“I often think how terribly sad it is that so many people–the ‘Thank God it’s Friday’ brigade–are not in the least bit passionate about what they are doing with their lives. I’m talking about the ones for whom life is all about ‘making a living’ as opposed to making every living moment count.” – Sir Richard Branson, The Virgin Way
More than three years ago, I was sitting with a colleague discussing my wedding date, which was quickly approaching. My friend was about fifteen years my senior and immigrated to the U.S. from Northern India. We talked about plans for my wedding, honeymoon, and life. Then, reaching into his own experiences as a husband, he said something that would change me forever:
“Chris, can I tell you something? In India, many couples have arranged marriages. Sometimes that is hard to understand here in America, but let me explain it to you. In America, people first fall in love, and then get married, and they try to grow a commitment to each other. In arranged marriages, it’s the opposite, often the man and woman have to start with a commitment first and then grow it into love, see? The value of this arrangement is that we [Indians] rarely have divorces, because we are not caught up in trying to find our passion in the marriage, no, instead we have a foundation of commitment, and we choose to bring our passion to the marriage.”
This post is actually not about marriage or India at all. It is about your career. Please keep reading.
One of the biggest misconceptions about having a fulfilling career is that you should “find your passion” first. This lie has been spat on us for longer than we can trace and the damage left in its wake has ruined too many peoples’ happiness. Stop the madness, I say, once and for all. Let’s change our understanding of passion and work.
Please don’t misunderstand, there is nothing inherently wrong with finding work that aligns with your interests, desires, and strengths. Thankfully, many have been successful in this search, namely: sports writers, inventors, doctors, tech entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, and the list goes on.
Our world is no doubt a better place for those who have followed their unique interests and found it in their work. But this is more the exception than the norm. Most people, even the really intelligent and successful ones, don’t actually find their passion in their work. Instead, they bring their passion to their work, like an arranged marriage.
Unfortunately, however, we don’t think this way in the U.S., and the reason is obvious. The problem starts early when, as children, we are told we can be anything we want to be. The error is that parents can sometimes oversimplify and over-communicate this based on what their six-year-old child is excited about. Let’s take Johnny as an example, who loved coloring books when he was young.
“Johnny is really good with crayons,” his mother says, over-exaggerating, “we think he’ll be an artist of some sort,” then, turning to him, “Johnny, don’t you want to be an artist?” Of course this message comes from love, but what damage does it do?
Johnny grows to be eighteen and he still loves art (who doesn’t?) so he selects a college major that aligns well–Graphic Design. Four years later, Johnny graduates and lands an exciting job with a mid-sized firm in the city where he designs website backsplashes for retail companies.
After a year or two in the working world, Johnny gets bored with the work. Finally, one day while sitting in traffic on the drive home, he has an epiphany. “I’m actually not passionate about art!” He says it aloud a couple of times and it feels good to realize this after so many years.
With his newfound realization, Johnny loses steam at work. He begins slowly lagging on deadlines, staying up late and sleeping in, complaining to friends, and hoping for the weekend to come quickly. Johnny believes it is time to get out of any work that is art-related. He needs to find work that he is passionate about.
And like too many marriages, where passion fades and so too with it does the commitment, Johnny decides to move on. No one can condemn him–he’s doing what he’s supposed to do–chasing his passion, right?
The problem is, however, that Johnny fails to understand what passion is and what passion isn’t…
Passion is not a hill to be climbed or a pot of gold to be obtained. No, passion can’t be grabbed or taken, it can only be given.
Passion does not wash over us like waves of ocean water. No, instead it comes from the inside-out, like air from our lungs.
Passion is not a badge, a uniform, or a title. No, passion is worn on the chests of those who choose to bear it, no matter their employer or job title.
Passion does not rest inside of office buildings, concert halls, or studios. No, passion is like a cloud of smoke that fills a room when entered by those who carry it.
Passion is an ideal and a belief in self. A manifestation of imposed will.
So, if you want to be happier in your career, discard your previous ideas about finding your passion and resolve to instead become passionate and then bring that passion to your work. Do this and watch as the love for your job will grow.
Finally, once you have done all of that, once you have brought your passion to your work, if you still don’t like your job then please, go find another one. Life is too short to do work that you hate doing. But before doing so, realize that you aren’t searching for some mystical treasure of passion that will make you feel good. No, you are searching for a place to deposit your passion into. Good luck.
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