If there’s one overhyped false belief that unites job-hunters today, it’s that following your passion is indispensable to finding happiness in life. It’s the stuff of wild dreams; the seductive idea that once you find (and land) your dream job, happiness is a shoo-in, and work will be smooth sailing to the top.
Understandably, we want to find ways to optimise our work-life experience, since we spend a third of our lives at work. The “follow your passion” philosophy fits right into this rosy picture. The reality, though, is a little more complicated than that.
Your dream job is not always going to be 100% enjoyable all the time. As much as you’d like it to, things aren’t going to fall magically into place (and stay that way) just because you choose to follow your passion.
Researchers at Stanford have even found that following your passion “may actually make [you] less successful” (as reported by CNBC.) In the same paradoxical way that those who pursue happiness often end up unhappy, following your passion can leave you prematurely jaded and burnt out. Here’s why.
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According to a 2007 study, those who search for a calling in planning their careers tend to end up feeling more “indecisive, uncomfortable, and confused” than those who didn’t. The effect persists even after securing their dream jobs.
Expectation is the root of all heartache. When you hinge your happiness on whether or not you’re following your passion, you’re pinning sky-high hopes on yourself and others right from day one.
You’ll also probably focus more on how your job isn’t meeting your expectations instead of what you’re gaining from it. Finding out that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be will leave you far unhappier than someone who simply didn’t expect as much from the same job as you did.
Just as following your passion doesn’t guarantee happiness, not following it doesn’t mean you’ll be miserable. As Oprah put it, “your job isn’t always going to fulfill you… [it’s] not who you are, it’s just what you’re doing on the way to who you will become.”
Everyone knows the famous adage: “follow your passion, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It sounds like a dream come true; that if you love your job, work becomes play and play becomes work. By extension, work-life balance also becomes more or less redundant since there are so little differences between the two.
The dangerous part of it is that it takes challenge out of the equation, which isn’t realistic.
No matter what your passion or chosen profession, challenges are a given. They aren’t just obstacles to success; they very often accelerate it as well.
According to Wharton professor Adam Grant, though, people who follow their passion often fail to predict, prepare for, and successfully overcome difficulties at work. They tended to assume that things would automatically be easier if they chose to follow their passion, thus making themselves less resilient in the long-term.
Zero-ing in prematurely on one of your interests can give you tunnel vision. You end up doggedly pursuing one career path to the exclusion of all else, without trying all your options.
Some people are lucky enough to know early on what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Steve Jobs, for example, admitted just as much in his famous Stanford commencement speech in 2005.
The vast majority of us, though, take a bit longer to find our footing. It’s not always immediately apparent which of your many interests is your passion, what your one life-changing passion is if you even have one, or that this passion will stay the same throughout your life.
In the first place, passions aren’t always found, discovered, or stumbled upon; sometimes, they take time and effort to develop. You might not start out loving the field you’re in, but as you continuously hone your skills in it over time, you might develop the passion for it.
In this way, having the right attitude towards nurturing your interests can make all the difference in determining your competence.
Crucially, according to Stanford psychologist Gregory Walton, fixating exclusively on one interest “[prevents] individuals from developing knowledge in other areas that could be important to their field at a later time.”