Monday, April 9, 2012

With Apologies to Sean Kingston

Photo credit: Life's a Blog
Drive. Spark. Fulfillment. Joy. Fire burning, fire burning on the dance floor. It's all about one thing: Following your passion. Can we talk about this for a minute? I have a beef with it.

Follow your passion, say all the career advisors and life coaches and self-help junkies. Do what you love and the money will follow. If your job is not related to your purpose for being put on this earth, you will regret it. It's pinned all over the "words of wisdom" Pinterest boards, for Pete's sake. And, cue eye rolling. It happens so often these days I'm afraid my eyes might get stuck back there like my mother warned me as a kid.

In my life, I've held 17 different jobs. 10, if you don't count the ones I had for 3 months or less. In that illustrious collection of employers, I have had exactly one job that I genuinely loved. (Coffee barista, for the record). I hated one job so much, it left me with more damage than the emotional baggage accumulated by the combined sum total of my teenage years and the endings of three serious romantic relationships. Man, that job really was toxic to my soul. But the rest... well, meh. They were fine, I made some friends, and I was glad they afforded me the ability to do some interesting things with my time when I wasn't on the clock.

One of those cool things I've been able to do is travel. And I've done enough of it to learn that people in most countries view work as a way to pay for the things you need and want in the parts of your life that aren't spent working.

Somewhere along the way our culture has become OBSESSED with the notion that your paid work must also be your one true passion. And ironically, while we have collectively deemed this the most worthy way to spend our working life, we also accuse each other of "selling out" when we accept compensation for doing what we love. Maybe it's inevitable that we'll attack those who have managed to achieve the dreams we have for ourselves, as a way of offloading the jealousy without having to acknowledge it; I don't know. Regardless, this business of following your passion during your working hours has become the new golden standard.

Now, a disclaimer: If you have a job that feeds your soul as well as your bank account, hats off to you. I'm not saying we should AVOID doing this for a career. But, I do think it puts a lot of pressure on people who probably already have perfectly decent jobs. I think it might be harmful to insist it is the only route to happiness (as though Happiness is some sort of destination with only one correct route... be careful, stay left at the fork or you might inadvertently end up in Hell! And you can't retrace your steps if you go the wrong way, it's all or nothing!)
What I've learned from my own work experience is this: the only REALLY important thing is not to spend half your waking hours doing something you actively loathe, that conflicts with your core values and makes you feel like a miserable failure with nothing to offer the world. Don't take that job, and if you have that job, find another. You can take any other job, because you don't have to get all your joy and fulfillment from the thing you're paid to do. And I am SO SICK of feeling like my job is not good enough because it's not my "calling."

I have several problems with this, really. For the sake of brevity, which I'm failing at miserably with this post, let's go with bullet points:
  • This notion of having just ONE true passion is silly. You can be happy doing any number of different things. (Guess what? I like my job just fine!)
  • I have a feeling that my "calling," if I have one, is to be a mother. But the time is not right for me to have a child yet. So does that mean I should just crawl into a hole and not work until I have a child to care for? Does my work in the meantime have no value?
  • Tying your earning power to the activity you are most passionate about can put a lot of pressure on the object of that passion. Now you're not  just doing it out of love - you are required to, even if your creative reserves or ideas are dry.
  • Some passions can only be monetarily successful if you are an expert (i.e. acting, writing, singing, cooking). If you are passionate about something for which your enthusiasm exceeds your skill, this may not make for a very fulfilling career.
  • The argument for following your passion as a career is often that it takes up half your waking hours. Well, what about the other half? What's wrong with devoting that time to your passions instead?
In the end, this is all a very self-indulgent argument. We worry about these things because we are privileged enough that we don't need to worry about food, water or shelter, so we have time to think about our maximum potential beyond just staying alive. But have you ever noticed that with options comes a lot of stress? The happiest kids are the ones kicking around a soccer ball in the dirt in rural Africa, not the ones being shuttled from piano lessons to baseball practice to a math tutoring in an effort to find their passions.

Don't put so much pressure on it. Just have fun with your life.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post - I too have struggled with this and whilst I think my focus will still continue to be aiming towards earning money from my passion it doesn't mean my current job is a waste of my time.

    Thanks for posting such rational common sense!!