The mantra of my peers is that we want to do what we love, or pursue our passions.  Unfortunately I think the way we talk about pursuing passion may actually make it more difficult to live the lives we want.

Two Problems with Passion

Passion is Seen as Sufficient

There are countless stories of people who break free from their cubicles to pursue a lifelong dream whether it is writing a novel, starting a bakery, or just freelancing.  What’s missing, though, from these stories are the risks, investments, and skills required to make these kinds of transitions.  Interested in photography?  Are you ready to make a financial investment in equipment?  Want to start a restaurant?  How will you land customers and refine your menu?  In other words, the jump from hobby to skilled professional is a big one and often, passion alone isn’t enough.

Passion is Presented as Static

One of my favorite social change awards is the Purpose Prize, which supports people over the age of 60 who are interested in launching socially minded ventures.  What I love about it are the journeys many of the awardees have taken up to the moment they land an award.  Some have been involved in social change work all of their lives or have done work that has an explicit connection to their project.  Others have had work in different industries and professions that planted a seed or sparked interest in pursuing social change work more directly.   They all share a desire to make a difference through their work yet how they arrived there varies.  When we talk about passion, unfortunately, we talk about it as if it is static—just one idea/feeling/action that will carry you throughout life as opposed to a mindset that allows you to seize meaningful opportunities as they come.

Changing the Conversation about Passion

I point out these problems not because I don’t think doing what you love is unrealistic; instead I think our portrayal of what it takes to do what you love ignores the reflection and persistence that is required.

We speak of passion the way we speak of true love: something worth pursuing, something quite lovely, but something that can’t be defined.   However, the opposite is often true; when we do what we love, we become even more focused and deliberate to ensure we are doing it well and are truly fulfilled.

So let’s change the conversation about pursuing passion.

Passion as a Mindset

What if instead of looking at passion as an end goal or something that needs to be pursued, we looked at it as a way of thinking and reflecting that allows us to enjoy various opportunities.  What if we asked:

  1. Do I feel as if I am contributing to something larger than myself?
  2. Do I feel I am leveraging my talents and time in a way that makes me feel most useful?
  3. Do I feel connected to others around me and to my work?

Passion as a Launching Pad

Additionally, knowing what we love to do is just the beginning.  When it comes time to put passion into practice we need to ask three large questions:

  1. What do I enjoy doing often?
  2. What am I willing to put the time and resources into becoming excellent at?
  3. What social need can I meet by doing what I love well?

By beginning to answer these questions we can really dig into what it means to do what we love.

What do you think?  Do we need to shift our understanding of passion and its role in our careers?

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