Don’t Follow Your Passion in Your Career

Inside: Don’t follow your passion? Well, what should I follow instead? This Career Coach has you covered with 10 great suggestions of what you can follow in your career to find fulfillment.

Go after your dreams! Love what you do! Follow your passion!

Sounds nice, right?

Or maybe it sounds terrifying because you have no idea what your passion is.

You don’t need my permission to ignore the “follow your passion” advice, but I’m giving it to you anyway. Don’t follow your passion.

And here’s why.

No Passion? No Problem!

Passion is a popular buzzword in career and personal development, and it’s not altogether bad. It’s great when someone is able to make a career out of something they feel so deeply connected to.

But there are plenty of people who are very happy in life without following their passion. And they got that way because they followed something else that was equally as important to them.

So, what can you follow in your career if you don’t follow your passion? Or if you don’t feel like you have a passion. Oh, plenty of things!

Don't follow your passion in your career. Follow this instead

Don’t Follow Your Passion, Follow Your…

1. Interests

Sometimes, the word passion feels heavy. Particularly if you don’t have one passion or if there are lots of things that peak varying levels of interest.

But who says you need to be so absorbed in your work that you can claim passion for it? If you are following what you are interested in instead of passionate about, you are still going to be engaged in your work. You’ll still be learning, contributing, and enjoying your day-to-day.

Try writing down all of the things that you like, and don’t worry if nothing is jumping out as a passion. Then take a look at your list.

You like hiking but is it a passion? No, you just like being outside. Solving tough math equations is interesting, but you aren’t passionate about it. You just like how it makes your brain work. You enjoy modern art because you appreciate creative expression, but again… passion feels strong.

Those interests still matter for a few reasons.

  1. You can be very happy and successful in your work if you are interested in the subject matter and want to learn more.
  2. You might find themes among your interests that show you what type of work environment would work well for you. Outside, collaborative, innovative, solo, creative, etc.
  3. By being open to your interests, you might stumble into one (or several) interests that get you really fired up.

If this feels like you, try to shake off the pressure of passion. Don’t follow your passion; instead, follow what makes you go, “Hmmm… that’s interesting!” Interests are great, too!

2. Curiosity

Adam Grant, Organizational Psychologist at Wharton Business School, runs a podcast called WorkLife and he did a great episode on the perils of following your passion. He explains how work is, for the vast majority of people, a necessity, and not every passion is going to translate neatly into a career path that pays the bills.

One suggestion he offers is to “Follow your curiosity into the job where you think you’ll learn the most, where you can gain mastery over useful skills, and build your passion over time.”

That’s such a powerful way of viewing career development. If you don’t have a passion right now, it doesn’t mean you won’t develop one in the future. Allowing yourself to follow your curiosity allows you to explore, take chances, build new skills, and feed your brain.

3. Heart

Sometimes, following your heart means you are holding a boom box outside of someone’s window. And sometimes, since life isn’t a John Cusack movie, that person on the other side of the window is just not that into you.

But, sometimes, following your heart will lead you exactly where you need to go!

Is your brain telling you that staying in a job with long hours makes sense for career progression, but your heart is telling you that you want to be home for your kids’ bedtime? Does it seem crazy to move across the country when you’re in a stable job, but your heart is telling you that being with extended family is exactly what you need? Well, it might be time to follow your heart.

Following your heart may not be the path of least resistance, but life is too short not to fill it with as much love as possible. If you’re feeling stuck, let your heart lead.

4. Gut

Following your heart and following your gut are different.

When you follow your heart, you make a decision based on love. When you follow your gut, you trust your own intuition. These are both incredibly valuable things to do.

If you landed your “dream job” based on a passion but something feels off, listen to your gut. Maybe the culture of the office isn’t the right fit, and you aren’t feeling like yourself. Maybe you don’t agree with a major company policy and can’t bring yourself to stand behind it. Or your gut could be telling you that you have been following a “passion” that you just aren’t that passionate about anymore.

There may even be a time when your gut is telling you that this job is not right, but you need to stick it out for a little while longer due to financial necessity. And you’ll make a change when you have some more stability. That’s real life.

In all of these circumstances, trust your gut, because your gut is you. And you’re pretty darn smart.

5. Skills

Skills are a big piece of the puzzle in the Career Sweet Spot model. It’s straightforward, too—what are you good at? If you don’t follow your passion, you might follow those skills instead.

The tricky part of this is you may not always love what you are good at. For example, there was a large part of my 9-5 that had me focusing on technology troubleshooting. I’m a good problem solver, and I like to help people, so I could do this part of the job well. But was I passionate about it? Well, no. Technology doesn’t make my heart sing.

But here’s the thing: By following my talents and skills, I did well at my job and took on higher-level responsibilities. Taking on more senior roles gave me a seat at the table and exposure to other work I was excited about.

Plus as I got better with technology, I became more efficient. When I become more efficient, I freed up my time to take on projects in other areas I was interested in. Passionate about even!

Following a talent that doesn’t get you jazzed doesn’t mean you need to build a lifelong career out of it. But it can lead you to more opportunities in the future.

How to Land a Fulfilling Job You Love Without Giving Up the Flexibility You Need
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6. Dreams

Following your dreams is going to sound like “pie in the sky,” but stick with me on this one.

Did you have a dream when you were a kid of one day being a professional athlete? Maybe you wanted to open a bakery. Or write the next great American novel.

If any of those dreams still resonate with you, find a way to incorporate them into your life. Just because someone isn’t paying you to dunk a basketball doesn’t mean you can’t join a rec league as a hobby, or side hustle as a referee. Perhaps you could open that bakery, or go work for one. And that novel could be right there under the surface.

We get stuck in the idea that our careers need to follow linear paths. That we go to college for one thing so we need to do always do that one thing. And it’s just not true. For one you can explore your dreams as a hobby with little to no financial risk. Or you could sit down and figure out what your financial needs are, and then determine if a career shift to follow that dream in your heart could actually work.

You might surprise yourself.

7. Motivators

What gets you out of bed in the morning? Be honest with yourself! Those are your motivators. And if you don’t follow your passion you can still follow something equally as inspiring – your motivators.

Maybe you are motivated by money, and being in a role with a high compensation keeps you engaged. Or maybe you are motivated by a mission, and you need to be aligned with a company that shares your values. You could also be motivated by your family’s needs, and to feel fulfilled, you are going to make adjustments in your career to be home for the school bus.

Uncovering what motivates you is a huge key to enjoying your work and life. Find your motivators and follow them!

8. Market Knowledge

There’s always a time and place for following the data!

What is the market telling you about job opportunities in certain industries or functions? As markets fluctuate and economic conditions shift, the jobs available to you will change. For example, there was a boom in EdTech during and right after the Covid-19 pandemic. However the market for these roles is a lot tighter in 2024.

Use sources like Crunchbase and LinkedIn to follow industries and sectors of interest

9. Value Add

The other circle in the Career Sweet Spot model we use within the Career Clarity Program is Value Add, which basically means, “Who is going to pay you to help them?”

This circle can be particularly helpful as you think about a bridge job opportunity – one that helps you make a transition into a role that is closer to the dream job but not quite there yet.

Think about it this way. If you want to make a change from sales to marketing, it may be more difficult to change from sales in manufacturing to marketing in healthcare than it might be to change from sales in technology to marketing in manufacturing. You have a proven value add in manufacturing so you follow that industry thread to make a bigger transition down the road!

10. Passions

One of the big issues with following your passion is the singular nature of it. As soon as you put a S at the end of passion and make it plural, doors start opening.

Think about the Williams sisters. Venus and Serena are clearly passionate about tennis. They are amazing! But they also have a passion for fashion, one that is clearly displayed on and off the court. If either sister had drawn a hard line at passion, then they would not have explored other areas that made them excited to get out of bed in the morning.

Opening yourself up to be passionate about more than one thing allows you flexibility in your career, but it also allows you to be completely true to yourself. And that’s pretty awesome.

Don’t Follow Your Passion – Or Do!

Are you feeling a little less fenced in by the grand notion of “following your passion” in your career?

I hope so!

Remember that if you want to follow your passion, go for it! But if you don’t follow your passion you can still be very happy and fulfilled in work and life. Follow something that fills you up, that meets an important need, that makes you feel good about a day’s work.

Career fulfillment is out there; you simply have to follow your own path to find it.

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