve? After you've determined the lessons you've learned, challenge yourself to not just repeat what you've done, but to be even better at it. If you're aware of what you need to fix, then don't wait to fix it. Start now and make it a habit. Once know what you want to improve, then you can identify what you need to help you be better.
4) Where do I want to be? Determine what the ultimate goal is and evaluate if you are making progress towards that goal. It's important to set smaller, more achievable goals but to also evaluate how they feed into the larger goal you have for yourself. Goals always change, and the path to them is never straight. So if this step took you on a detour, did it change the destination? If it did, adjust your course appropriately.
If you want to reach any goal in your career, big or small, you need to consistently evaluate your progress. Every experience and every step you take towards your ultimate goal is a learning experience, so instead of repeating the steps you've already taken, take the feedback from your self-evaluation to take bold, exciting and challenging new steps.
Do you remember the last great book you couldn't put down? Or the last TV show you binged because at the end of every episode you needed to know what happened next?
It's a fun feeling when you get that curious and engaged with something. When you become so intrigued by the possibilities that you need to turn to the next page, or click to the next episode to find out more.
That same curiosity can serve you well as you search for the next direction in your career.
A lot of what keeps us stuck from moving forward is not knowing what's ahead. And it's in these moments when you need to take a chance on the new and unknown.
If you feel stuck, lost, overwhelmed, and not sure where to turn next, just start with where you're curious.
When I was at a point in my career when I felt stuck and knew I wanted to make a career change out of the entertainment industry, I started to look where I was curious- and that was teaching and coaching.
Of course I didn't know where to begin or where the story would end, so I started from the beginning. I researched what it took to become a teacher, I interviewed teachers and coaches about their careers, and I volunteered to teach and tutor kids. Every step I took was turning a new page, and led me to the next chapter.
So start by picking the "book" that intrigues you. It could be learning more about a particular company, or career field. Or knowing how to start a business. Or reaching out to friends or new contacts to find out more about their story, and hearing about what they do and how they got there.
From there, just keep turning to the next page. Follow where the story leads you. Ask your contacts for a referral, research the requirements for a particular career, seek out the next valuable resource that can provide more information.
You won't have all of the answers in one sitting, and it might be a slow build, but page by page you'll get closer to knowing the whole story.
If you know you're ready for change in your career, but you're not sure what the next step is, of course you're going to want to jump right to the end of the story. Just remember all you need to do is start at the first chapter.
Then turn the page.
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