We're told from a pretty young age that if you follow your passion then you'll more than likely be successful. There is a whole movement of positive affirmation dedicated to the concept. New exciting entrepreneurial ventures, flounder or flourish based on this very principle. People who find themselves unhappy at work, want to give up their day job to go do something that lights their fire.
Then there the skeptics among us, who deep down believe that those things that truly light your fire, couldn't possibly pay well. And hand on heart, after struggling as a dancer many years ago in a declining arts sector, I can't dispute this truth either.
Is wanting to find your sense of passion at work simply a first world problem?
Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame certainly thinks so, and his TED NPR Radio Hour interview on the same topic is certainly eye opening as he shares stories of those who have some of the dirtiest jobs in the world, picking up after the rest of us, who are some of the most successful and happy people he knows. He himself spent eight years invested in a career as an opera singer, which he loved, but it barely paid the bills and he wasn't particularly happy. He has since ditched that passion as a career goal, and created an empire interviewing people who don't follow their passion. In fact, quite the reverse - yet are considerably happier than most.
Passion - a double edged sword?
However, passion at work can be a driving force for both good and evil even if you are on a great wicket.
On the plus side - passion can keep you focused and results oriented long after others have dropped by the wayside. Passion for work is not just 'woo woo' pop psychology. In fact, it is part of a deeper search for meaning and significance, can move mountains, ignite enthusiasm and drive change.
On the minus? It can make you stressed, wear you out emotionally and physically, causing you to doubt you are the right person for the job, or even question your entire career path.
And here's the kicker - if you are young and a woman, you get the double whammy. According to research women tend to be more stressed at work than men, and, according to the American Psychological Association, the millennial generation is apparently the most stressed out generation ever. I'm confident that expectations around finding your sense of purpose and passion, along with making a whole heap of money, are part of the mix that contributes to this stress.
So what can you do instead?
Care deeply & hold lightly. A Buddhist concept that allows you to balance passion with perspective.
Do be passionate about the work you do, but temper your passion with reflective moments that allow you to step back, review and course correct as necessary. It's great to wake up in the morning and race off to do good work every day, because you are passionate about your cause. But you'll burn out fast if you don't create mechanisms to help you check reality.
Do set a career path in an industry you love, but also keep your ears, eyes and networks open to opportunities that might emerge along the way where you can leverage experience, expertise and your ability to learn and grow to springboard into something new entirely - allowing room for others (also passionate) to follow in your footsteps.
Do pursue a cause that drives change, but ensure that you know when it's appropriate to fit your own mask before you fit those of others, so you can leave an even longer lasting legacy.
If you can find that intersection between your passion, your values and commercial reality, along with a positive environment to work in, then you are far more likely to experience that elusive career success and happiness that you're looking for.
After all, this is a long game you're playing, where you want to thrive, not merely survive. You don't want to become so stressed or worn out that you lean out and become disenfranchised with a role or career where you truly could have made a bigger difference. And remember, no-one promotes the stressed, worn out, flustered executive up the back of the office, no-matter how passionate they are for the cause.
Give it a try sometime. Let me know how you go.
Feminine leadership superpowers + passion = priceless
Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution
And send me an email if you have a story about managing your sense of passion and purpose for work.