What to do?

At Project Hatch, we're lucky to get to do a job that we love. Our roles often involve us doing stuff that's enjoyable and exciting. More than that, it's also incredibly fulfilling work, especially when we see the positive influence we get to create in the schools and with the students we work with. It's easy to get passionate about what we do.

Yet, not everyone does what they love for work. We hear people complain about their bosses or their work. More and more people leave their full-time jobs to become their own boss. Which prompts the question: should we do what we're passionate about as a job? Or is that simply unrealistic? 

A quick scan of the existing research reveals split opinions. One article suggests that following your passion is "terrible advice" and that for some people, passion simply doesn't lead to a job:

A 2003 study of college students by the University of Quebec found that 84 percent of them had passions, and 90 percent of these passions involved sports, music, and art. But only 3 percent of jobs are in the sports, music, and art industries. The result is massive competition for a few highly-prized jobs. And just because you have a passion for, say, music, doesn’t mean that you’ll be a particularly good professional musician.
— William MacAskill, http://99u.com/articles/51623/the-many-many-problems-with-follow-your-passion

MacAskill suggests we should instead find engaging work, the sort of job that could, in time, become a passion. 

Elsewhere, this NY Times article suggests that this sort of "moral satisfaction alone won't pay the rent". Their suggestion is to find your area of expertise - any thing or activity on which you spend a substantial amount of time or attention. Odds are that if you've spent a significant amount of time on that activity, you'll likely show an appealing amount of expertise in a related job or role. That expertise is what will open the door to fulfilling (or at least, enjoyable) employment.

What these articles spotlight is that our culture emphasises "fit" for our passions, or in other words to quite literally follow your passions and do what best suits them. This is called a "fit mindset". Recent research at the University of Michigan identified this mindset, and contrast it with the "develop mindset", which sees passion and expertise in a certain career path unfold over time. What's interesting is the study found that both the fit and develop mindsets resulted in similar levels of satisfaction and fulfilment over time.

Perhaps it all boils down to semantics. Like the word "love", we use the word "passion" loosely and in reference to many things. Sometimes a passion is just a surface-level attraction to something - which of course won't lead to a career pathway. Passion is probably the wrong word, as presented in this TED talk:

Rather than passion, we can pursue a purpose. More than a feeling, a deeply connected sense of purpose can lead us to choose a career or pathway. This is certainly Nicole Williams understanding, based on her experience of working with the Canadian Institute for the Blind. She was faced with a seemingly impossible situation when a blind man approached her with the dream of becoming a pilot. But she was able to dig deeper past the passion of flying with the man to determine the depths of that passion - to find the underlying truth or narrative that this man understood as his purpose. The man was able to find a successful career as a Project Manager which fulfilled his passions (working with a team in responding to complex situations) and led to a deeper sense of purpose.

Passion is a feeling, and like any other emotion it will come and go, and move throughout all the aspects of our lives. Rather than gambling our experience of passion on work alone, we can shape our lives intentionally, and build into life things that will allow passion to flow throughout the whole of life, things like relationships and hobbies and fun. This also takes the pressure off of finding a dream job. Your career is not the be-all and end-all of who you are, though it can still align with that deeper sense of who you are and be purposeful. How do we find purposeful work?

  1. Have an understanding of your values. Know the things you most deeply and fully believe, the things you stand for, the things you can't compromise about yourself. See, the passion conversation usually starts with gifts and talents: what are you good at? But purpose digs deeper to the heart of who we are and asks: who must you be in this life? Maybe that comes back to faith for you, or family, or being of service, or being the best. Whatever your values may be, don't rush this process. Take time to get a deep understanding of what your values are and why they are so important to you - what are the life experiences that have made these values so key to who you are? What do these values tell you about the sort of life you have to live to be the fullest version of you?
  2. See the needs of your community. We need others. Longitudinal studies have uncovered that relationships are the key difference in people's levels of happiness throughout life. Further research has proven that you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with. It isn't about becoming a life-of-the-party extrovert, rather, we become the fullest version of ourselves through the influence of others. We need others, which also means others need us.
  3. Now, look at your gifts and interests. This is the first step in finding passionate work, but I place it as the third step here. Why? Because starting with what you're good at or what you like doing lacks context. But when you have a deep understanding of who you are and who those around you are, your work gets to satisfy both your own needs and the needs of others. Which means that even when your work doesn't bring the feeling of passion, it will still hold meaning for you.

This seems like a simple 3-step process, but in reality determining your calling in this life is not always simple, it does take deep thinking and reflection and development that only comes through hard work and dedication. After all that, it may not even seem obvious immediately. So yeah, it would be a lot easier just to skip that process and just get a job - but that would be selling yourself short by negating your own potential and selling the world short by not offering all that you could be. The key point of this post is this: you do not have to live a life that does not fulfil you and others. 

So, to answer the question we started with: should we do what we're passionate about as a job? Perhaps we can actually go further than that. What narrative are you pursuing? How are you called to live your life in a way that positively impacts the world and the lives of others? These are the questions that will form the foundation of your journey to a better life - the starting point to doing life better is to not sell yourself short. As the great Saint Catherine of Sienna declared: 

“be who God made you to be, and only then will you set the world on fire!”