‘FOLLOW YOUR PASSION’ '
FIND YOUR PURPOSE'
‘DO WHAT YOU LOVE’
These have become the de-facto career advice you hear these days. It’s as if we all need to be doing something incredibly inspiring and challenging in order to feel time spent at work is worthwhile. Does work need to be a spiritual, higher-calling endeavour to be satisfying?
Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying, ‘Everything popular is wrong’. Could today's popular career advice be wrong?
First, work in of itself is beneficial. We need to work, to produce something of value for others and ultimately ourselves, in order to be happy. Work is a basic human need, a basic human right. It doesn’t have to be world-changing to give us fulfillment and self-respect.
Second, if fulfillment could only be found in pursuit of an altruistic and deeply meaningful career, no one would clean toilets. Or wash floors, or change bedpans, or the oil in your car. These tedious jobs are far to mundane for our modern intellectual needs. Or are they??
Third, a growing problem with work, that may be more relevant to personal happiness, is the blurring of boundaries between work time and personal time. It was just a generation ago that workers would punch out and not think about work until they clocked in the next morning. But with modern technology, our need to be needed, and more of us working on contract, work is never really done for the day.
Fourth, work is taking up more of our time. Being passionate about our work can lead us into working excessively long hours. This leads to an imbalance in our life, where other important aspects of healthy living are sacrificed. Less time for family, relationships, health and exercise, spirituality, leads to less contentment.
Fifth, pursuing a career doing what you love may drive you to stick with an idea that isn't profitable for far too long. You may love a certain pursuit, but it doesn't mean that you can make a living at it. Trying to force it may lead to frustration and financial ruin.
Sixth, truly meaningful and deeply satisfying activities can be pursued outside of work. This frees a person from having to find that elusive intersection of passion and profit. Just because no-one is willing to pay you to pursue your passion, does not mean you shouldn’t pursue it. Separate the two and find some freedom - easier to find work and no permission required to pursue your passion.
If you work hard as a painter for 6 months of the year and spend the other 6 months surfing in Australia, or snowboarding in Whistler, doesn't that take a lot of pressure off trying to become a professional boarder? If you paint 4 days a week and volunteer 1 day per week, doesn't that make for a pretty fulfilling week?
What if your passions change? What are the chances that the thing you are passionate about at 20, will be the same thing you are passionate about at 30? Or 60? Making a career out of what you love puts a lot of pressure on you to pick the right passion. Sure, you can change careers as your passions change, but why link the two so tightly? Passion is best expressed in action, otherwise it is simply aspiration. Keep your passion unencumbered...change it without having to worry about career ramifications. If your passion grows organically into a career, well then you've hit the jackpot. You've succeeded on your terms, but you will have something to fall back on as insurance if needs be.
Will MacAskill says: 'Follow your passion' is terrible advice. The good news, according to his research, is that many of the aspects of fulfilling work can be found as an independent painting contractor. Turns out a satisfying job is a job that provides a lot of variety and novelty, a job that contributes to the community, a job that provides good feedback and you can realize results, a job that allows you to exercise autonomy, and a job that allows you to develop and exercise a skill. Sounds a lot like running a painting business eh?
An attitude adjustment might just be what some of us need to find more happiness at work (talking to myself here...). Appreciate working hard, set boundaries, work less and…pursue passion projects on the side. It makes a decent alternative to the current career zeitgeist.
If you find yourself washing toilets for work one day, as I have done, or delivering pizzas, as I have also done, remember that you are doing honest work, providing a valued service, and looking after your family. And it probably allows you a measure of free time to find additional meaning in some other practice. As Rolf Potts notes: 'anyone can work for 8 months as a toilet cleaner and have enough money to ride a motorcycle across China. And, if they didn't yet have their own motorcycle, another couple months of scrubbing toilets would earn them enough to buy one once they got to China.'
You don't have to stick with menial work if you don't enjoy it. But neither should you expect to always love your job. Better to search for purpose and meaning in your life overall and maintain a balanced view of work. Keeping perspective is key to job satisfaction.