Don't Follow Your Passion - Here's Why
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I never knew the answer to this question. I used to get really frustrated whenever the question came up, especially as it seemed like all my peers had their answers.
Since becoming a mom, I have often reflected on how I would nurture Maya’s natural gifts and interests as they unfold. What kind of questions will I ask her? Of course, I have plenty of time to ponder over it, but as a career coach, it’s a something I often think about a lot.
What I do know for sure, is that I’ll think twice before I tell her “follow your passion” or ask her: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
One of my clients recently shared with me a conversation she had with her daughter who graduated from college this year:
Mom: “So what are you thinking about doing next?”
Daughter: “I really don’t know mom. They keep saying ‘follow your passion’ and I am so confused”
Mom: “What are you confused about?”
Daughter: “I don’t know. What if I mess it up? What if I choose the wrong thing? Am I really devoting my life to the right thing?” Her daughter was paralysed by this idea of following her passion, she was afraid she wouldn’t live up to her ‘full potential’. Advices like ‘find your purpose’ ‘follow your passion’ can make people feel pressured thinking that they have one big calling that they have to figure out right now and that’s what they’ll do for the rest of their lives. How are we supposed to know who or what we want to be if we haven’t even spent time really experiencing different ways of being in our career? This pressure gets us stuck on the wrong path. Having said that, ‘follow your passion’, can be a great encouragement for someone who already has a strong sense of what they want to do. In this case, it can be so valuable to remind them that it’s good to honour their interests!
Your passion, what you love doing, what lights you up, what brings you joy… is only one aspect of what goes into discovering the career path that’s meant for you.
When we solely focus on our passion, it puts us in the centre, instead of asking ourselves “What can I add?” we ask ourselves “What can I get?”, when it’s actually what we add, that play a big role on our satisfaction and fulfilment levels. So what’s the best way to approach this? What do we need to ask ourselves if we’re considering shifting into more fulfilling work? What advice do we give our children? Or even better, what questions do we ask them? I believe a good place to start is by zooming out and looking at who we are, our life and our ‘life’s work’ as a whole. It’s a more holistic approach to work - life - and what brings us meaning.
I believe that ‘work’ encompasses much more than just how we make a living. Any value we create in our relation to the world - friends, family, community, work - where we spend our time, focus, and energy - is part of our ‘life’s work’. The author, Elizabeth Gilbert, suggests following your curiosity instead of following your passion: “If you can let go of passion and follow your curiosity, your curiosity just might lead you to your passion." I believe it’s a more accessible entry point. You can follow your curiosity into a career you love and/or to an outside-of-work life that you’ll love (a reading life, a creative life, a hobby life, a volunteering life, etc.). Curiosity is a way into life that will feel thrilling to you, in the way every quiet life can feel thrilling, if it’s filled with the right things. Particular topics, kinds of work, activities, people, conversations, etc. will pique your curiosity and they have something to say about what your spirit is craving, perhaps what work you are meant to do next and what lessons are waiting for you to uncover. My ‘life’s work’ certainly isn’t encapsulated by the work I do as a coach and entrepreneur. It’s much more than that. I think it’s a healthier, more fulfilling and freeing way of living. My life’s work is in how I serve others, including family and friends. It’s in my discovery of my own self. It’s in how I show up in the world. And it’s a journey that’s always unfolding. So instead of getting stuck on ‘finding your passion’ you may want to explore the following questions, instead:
What kind of impact do I want to create?
What can I offer the world?
What is sparking my curiosity now?
What would following my curiosity look like right now in my life or work?
What’s my first step?
There is so much more inspiration, truth and heart in those questions. Truth is, most of the things we create in our lives that are of great value, we create by putting in the work over time, by following the breadcrumbs, by going on a treasure hunt, by sometimes taking the wrong turns so we can discover something about ourselves and about what's meant for us... And that’s never a linear path. Love, Naama