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Want Career Happiness? Don’t Follow Your Passion…

Posted on July 05, 2016

You spend more time doing your job than anything else - with the possible exception of sleeping, if you are one of the lucky ones. Either way, your career is a major part of your life. So you should make sure it’s fulfilling, right? Exactly. So why are so many people shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to career happiness?

You are not Victorian. That’s part of the problem.

In the context of human history, career choice is a new thing. Up until the post-Victorian era, people generally stayed in the same (or very similar) jobs for their entire working lives. In some professions the same was true right up until the 1960s. But in today’s world of social and professional mobility, career-hopping is increasingly the norm. Add in the ‘entrepreneurialism’ of the digital age and the career options are seemingly infinite. And the choice can be crippling.  

Stop comparing yourself to (your perception of) other people

Do you ever feel like everyone has their careers mapped out, while you are sat there with no idea what your calling is? Well, stop it. Stop it right now.

While there are undoubtedly some people who grow up dreaming of becoming a teacher, ace the qualifications and then merrily spend their days educating the next generation, those people are the minority. Most young professionals fall into their careers, realise they don’t suck at it and are smart enough to work their way to the top.

Are these the people you are comparing yourself to? They almost definitely don’t have it as sussed out as you think.

Job vs Career

The first step to being happy in your job is to assess your priorities. You have to know what’s important to you. For example, if your main criteria for your career are that it gives you enough time to concentrate on your hobbies and pays enough to cover a few drinks with your friends once the bills are paid, you have an awful lot of options open to you. Alternatively, you might be happier proving your worth in the rat race and climbing to the top of the corporate ladder.

Unfortunately a lot of people fail to home in on what they really want. Unsurprisingly, because it can be hard. Yet too many people are dissatisfied.

Follow your passion: down with the cliché

Ah yes, follow your passion. You’ve heard it a thousand times. Most likely because it was a maxim that received an endorsement from Apple founder Steve Jobs during a famous speech to 23,000 Stanford graduates back in 2005. But let’s get one thing clear: Steve Jobs did not follow his passion. Had he done so, the iPhone in your pocket may never have been created - because Jobs’ passions were eastern mysticism, dance and western history. No, Jobs got started in tech as a way to make a quick buck. It was only when he realised the scale of what he could achieve that he committed his energy to technology.  

So where does that leave you? What’s wrong with following your passion? It sounds like good advice. Unfortunately the reality is different. What if you don’t have a passion? What if your passion is not career-oriented? What if there are no jobs associated with your passion? What if your passion pays a pittance? Do you really want to turn your passion into the thing that pays the bills? What if your job is intimately connected to your passion, but you hate every single person you work with? Once you cut into it, the follow your passion adage is a little hollow. And we haven’t even discussed the fact that your passion today is not likely to be your passion ten years from now.  

Reverse engineer your passion

To be clear, it’s not about following your passion. It’s about cultivating passion. You do that by being conscious about your career, your job and how both fit into your life. Transform your job into a project. Your project. Don’t rely on your boss or line manager to set goals for you. Create your own. Strive, really strive, to put your best into everything. Make quality your benchmark - no matter how big or small your responsibilities. Find a way to integrate a sense of completion and milestones into your working days, weeks and months. Chase variety. And if you don’t have enough, ask for it.

Instead of doing what you love, learn to love what you do.

Go where the opportunities are

If you are feeling career clueless, go where the opportunities are. Not enjoying your job? Switch horses now. Don’t wait until the clouds part, the penny drops and you finally realise your calling - because you might be waiting for a long time. Time you could have spent exploring something new that you found more fulfilling.

Do you want to work for yourself?

Thanks to the internet and some nifty DIY digital marketing tools, working for yourself has never been simpler. Just don’t confuse simple with easy. It won’t take you more than a few minutes to find an article somewhere on the web about how you can make a fortune working from home for two hours a day while sipping piña coladas in your pyjamas. Yet becoming your own boss is not the romantic ideal of quitting your job on Friday and reaching a state of eternal bliss by Tuesday.

For starters you need a bit of a business plan. You also need to have something to sell, whether that’s a service such as graphic design, or a product such as hand-crafted lampshades. And unless you have a lot of money behind you, it’s likely you will have to fit your fledgling business around your current job, working evenings and weekends or whenever you’re free to get your project off the ground. It takes serious commitment. But in exchange you get to be your own boss if it goes well.

You are in control...

The important thing to remember is to listen to yourself. If you are happy and fulfilled and your career works for you, then you are on the right track. If the opposite is true, then don’t wait to make a positive change.

Life is too short and you are too special to be miserable in work.

So be honest with yourself. Partners, pets, parents or otherwise, yours is the only opinion that truly matters.

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