Why ‘Find Your Passion’ is Bogus Career Advice

By Yvonne Milosevic

Not that long ago, most workers were like Fred Flintstone. When the bugle blew at the end of a shift, you punched out and called it a day. Work wasn’t supposed to be meaningful or fulfilling. It was something you did to put food on the table and keep a roof overhead.

That’s definitely not the case today. In fact, for years, we’ve heard that we need to “find our passion,” and the career path that will fulfill it. “Do what you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” they say.  Sounds great on a bumper sticker. But what if you don’t have a clue what your passion is? Does that make you a loser? Nope. Because find your passion is terrible career advice.

Don’t expect to “find” your passion. Cultivate it instead.

According to a Stanford study, when people focus narrowly on discovering their one true passion, they neglect other interests. Mantras like “find your passion” make it seem like once you find that spark, the rest should come easy because it’s “meant to be.” It also gives the impression that we each have a finite number of passions.

But if we’re honest, we’re not that good at most things the very first time we try them. The researchers found that when people encounter inevitable challenges, that fixed mindset makes it more likely they will abandon their newfound interest.

A better approach, they say, would be to cultivate your interests or talents in multiple areas. Begin by homing in on the projects and activities that you enjoy at work.  Then, work to improve and grow in areas that engage you—forget about that passion label.

Happiness doesn’t come from matching your job to a pre-existing passion, Cal Newport points out in his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. He argues that you should focus on work that allows you to become more skilled at something meaningful. In time, that mastery allows you to appreciate your work.

As Newport explains in this interview, “’Cultivate’ implies that you work toward building passion for your job. This is a longer process but it’s way more likely to pay dividends. It requires you to approach your work like a craftsman. Honing your ability, and then leveraging your value, once good, to shape your working life toward the type of lifestyle that resonates with you.”

A successful career requires more than just passion.

You can be passionate about baking, skiing, traveling, football, etc. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can parlay those interests into professional success. Passion is just one element of a fulfilling career. The career-focused non-profit 80,000 hours researched the predictors of job satisfaction, and found that most people need these five things:

  1. Engaging work (aka something you’re passionate about)
  2. Work that helps others
  3. Work you’re good at
  4. Work with people you like
  5. Work that covers your basic needs (fair pay and work/life balance)

As you can surmise, loving your work probably won’t lead to a happy career without those four other crucial factors.

In the end, it’s okay to make peace with the realization that you may never feel Steve Jobs-level passionate about your career. A sense of fulfillment can come from many sources. You can make a positive impact on those around you and live a life full of meaning. Help out in your community. Start a side hustle. Focus on family. We aren’t identified solely by what we do professionally. Find other ways to feed your interests, and enjoy the balanced life you have created.