Do you always love your job? If this question makes you pause, then maybe you have been misled by what Fast Company called “the passion hypothesis.” This is the standard career advice of our time: you’ll be happy at work if you find a job to match your passions. Of course, this idea developed out of the best intentions, but it’s a simple solution that has led to a host of new problems.
Why is the passion hypothesis dangerous career advice?
Employees can end up frustrated if their passions lie outside of work. Too often, we use happiness to gauge whether or not something is the right fit for us. In Cal Newport’s new book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, he uncovered that even Steve Jobs didn’t follow his passions in creating Apple. Instead, Jobs pursued an interest with potential to lead to economic success. Following your passions could also turn an interest into an obligation. Passions are different from skills. You might be passionate about poetry, but your real talent lies in negotiating international contracts. It’s not that poetry can’t influence your negotiations and make you a better negotiator, but you might not find as much career success as a poet.
Passions can change over time. While some may argue that passions are what you’ve always loved, at what point have you reached a fair age to discern this? Context influences our passions as well. What you loved as a child might change when you become the one with children. Growing up and starting a family can direct your passions away from yourself to something your children enjoy. Passions can also vary based on location. Someone living in the mountains might feel passionate about skiing, but the passion hypothesis would restrict that person to careers in areas with opportunities for winter sports.
Idealizing work makes us feel inadequate when we cannot rise to meet the unrealistic expectations we have set for ourselves. Following your passions can make you feel like you must enjoy every moment of every day at work. Besides, do you really want your happiest moments to be at work? Smartphones and social media have given work plenty of opportunities to follow us home, but keeping your passions separate can promote a healthy work-life balance.
Moving beyond the passion hypothesis shows us that momentary happiness is not equivalent to long-term success. A more realistic approach is to rely more on skills than our fickle emotions and ever changing passions. Work is not always about having fun. Even the best jobs have their share of paperwork, data entry and other tedious tasks. Chances are you don’t always love your job, but that should not lead you to despair. Your passions matter, just not nearly as much as you might initially think.
How do we strike the balance between following our passions and following the money? Rather than follow the passion hypothesis, we can use the permeable nature of passions to work toward career success. This means you can learn to love your job, even if it is in an unfamiliar industry or different from what you studied in school. Having the skill set and experience to match a position can be more important than just the passion.
If you don’t enjoy your job, a lack of ability is a more likely cause than a lack of passion. Newport believes Jobs might have “stumbled into his big break,” but he was still “a man who obviously loved what he did.” His passion for his work grew over time. Telling people to follow their passions is like leading them down a rabbit trail. Passions will change and develop, and we should be able to embrace this. Recognizing this will help us to succeed at the jobs we have, rather than waiting for the nonexistent, perfectly customized job. If we start with the right skills, our jobs become customized to us as we grow with them.
What do you think? Is the passion hypothesis dangerous career advice?