So many of us assume that fulfillment and growth will naturally follow suit if we could just find the guts to follow our passion. On the contrary, though, following your passion is bad career advice. Research has shown that those who do this are often unhappier, less successful, and less open to pursuing new interests and skills than those who don’t.
People often fixate on passion as a career planning priority because they fundamentally want to live meaningful lives. It’s a laudable aspiration, yet often mismatched with the wrong approach; meaningful lives and jobs aren’t “found,” they’re made.
As the late psychologist Shane Lopez put it, “You will not land the perfect job; you will perfect the good job you have.” To that end, here are three career planning priorities that are more important than passion at the end of the day.
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One of the biggest myths surrounding the passion mantra is that once you’ve found and pursued what you love, you’ll naturally learn faster and better without needing to put in as much effort.
It’s an unrealistic perspective, especially since research has found just the opposite results. People who fixate on one particular interest tend to close themselves off from learning other potentially beneficial skills and knowledge. This is career self-sabotage.
Psychologist Angela Duckworth, whose viral TED talk on the importance of grit now has 21 million views, suggests approaching our careers the same way we approach romance: by “dating around” before settling down. She herself spent several years as a management consultant, then as a middle school teacher, before becoming a psychologist.
The point is, to flourish at work and in life, you have to design your career according to your needs, interests, and strengths. “[Test-driving] your future,” as Shane Lopez puts it, allows you to learn as much as you can about yourself and how to make your dream job, as opposed to finding it.
Pursuing your passion alone does not guarantee personal growth. If you genuinely want to keep upgrading yourself, you need to take a growth-oriented approach to passion; to see passion as something to develop instead of something to find.
Those who see their passion in this way are far more likely to keep seeking out challenges and learning opportunities for themselves.
In this view, the more skilled and knowledgable you are in your field, the more your passion for it grows, and the more you grow as a person and an employee.
According to Jim Harter, Gallup’s Chief Scientist of Workplace Management and Well-Being, a good boss “improves lives while improving performance,” while a bad boss “makes workers’ lives miserable while destroying performance.”
As it turns out, the vast majority of workers leave their jobs not because they want to pursue their passion, but because they want to get away from bad bosses.
Even if you’ve managed to land your dream job, having a horrible manager can severely erode your enthusiasm. Since having autonomy is often so crucial for motivation and engagement, a boss who excessively curtails your freedom can ultimately even kill off your passion entirely.
On the other hand, even if your job is far from perfect, having a good manager can make all the difference. On top of being highly competent, great leaders inspire loyalty and respect by consistently putting their people’s interests above theirs. Most of all, they don’t hold back when it comes to coaching and providing guidance.
In essence, these are the managers who do all they can to support the growth of their employees. They’re a dime a dozen; according to Shane Lopez, only 1 in every 10 managers fits the bill. Yet they’re also worth fighting for more than a dream job, because they set you up for career success in every way.
Having a passion for something doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be good at it. The Japanese concept of ikigai, for example, makes this evident; the things you love don’t always intersect with the things you’re good at.
To be clear, it isn’t about whether or not you can develop the skills to match your passion. Skills can always be cultivated and sharpened over time. The issue here is how effective it’s going to be to focus on improving something you aren’t inherently good at. If you’re not good at what you’re passionate about, you won’t grow as much and as fast as someone who’s good at what he loves.
To maximise your personal growth, it’s much better to focus on building your natural strengths than on your innate weaknesses. As far as career planning goes, this is a much more efficient and productive strategy to move forward.