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Careers Café

Throwing passion to the wind


Some of you may already know exactly what kind of work you want to pursue. Maybe you’re already pursuing it.

My guess is that a lot of readers of this blog are also wondering what career might interest them more than their current work. If that’s your situation, this post is for you.

Many career books out there will tell you how to find your passion. There’s only one problem: passion is one heck of a difficult ideal to live up to. It’s particularly difficult to feel passionate about a career you’re not in. If you haven’t invested your time and professional development in a line of work yet, and if you haven’t yet experienced successes and seen the impact of your work, how can you feel passionate about it?

I’m not arguing that you should stay in a career you dislike. I am arguing that we set aside the idea of passion and replace it with more useful guiding principles when we’re selecting career options.

One is curiosity. This, for me, is the guiding principle of career exploration. You don’t need to feel passionate about a career in order to research it further — you just need to be curious. Many otherwise useful career books will tell you that, with enough introspection, you will uncover the one true career for which you were meant.

That’s a lot of pressure, and introspection is only part of the picture (more on that in a later blog, though). When you’re generating career options, it’s enough to feel curious. The career explorer’s job is not to uncover one passion — while focusing on one career can bring a welcome relief from the ambiguity of the unknown future, it also means putting all of one’s eggs in one basket. The career explorer’s job is to identify a few options that might make good next steps for the near future, and then to see which of those options make the most sense.

The other guiding principle pertains to the decision to remain in or to leave a career path. Again, passion can be a false guide. We’ve set such high expectations for ourselves that, I think, many people make themselves unhappy with otherwise rewarding careers. If there is a career path that you’re passionate about, then wonderful — pursue it for all you’re worth.

If you haven’t stumbled upon passion yet, then it may be worth asking yourself different questions: Does my work feel useful? Is the impact that it makes satisfying to me?

I’ve worked with more than 1000 clients individually, and the ones who have felt their work is useful have seldom felt discontented — they have typically sought ways to do more of what already brings them satisfaction. The ones who feel their work is useless have typically sought change—with good reason.

My next few blog posts will focus on practical steps to take to identify and explore areas of curiosity. In the meantime, thanks to those of you who have emailed topics of interest — please, keep them coming!

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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