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5 Things You Absolutely Must Know About Finding a Career You Love

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I just haven’t found my passion yet…

Talk to any group of 25-year-olds for more than 10 minutes, and this topic is bound to crop up. The idea of pursuing a passion is shorthand for loving your job, being a successful person and doing amazing work. It’s about having it all.

A lot of the time, it’s also completely ridiculous.

Whether for practical constraints (rent!) or more intangible reasons, finding your passion — let alone pursuing it — is an elusive goal. And yet everyone is expected to do it.

The thinking goes: if you have the courage to discover your true calling, you’ll be happy. If you’re not brave enough, you’ll wind up as an empty shell with a commute-work-die life. Talk about pressure.

Before pulling your hair out, taking yet another eHarmony-like personality quiz or crying into your pillow because Pinterest told you “Without Passion, Life is Nothing,” check out these five passion pointers:

1. You can create a passion

Computer scientist Cal Newport is fast becoming the face of the Anti-Passion Brigade—he doesn’t buy the “follow your passion” mantra. Instead, he believes passion can be created.

There is no special passion waiting for you to discover. Passion is something that is cultivated. Research shows that the traits that lead people to love their work are general, and can be found in many different career paths. They include things like autonomy, a sense of impact and mastery, creativity, and respect and recognition for your abilities.

Newport’s basic premise: Focus on a career area that generally interests you and offers value to the world. The deeper you dive into it and the better you are at it, the more interesting it’ll become — and the more passionate you’ll be.

2. Stop thinking!

Here’s a dirty little secret: No matter how hard you try, you can’t determine what your passions are by thinking about it. You have to take action.

Sign up for a class, try your hand at something new, volunteer for an assignment that’s out of your comfort zone — do anything that lets you dip your toe in the water. Through actual, hands-on engagement, you’ll be able to figure out what activities and situations light you up.

3. Following your passion might ruin it

As Alison Green of Ask a Manager says:

Turning what you love into a career can ruin what you loved about it. You might love to bake, and your friends might regularly swoon over your cakes and tell you to open a bakeshop. But getting up at the crack of dawn every day, baking 100 cakes daily, and dealing with difficult customers and the stress and finances of running your own business might have nothing to do with what you love about baking—and might sap the joy right out of it.

Before committing yourself to a passion plan, determine if the daily work realities really appeal.

4. Passion is a lifestyle issue

Finding your passion is all tied up in figuring out what kind of life you want. What lifestyle are you striving for? What part of the country do you want to live in? How much money do you need to make?

Take this pointed observation from Brazen co-founder Penelope Trunk:

I am a writer, but I love sex more than I love writing. And I am not getting paid for sex. But I don’t sit up at night thinking, should I do writing or sex? Because career decisions are not decisions about “what do I love most?” Career decisions are about “what kind of life do I want to set up for myself?”

Instead of starting with a passion, try starting with a lifestyle you want to pursue. (Click to Tweet!) From there, work backwards to figure out what career options could help you realize your lifestyle goals. This doesn’t mean you have to ignore what you’re passionate about — just put it in context!

5. Your passions (can) change

Life changes, and sometimes passions shift, too. As YouTern’s Mark Babbit writes:

Very few of us are fortunate enough to turn any of our passions into lifelong vocation. In fact, very few of us pursue ANY of our passions for a lifetime including hobbies, careers — even relationships. So, knowing this is the case for 99% of us, why is passion such a driver in our professional lives? Could it be that we’ve been sucked into “passion” while failing to realize that even our deepest passions have a limited shelf life?

If you’re not feeling the buzz anymore, don’t be ashamed to go back to the drawing board.

What’s your favorite piece of advice about the passion puzzle?

Annie Rose Favreau directs content and community strategy for a tech startup in Seattle. You can find her Twittering away at @A_Favreau.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

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  • Phyllis Mufson

    Great article with insight in every quote. Responding to your request I’d like to add – -

    Passion has both an outer and an inner aspect. The outer is what your passion is attached to, be in sailing, cooking, reading, etc. This is what people usually think of when discussing passion and career.

    What’s most often important, in my opinion, is the inner. What your passion means about you. What you love about it. How it’s a clue to your values, your deepest motivations, and your strengths. These are enduring themes for building a meaningful life and careers.

    Over many years helping people choose and develop fulfilling work I have had several clients choose to build new careers around the outer manifestations of their passions, i.e. turning a love of sailing into a career helping at-risk-youth develop self confidence and leadership skills by teaching them sailing. But the very great majority found important clues to their new careers through understanding what their passions mean to, and about them.

    • AnnieFav

      Thank you for sharing your insights Phyllis. Wonderful point about looking toward the inner, rather than outer, manifestations of passion.

  • http://www.jobkaster.com/ Paul Chittenden

    I’ve found it pretty tough to find a job after college that matches your passion. When you graduate, you’re basically looking for the first thing you can get.

    This really comes in handy when planning your career. This should start in high school and continue throughout college.

    I really found my passion once I started my career. I kind of grew into it as I grew within my industry.

    • AnnieFav

      Thanks for sharing your experience Paul–it’s great to hear from people who have cultivated their passion within their industry.

  • http://www.humorthatworks.com/ Andrew Tarvin

    I think #1 is the most important point. Many people assume that finding your passion means you’ll know your passion the first time you ever try it. Passion for something is built over time, often directly influenced by how much time and energy you put into it. I’m with Cal: create your passion, don’t find it.

  • http://www.frivpara.net/ Friv Para

    I found that 25 old is the most beautiful that I have

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  • http://www.it-sales-leads.com/ Barbara Mckinney

    Great article Annie!I do believe that if you are truly passionate about the work you are doing, you will have the greatest chance of achieving success. I believe that when we are passionate about something we have more energy, we work much harder, we get more creative, we search more diligently for solutions when difficult problems arise, and we inspire others who work alongside us.

    • AnnieFav

      Thanks Barbara! I agree that finding a job which truly engages you can be key to doing great work. I do wish people would stop talking about passion as if it’s the ONLY route to doing good work though. Thanks for sharing!

  • Chris Nunez

    Great overall read. I think we should neither freeze ourselves trying to find or passion nor ignore the nudge when we feel the itch to go after it.

    • AnnieFav

      Wonderful point Chris. It’s all about doing what makes the most sense for you.

  • Sandy

    I thought this article was so thoughtful and on point. So often, I get overwhelmed by the pressure of people telling me to “do what I love” but, I do not know what I love to do because my wind of experience was so narrow, in the same field, for nine years. Sometimes, we really need to take a step back and think about what we want out of our work, is it the hours, so that we can spend time with our family? The perks and benefits? How would the daily commute affect our stamina, over time?
    So many things to consider. I want to find a home with a company that values its employees and marks its success by working with integrity and providing a fair work life balanced schedule.

    • AnnieFav

      Sandy, I love that you’re articulating what you want out of your work (“a company that values its employees and marks its success by working with integrity and providing a fair work life balanced schedule”). That really is the first step to getting what you want! Best of luck finding a position that’s a good fit.

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  • tjsims082

    I felt a calling to be an actress when I was twelve years old. I then went to the High School of Performing Arts to study acting and even though i didn’t have the best time socially and intellectually at the school, learning acting only made me want it more as a career. So once I graduated, I naively thought I’d start getting work as a professional tv and film actress, but they didn’t teach a class on the troubles of auditioning and how the reality of someone having talent isn’t enough to transpire i to a career. So I spent the past several hears do more auditioning for roles than actually working as an actress which led to me getting the “day job” to pay the bills. I know acter all this tedious auditioing that I still want to be an actress but it’s harder to make it a career cause unless you have an agent/manager/ know the right people and have a savvy business sense for how the industry works, it seems like having a career as an actress where I make enough money to comfortably live a happy life and I don’t have to work a day job seems almost unatainable. I’ve thought about quitting recently cause the older I get the more frustrated I become with myself for not having obtained the film and tv actress career by the age of 25. As I closed in on turning 30 I went back to school to get a degree in Comm Arts and graduated still wanting to pusrue this acting career. I got a day job that I acually like cause it incorporates dance ( another passion) . But now that Im 31 and spent the last two years balancing pusruin this acting/modeling career with not enough results to turn it into a high paying and creatively stimulating career, I’m re-assesing my career goals as an actress/model. I still want want a career as an actress but I spent this year trying out Burlesque which was something i had interest in for years and it’s become a new outlet for my creativity and although im not making $$ yet, it seems to be something that I can do that keeps me happy until I get that break as an actress or atleast until I decide not to pursue acting anymore. Im at place where I may have to write my own parts and produce my own roles.

    • Rea

      Your story sounds like mine! I attended arts schools as well. Be encourage, I’m not sure where you live but that may too play a factor in your goal. Whatever you decide, I hope you stay connected to the creativity that inspired you to pursue acting because I understand how it can feel being at a job that doesn’t afford this release. God Bless!

  • SusanWarehamMcGrath

    Thanks Annie – brilliant post!

    My thoughts are that one of the things that makes melding passion and work very difficult is what drives them. Passion is internally driven, while the drivers of work are external. By its nature, passion shifts and changes and has to be free to take whatever path it wants, while work usually has pretty rigid rules and frameworks.

    There’s an inherent conflict between the two which makes it very hard to meld them successfully, for the long term.

    I’m not saying it’s impossible to find a career you love; in fact I know people who have done exactly that. But I do think it’s a myth that if only you work out what you’re passionate about, the job you love is sure to follow.

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  • Jesper

    In my life and career I have found that passion abalone is not what delivers success. Rather, succes, by any measure, is the result of combining Passion, Skill and Market. Any 1 or 2 out of 3 will not cut it. All 3 are needed to generate succes. Without Market, you will not have anyone buying your product, ideas, etc. Without Skill, your quality will not suffice or be recognized. And without passion, you won’t stand out in the crowd. But if you are skilled and passionate in the right market, you will be highly successful. This simple formula is my credo, and helps me to focus and refocus my time and effort on what matters. Try mirroring these 3 on successful people you know, as a test of this.

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  • ann

    Can someone explain to me why it is OK for a business to pursue profit for the sake of it but not an individual person. My passion is being able to pay the bills and take the occaisional holiday…and I agree the best way to ruin what you love is do it for a living.

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