The Perils of Pursuing Your Passion
The conventional wisdom when deciding on a career path is to start with what you love. In theory, if you can find work that suits your interests, then you should have a satisfying and interesting career.
But that may not always be the best career advice. Some fields are harder to break into than others, and those tend to be the most closely aligned with individual interests. Artists and writers may love what they do, but earning a living in a purely creative career is nearly impossible. Same thing for music, sports and other popular passions - not many people break through from garage band to rock star, and there's not much money to be made in between.
Furthermore, the pressure of trying to make a career out of what you love can lead to the infamous 'quarter-life crisis.' More and more young people find themselves floundering, unable to translate their interests into work and becoming increasingly stressed about it. Even though Jay-Z asserts that '30 is the new 20,' there's immense societal pressure to find a career right out of college. People who are hung up on doing what they love often fail to even identify a possible career path; they may succumb to angst and depression as a result.
Finally, it's important to realize that doing what you love is not a guarantee against career burnout. And if you burn out on this type of career, you don't just lose your passion for the job - you lose your passion for what may have once been an important part of your identity. This blogger knows a painter who has spent most of her career in business. When asked why she's never pursued gallery representation or an artistic career, the painter simply replies that she loves making art and never wants it to become work or an obligation.
There's a difference between vocation and avocation, and for many people it's crucial to keep the two separate.
Find Your Aptitude
However, it's also not a good idea to do what you hate. There are certain career fields that people often enter because they just don't know what else to do. For example, many people become lawyers because the field pays well and they can't think of another career path. But the law is a grueling profession, and after ten years they may find themselves miserable. Changing careers is an option, but it can be a lot more difficult to do midstream. (Don't miss our upcoming post on the most important things to consider before changing your career.)
So how do you strike that balance? Some people approach it as a question of compromise: Figure out what you love and then find a career in that general field. If you're an artist, consider graphic design, illustration or even an administrative career in a gallery or museum. If you love to write, look into journalism or editing.
And, of course, there's always teaching. Many people find that sharing their love for something through teaching - whether it's art, literature or biology - is incredibly rewarding.
Another way to find a career is to change your approach. Rather than trying to figure out what you love to do, try to figure out what your natural strengths are. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a 'psychometric indicator,' also known as a personality test, that measures how you make decisions and think about the world. Many aptitude tests are based on the MBTI, and their goal is to help you determine what you'd actually be good at.
As some people put it, trying to find your passion is about what you want to be, but finding your natural strengths is about what you already are.
While choosing a career based on aptitude may not be glamorous - many of us are more suited to office work than stardom - it can ultimately be more satisfying. You are more likely to actually find a job and excel at it, leaving yourself the time and money to pursue your passions on the side.
So should you do what you love, or learn to love what you do? The choice is really up to you - just remember that not getting paid for something doesn't mean it isn't an important part of your life.