If You Don’t Find Passion, Follow Curiosity (Part 2)

It Is Okay To Not Be Passionate– Design a Career You Love

 

You don’t have to always pursue your dreams to create an enjoyable and fulfilling career.

In this essay, I will show you how.

Am I against pursuing passions?

I left my job to write so that can’t be true.

As much as I am an advocate for the ethereal path of doing what you love to do, finding and pursuing a passion is hard.

Why is finding passion unreasonably hard sometimes?

Most people are not passionate about anything, and some are passionate about a lot of things — they can’t decide on one love. Some think of their hobbies as their calling. A majority of people love things that could never make promising professions. And many misinterpret the charm of prestige for a career.

I once met a man who was passionate about retiring without doing any work. While another one wanted to become a wildlife photographer without ever even having clicked a crow what so ever.

Having an epiphany about that one thing or by thinking about it on a turquoise beach or by assuming it exists and picking it from the list of your interests are the cinema-influenced ways of finding passion. These methods might connect some of us with our love(including me) but they won’t buzz most. If it’s a passion, you must have always been doing it, in some form or the other.

Though many celebrities, artists, cartoonists, entrepreneurs, historians, filmmakers, architects, and scientists have made their lives from scratch doing what they love to do, if you look deep, you would see that most of these people didn’t think hard about following a passion.

Bill Gates(started programming because he liked it), Steve Jobs(got into computers by chance), Larry Allison(got to the database by curiosity), Walt Disney and M.F. Hussain (both drew since childhood), Dhirubhai Ambani (was a salesman from early on), Ruskin Bond(wanted to be a writer from childhood), Sadat Hassan Monto(had been writing since his early twenties), Alfred Hitchcock(wanted to be an engineer but started clerking and shifted to creative writing and movies as he started enjoying these) — almost all these examples that I also used in Part 1 of this series to show why work doesn’t have to suck can be referred here as well — none of these people thought about pursuing a passion: some of them were busy in their pursuits since childhood or their professions happened to them in the natural course of events while they sought interesting opportunities one after another and made the best of them.

One thing is true for them all — they enjoyed what they did and stepped away from menial drudgery.

But when serendipity doesn’t seem to find us or we don’t have a childhood sweetheart, we search for something enjoyable to do.

Let us say you find that something. But this discovery is just one side of the dice.

Now you ask the four main questions that I raised in Part 1 to confirm your passion — Are we doing it for money or prestige, does social influence(prestige again) play a part in our choice, do we have the expertise or are we ready to learn, and would it sustain us.

The answers to these four sent me on the path of writing.

When nine years ago, I realized I didn’t like my job, I decided to do something that I enjoyed. I tried many things I like: cooking, being a restauranteur, food blogging, teaching English, and writing intermittently. I spent another five years in computer science, making a total of twelve in the stream, before I completely shifted from coding to writing: I have fun writing, I find the work meaningful, writing can pay my bills, and I am ready to do what it takes.

Thinking hard about which passion of mine was sustainable worked for me, but I only settled onto writing after five years of experimentation.

Finding passion is tough because it a subjective matter loaded by many external factors, and we have to not only mine our idea but refine it to filter out the external influences. Most of the time we don’t even know what makes us happy or sad, and thus discovering passion becomes difficult.

So if you know what you love and it’s not an impractical pursuit, you are one amongst thousands.

But what happens when the pursuit begins?

pursuing passion is hard.jpg

Why is following passion hard

Contrary to popular belief, pursuing a passion is not always fulfilling (ironic, as striving for a passion is striving for self-fulfillment): as we don’t have the skills, our preferred work might not bring money or recognition and thus we stay unhappy for a long time. The process of learning is long. I have been writing for more than two years now, and sometimes my articles still don’t read like a logical chain of thought.

Or as research says, we might abscond at the first sight of difficulty for we had expected that after choosing a passion the chasing would be easy.

We are not alone in the strenuous journey of pursuing a creative passion.

The people who choose creative fields have hard first few years as well. Some struggle for decades. And for every single one of the high-performers standing at the podium, thousands have vanished unknown.

Now as you aren’t clairvoyant to peek into the future and see if you are one of those rare people, you have to leave things to chance. So when you try out an unpredictable career, you would have to fight out the anxiety, the fear of failure, the financial stress, the societal reprimand, objections from the family, all while learning along the journey.

Or let us say your passion is a practical another day job but you don’t have the skills for it yet.

If you are seeking this pragmatic passion alongside work, you might be able to switch to it full-time one day, but you might take much longer than you thought. If you quit your job to do what you want to do, you need to either have enough savings or a strong qualification that guarantees a job anytime or you should be able to freelance until your new profession can finance you: sometimes none of these are easy or even possible.

I may not have had the guts to pursue writing if I didn’t have the best Computer Science degree in India which I can use to earn bread and butter whenever I have to. I also freelance while my blog and other forms of writing can support me financially.

Let’s keep aside easy, for the paths don’t even seem doable always.

We also might make the wrong choice and follow a passion that doesn’t suit us. Or we pursue something we are not that good at while we ignore things that we could excel at. Studies say that going after our passion could restrict our growth because we don’t focus on learning anything else apart from the one thing and fail to connect ideas: finding connections between ideas from various areas is integral to growth.

But a steep or unrealistic pursuit doesn’t mean that you never change your job or profession to give your preferred line of work a shot.

The journey wouldn’t be a cakewalk, I can tell from experience.

When we don’t know what we would like to do or that passion is impractical to follow, we cannot let go of what we have for a far-fetched dream.

What to do next?

sunlight shows the advent of a new journey and opportunities.jpg

What to do when passion goes missing?

Let us contrast my story with a friend I will call Sugar.

Sugar graduated in Computer Science (CS) from a good engineering college. Like me, he didn’t enjoy studying CS. [If you want to know why did he study CS then, you can read my journey from coding to writing that talks about why most Indians become engineers first and then figure out what to do.]

On a lucky instinct, Sugar ended up at a web designing internship during his under graduation. From that four-month, poorly-paid internship, he kept on shifting to other web development internships, startups, and jobs.

My friend realized his natural aptitude at web design and saw that he was picking it up quickly. When he got bored at one job, he shifted to another one to get fresh, challenging work.

During the six and a half years of his career, Sugar also built his open-source web-designer profile. Now it is hard to imagine that once Sugar wanted to leave computer science.

create a career you love and have fun.jpg

If You Don’t Find Passion, Develop It

Many people like Sugar show us that in the absence of passion we need to build an enjoyable career from what we have in hand: else we would sulk through those 80,000 hours and would spend our life reflecting what if we had pursued our dreams.

You can end up loving what you do even if you don’t choose a career that you love. My friend isn’t the only example.

Most of the successful people I mentioned above, Jobs, Gates, Alison, picked up something that interested them, got a kick out of the work, kept getting better, pounced at opportunities, and then connected the dots to see that they were pursuing their passion all along.

Instead of searching for passion, we can do something that we find interesting. As we get skillful at our work, we would start liking it.

A few days ago, a friend was telling me that she loves children and enjoyed teaching English to a bunch of eight-year-olds with a voluntary program in Chile. Now she was looking for alternate career opportunities as she didn’t want to pursue humanities, her major. But she couldn’t even think of one thing she could do. I could see her teaching children. Once she realizes that she could enjoy teaching and do it longterm, how would she test her intuition?

The only way to be sure about a hunch is to pursue it for a while and see if you like the work. You might end up enjoying it much more than you think.

If we are not interested in anything about our job, then it is time to let it go. But even if our current job interests us a little bit, we should give it a chance and work hard to develop the required skills. Experts say that when we are good at something, the game changes.

But before we settle onto one thing, we may have to get our hands dirty and explore different things to see what works.

Here I draw a few benchmarks for the job we have or the one we want to try:

  1. The work interests us at least a little bit, or a senior position makes us curious
  2. The work is not mundane/mindless, or it improves in the career path later: we can be creative at some point.
  3. We either have the skills for our current job, or we can slowly build the skills.
  4. We see our work being deployed.
  5. We find the work respectful.
  6. The work is helpful to others.
  7. We have more autonomy: At least as we grow in the job.
  8. We can live independently on the job or be financially independent after a promotion.
  9. We have supportive colleagues.

These conditions are necessary and complete to create a fulfilling profession that we may end up loving**.

We see all of these parameters fit perfectly for Sugar: He never thought about pursuing any passion but suddenly bumped into web designing, kept doing it as he enjoyed it(interest check), was getting good at it(skills check), could be creative(check), got more autonomy(check), worked with good people(check), and was paid well(check).

His work was respectful(check), his products were being used by customers(check), and he was building platforms that helped tonnes of people(check).

Sugar hated studying CS at school but now spends most of his time tuning into tech talks or exploring new languages to get even better. He understood that once we are good at something, we can define the terms and conditions of our job.

There are substantial proofs to bind these conditions together as exhaustive requisites for a fulfilling profession.

Research says that the most effective way to have satisfied employees is by giving them mentally challenging work. I interpret mentally challenging work as creative, something that needs us to think and find solutions: thus creativity (number 2) is essential.

A study conducted at Yale University proved that the more time we spend at work, the better we get, and the more we enjoy it. Being good at something can make us feel fulfilled. But if we don’t have the skills for our work, we will most definitely end up unhappy. Also, if our skills match our job requirements, we aren’t stressed. So we see that number 3 is essential for a satisfying job.

When we talk about autonomy, a meta-analysis of 259 studies showed that the more control we have over our work, the less dissatisfied we are. But along with control, the support of our colleagues, supervisor, and organization is positively related to job satisfaction: more support, more satisfaction. Thus we get the numbers 7 and 9.

I don’t have to give reasons for financial independence. If we can’t buy bread for our families or can’t pay our rent or can’t travel, we would feel frustrated. More money doesn’t always make us happier but less income or financial dependency does make us unhappy. Also, a disrespectful job would definitely be a reason for unhappiness. So the criteria 5 and 8 are essential, too.

We also need to see our work being used instead of just lying around in the queue. I always saw my projects stuck in diplomatic cycles and wasn’t excited about the work anymore. That explains the number 4.

And now come the two most important reasons for a happy career: meaning and joy.

Humans find it meaningful to be part of a bigger cause than themselves where they can help others and add value to their lives. The significance of a job is strongly related to job satisfaction. Having an overall purpose would be a push that can never fade away like our ever-changing interests1. No surprises that professionals such as surgeons, therapists, teachers, psychiatrists, etc find their jobs largely meaningful. If our work doesn’t contribute to the world, we won’t feel like sticking to it for long. So that’s 6 gone.

And number 1 needs no explanation as this is the root cause of all problems or shall I say the key to all our joys: we get pleasure from doing what we enjoy and we want to keep doing it. Even though our interests change over time, we can’t do anything we don’t find even remotely interesting.

Another factor that I came close to adding to the criteria for a good job is the number of hours. Various surveys (for example this one) showed that long hours were associated with lower job satisfaction. But as it is hard to predict how many hours we would have to spend at our job as we grow in our profession, my idea would be to take up a job and see how it goes.

These nine fielders together can cover the entire velvety field of a beautiful professional journey. But take one out and the equilibrium seems to go away.

open vast field of opportunities.jpg

If you look around, you would see many people with high job satisfaction who love their work now but didn’t care for it when they started: they picked up jobs that made them curious, became skilled, brought value, started enjoying their work, engaged with the people around them, earned well, and felt that they have done really well fitting in with the above nine criteria perfectly. (You can read many such research cases in Cal Newport’s book So Good That They Can’t Ignore You. I don’t agree with all his ideas but I found many of his findings commendable.)

If you are ready to put in the arduous years to bring your passion to life, then don’t let anyone, not even me, tell you otherwise.

But what if you don’t even have that dream that people ask you to chase?

Making the best of what we have doesn’t sound as exciting as picking up a passion but it’s a smart choice for a lot of us. Being the best at something and having more control over your life can make you happier and could be more exciting than seeking an unknown dream. For you would be able to say, hey, I didn’t quit my job, but I love my work.

 

dont find passion follow curiosity.jpg

 

**Please note: I came up with this list of recurring factors that are exhaustive and necessary to create a fulfilling career by interviewing friends, analyzing careers around me, researching and reading numerous articles and research papers about job satisfaction, reading Cal Newport’s book So Good That They Can’t Ignore You, and drawing from my own experience. If you feel I have missed something or have added a redundant factor, do let me know your opinion by leaving a comment.

 
Footnotes:

  1. In Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling Upon Happiness, this idea has been researched extensively. You can see a short video here.
  2. I thank 80000hours.org for their immensely informative articles on choosing a career.

 

Are you ready to follow curiosity?

 

Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links to products I love. If you choose to click through and make a purchase, I will earn a little bit at no extra cost to you. Thank you.

Do you know that I send an exclusive weekly newsletter every Sunday? The newsletter is a collection of my latest articles and the best thoughts of the week. Enter your email to subscribe. I never spam.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.