Career Passion Shouldn’t Be an Oxymoron

Work, we spend most of our waking hours there — and a majority of our creative energy.  You’d think more of us would choose something we truly cared about.  If so many of us are unhappy at work, why not do something we love? There are many reasons, even seemingly good reasons. We settle in, glad to have a job, and doing something we excel in.  It’s familiar.

But, what is the price we’re paying? Are we setting the bar too low, selling life short in a career we don’t value?  You can’t ever get that time back.  Ever. Today it isn’t as though we have only two choices:  making a decent living and barely getting by.  Actually most of us have more career options than ever before.

What's Your Career Passion?

In a recent Forbes article, Lisa Earle McLoed says that when you love what you do it “delivers just about the best return on investment you can get.  Because when you show up with your heart, your mind works at a far greater capacity than when you leave your heart at home.” It’s tough to solve problems and face harsh obstacles when you aren’t fully engaged.  Sure, many of us do amazing things at work, even under really difficult circumstances.  But imagine what you could accomplish if you had more career passion.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Job Versus Vocation — What I Didn’t Learn in B-School, Andrew J. Hoffman stresses the importance of career passion — “There’s pure joy when you take a risk to pursue your dream and find work that you deeply connect with.”   Well, his definition of “pure joy” might be different from mine; but I agree with Hoffman’s point —  take time to think about what you want.  Do you want a job, a career, or a calling? “A calling” might be too strong a word for many of us, but why not seek out a career to be passionate about?  It’s the passion that says you’re leading a life worth living, worthy of all your hard-earned knowledge and your genuine interest.

Cynics might criticize this approach as being too idealistic, too impractical. But as author Seth Godin says: “impossible and perfect” are the two biggest principles stopping people from making progress. I think he’s right. We think it’s “impossible” to have our dream job (or anything like it), and so we focus on all the obstacles.  Or we look for the “perfect” career,” one that’s an absolutely sure bet.   

Often what is really holding us back is a lack of commitment to ourselves.  Figuring out what we’re passionate about can be hard work. Not all of us know what we want.  All too often we only know what we don’t want — and we’re too burned out, frustrated, or busy to make time to think about it.   Or we have a few ideas, maybe even a clear picture of what we want, we just don’t know how to get there. Sometimes it takes trial and error. Gone are the days when our destiny was tied to whatever our parents did or being stuck to one career. Instead, we have a torrent of possibilities even if it doesn’t seem that way. The good news is that today’s career options are so varied; the bad news is that it’s confusing to sort them all out.


1. Can’t quit your current job? Re-energize yourself by taking on a new project.  At first glance, this appears to be counter-intuitive.  Even if you’re working long hours, according to research psychologist Dr. Steve Wright, people are happier when they have a job that fully engages them. So find something that’s interesting, challenging, and a good match to your strengths. Find a project, or better yet create one, that you find stimulating.  Or, if you’re passionate about your job, but the environment is sour, mentor someone that could benefit from your expertise.  It won’t fix your current situation, but it might make it more interesting and expand your network.  Or make yourself the new project, and find yourself a mentor. Seek out someone in your field that might reignite your passion for the job or help you start thinking about possibilities.  We all have options though they seem illusive when times are tough.

2. Don’t have a clue what to do? Try a few tools to help you get to know yourself better.  There are almost too many to choose from.  As a place to start, here are four very different approaches to consider:

  • Gallups’ StrengthsFinder 2.0, is a book that gives you a code to take their online test, which automatically generates a personalized Strengths Insight Report and Action-Planning Guide.  Ranked #1 bestsellers by both the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek, the book costs $25.
  • The Artists Way and The Artist’s Way at Work are both popular 12-week workbooks.  You complete detailed exercises each week to “rediscover your creative self.” which I think all of us need to be innovative at work.  I found they are more interesting than many career-focused workbooks. The Artists Way has sold over 2 million copies worldwide, so you can easily find them for under $25 too.  They encourage people to work together, in groups, to provide support while you explore options.
  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is “the world’s most widely used personality assessment,” with roughly two million assessments taken every year. You can take the assessment test online, free It is so popular that there are other tests, books and resources available on line, compete with career suggestions by personality type; many are free or under $25.
  • Find personal support — books and tools can only go so far. Often what we need is a person to help us sift through the options — a life coach, executive coach or mentor.  Each approach has pros and cons, but what’s important is that you find the support you need to figure out what’s next.  Life coaches often charge $100-$150/hour, executive coaches may charge more.  Mentoring, on the other hand, is free.  With either option (fee or free), it’s important to find a person that fits your values, interests, and personality.

3. Know what you want to do, but don’t know how to get there? If you’re passionate about a career option, then finding support to help you on your way is key.  Often our existing networks aren’t as effective to get where we want to go.  Instead, I recommend finding a mentor to accelerate your transition.  They have the direct, real-world experience and insights you need that are relevant to a specific job.  What’s more, they have a network to help open doors to vital connections. If they specialize in the area you’re interested in, life coaches and executive coaches might be useful too.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have several careers I was passionate about.  There’s an ebb and flow. What I wanted, worked for a time.  Then as I learned more about the job and myself, I gained courage. I was willing to ask important questions about what I really wanted. Each time, I’ve been grateful for the chance to try something new — and live more of the life I envisioned. I’m hoping you’ll be inspired to make the time to invest in yourself and explore your career passion.


2 Responses

  1. I want to add a favorite pick to your list of what to do if you don’t have a clue… Wishcraft by Barbara Sher. This classic career transition tool is precisely designed for finding your passion and then finding a way to make a living at it. It is an alternative to the “What Color is your Parachute” approach, which is more about matching your job skills with openings in the market (demoralizing odds for that approach these days). I have used Wishcraft personally and in life coaching relationships with great success… especially the Ideal Day exercise.

  2. […] to radically raise the bar? What would you like to change or improve? Are you unhappy at work? Career passion shouldn’t be an oxymoron. If you’re not sure what you want, a mentor can help you figure it out too.  Crystallize your […]

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