The passion debate

Passion-HuntingCal Newport did a TED talk a while ago stating that ‘follow your passion’ is bad career advice. It’s old news now but I only recently watched the video (click here to see it) and it’s definitely got me thinking.

I’d never have argued with anyone that following passion isn’t a good thing, yet at the same time I don’t feel like it’s advice I’ve been following too religiously. In the past I’ve talked about interests vs passions, and what I mean there is that I have many many passing interests that don’t last long at all, and I think it’s important to begin with some kind of lasting interest (which yes, I guess you could choose to define as a passion, but it’s all semantics really isn’t it).

Cal argues that as long as you choose something that’s interesting to you and looks like it will give you interesting options, that’s all you need for a remarkable life. He claims that excelling at rare and valuable skills in a specific area will lead to passion.. no wait, will lead to leverage so you can get the important things you’re looking for in life.

Now I get what Cal’s saying. You don’t have to start from some one true passion that you’ll have for the rest of your life. But I do think you need to start from somewhere solid.

enthusiasmIt seems like Cal’s talking about working hard at something to get to the point at which you can then incorporate your key values into what you’re doing. This seems a little back to front to me. Obviously this could be one way of making career decisions, but I don’t know that it’s guaranteed to work out – isn’t another way to start with your core values, rather than end with them?

In the video, Cal gives us an example of a writer who got really good at writing and ended up loving his work because he could later match it to his core values. Except who’s to say this man’s passion wasn’t always writing?! There was obviously more than a passing interest for him to edit the student paper and be compelled to get a job in journalism. And you need a certain level of skill and natural ability to be able to excel in any given area.

Despite all of this, I do believe that ‘pick something and work hard’ is great advice for an indecisive idealist like me. I’d just add a little more detail to the choosing stage to make the whole process a little easier – there’s nothing wrong with finding more meaning and tasks matching your values along the way to expertise.

I’d love to hear your views on Cal Newport’s ‘Passion Trap’ – what do you think is the best way to choose a career path to follow, and should we aim for specificity and expertise over all else?

The book everyone should read (instead of speaking to their school careers advisor)

At this point in my life, early twenties and finally figuring out the path I want to be on, I do feel more than a little frustrated that not once was my personality discussed in meetings with school, or even university, careers advisors. Conversations followed along the lines of “What are you good at [academically]? What do you like [right now]? Well in that case, logically, you should do ___.” In my view that’s just not good enough.

How about “Let’s work out your innate preferences, the things that you truly care about and what’s authentic for you. Then we’ll see if your subject choices and enjoyment of these subjects match up and work out the next step forward based on your own personal values.” We should be so lucky. But what’s so difficult about that?

Being a fan of both careers books and personality theory, the following read is the perfect combination. I’m a strong believer in needing to look much deeper than ‘skills’, ‘interests’ and ‘logic’ to find the right path, and this book does just that.

DowhatyouareFrom personality to profession

(Do what you are, by Tieger and Barron) 

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is essentially based on preferences – it doesn’t try to tell you what you’re good at or experienced in, only where your natural preferences are, and therefore your likely natural strengths.

The authors give a great explanation of MBTI before exploring each type in relation to careers. Each ‘type’ section describes real life examples of people sharing that ‘type’ who have fulfilling careers, before going on to pull out the common themes and suggest not just other careers to consider, but key factors to consider and rank, and even methods of job hunting that might be most effective.

I always like to hear people’s career stories, so unsurprisingly it was the examples that made this such an interesting read for me. Having done a lot of work on figuring out my own path, it was great to read about others doing work that I’d love to do.

The thing I find so fascinating is how different we all really are. While one person might love analysing data sat at a computer and hate the idea of spending time face to face with an individual discussing their problems, someone else might resent time spent putting together spreadsheets but feel passionate about supporting those with mental health issues. When talking about my ideal work, I often find myself saying ‘Yes, but who wouldn’t want to do that?!’ except the answer to that is, a heck of a lot of people!

Why people complain about their work… yet do nothing about it

A few years ago I bought my dad a place mat that read: ‘Hate your job? There’s a support group for that. It’s called Everyone and they meet at the pub.’ Nearly all of us complain about our jobs.

But what if people aren’t as unhappy with their jobs as they make out? What if they actually just enjoy a little moan? We need to let out our frustrations somehow to push through difficult times. I think a lot of people really like the stability and routine of a regular job – better the devil you know. Any change is in some sense a risk, a step into the unknown, and they say that we only make changes when the pain of not changing becomes greater than the discomfort of trying something new.

Nothing in life is perfect, but when we find deeper meaning in what we’re doing it makes it worth struggling through the difficult days. Cal Newport wrote about ‘the passion trap’. The idea that we should stop looking for our ‘passion’ and instead focus on getting really good at something. I’m not sure it’s quite this simple – I do believe there’s more than just one great job for everyone, but I don’t believe that anyone can become great at (and learn to love) just anything.

I want everyone to want the best for themselves, but I know I need to accept that the odd moan doesn’t mean someone’s in the wrong job and needs to look for something more meaningful and/or that better fits their strengths. It might just mean that they’ve had a bad day in a generally pretty alright job that overall they’re actually quite happy with.

POSTER-COMPLAINING-TW3While I might unintentionally pass judgement on people for staying put, they could just as easily judge me for my choices.

I guess I’d like to think I live by the saying: If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. If I’m moaning it’s because I’m unhappy and need to make a change, but maybe if some others are moaning it just means they can’t or don’t want to make a change and simply haven’t changed their attitude.

Everyone has their own reasons for being in the situation they’re in, just as I have my own reasons for being in the situation I’m in.  All I need to focus on right now is my own journey.

Coping with uncertainty

I wrote this blog a good few weeks ago now, but it’s sat in drafts until I’ve plucked up the courage to post it. Here goes.

So I said I was going to keep this impersonal until I was sorted. I’m not quite – actually I’m nowhere near – sorted but thought I’d share anyway, after all, it’s likely to be a long journey and this blog’s meant to be about me sharing my experiences, however uncomfortable they might be at times. And things are pretty uncomfortable right now.

I did resign from my job, 4ish weeks ago now. And I finished yesterday. I’m excited about the possibilities and opportunities, accepting of the fact I may well have to take an ‘it pays the bills’ job for a while, but also just a little bit terrified that I won’t be able to maintain my wavering levels of positivity. I still haven’t decided whether it was a ‘bad’ or ‘good’ choice, I have ups and downs, but that’s irrelevant now.

I left, two months earlier than planned, for a number of reasons:

  1. Waiting for another job first (the ‘sensible’ thing to do) would mean continuing to feel completely inauthentic, and even dishonest – I felt so much relief in simply telling my boss that I don’t want to be there and it’s not for me.
  2. I had a very honest conversation with my boss, which highlighted how misaligned the opportunities for growth at the company are with how I want to grow professionally and personally.
  3. While some people could say I made a rash and very much emotionally driven choice (I wouldn’t argue with you on the emotion front, but I do know it was from an authentic place), I want to be the person who takes risks, the person who is proactive and makes things happen.

I really struggled with this decision after I’d first made it. While some people lose their jobs, are made redundant, and face difficult circumstances that are completely out of their hands, I actively made this choice. This was all down to me – there’s nowhere to hide.

And in that moment I had a choice to make. To depair, to cry, to beg to keep my job after all, to grab the first menial job I could get my hands on, to explain my decision to others warily and with doubt. Or to embrace that choice. To share it with enthusiasm and happiness, to remain calm in the knowledge I have enough savings to give me time to work this out, to keep smiling, keep meeting people, to stay positive.

If I could go back to that day I spoke to my boss, would I change the conversation? Would I hold back? Would I let logic and expectation and ‘sensible’ hold me back? Or would I hold on to my authenticity, my self-respect and faith that I can make this work?

So what can I share from this experience? Well here’s how I’ve stayed positive despite overwhelming uncertainty:

  • Great quotes and inspirational TED talks. My personal favourite is Steve Jobs’ commencement speech, and I continue to read some of these quotes every single day. But a new quote I’m particularly fond of is: Above all, be true to yourself, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it. – Hardy D Jackson.
  • Music. I never used to listen to music at work. An office culture of headphones and skype/email conversations with colleagues is my idea of hell, but knowing I was leaving I gave up trying to fight it. For my last weeks of repetitive routine tasks, I used music as a distraction and focus to get me through. And it did a pretty good job.
  • Meeting people. During this period of uncertainty there have been times when I’ve felt like I couldn’t face anyone for fear of disapproval. But instead of sitting at home in despair (as I might well have done in similar situations in the past), I’ve dragged myself out. I’ve spent time with friends, family, complete strangers, recent acquaintances. And I’ve been open and enthusiastic with as many of these as I feel I can. I’ve found that most of the time, if you speak with enthusiasm and conviction, that’s exactly what people around you will reflect back. How great is that?

positivity-text

2.5 to 3 years

3yearscakeThis is the amount of time a number of people I know have been in the same job for. One of them enjoys their job so this is pretty good for her, but a few of the others say they have good days when it all seems just about ok and bad days when they just want to quit. But it’s comfortable, it’s easy, it’s money. So they struggle through the bad times and stay put. You should just be lucky to have a job and appreciate what you’ve got right?

Wrong. Let’s look at some great advice from Paul Angone (hope he doesn’t mind me paraphrasing):

The most dangerous job you can have in your 20s is a comfortable one. Comfortable is quicksand – the job you never wanted becoming the job you can’t escape. There is a stark cost for time wasted on comfortable: you don’t learn; you don’t refine who you are or what you’re capable of; remove challenges, remove growth.

You feel drained by doing nothing (mushy mind syndrome – you can spread one hour’s work over eight). Like a carousel ride that nevers stops spinning. Jump and roll. “We want to promote you” is the phrase you fear most. Quit comfortable before it’s too late.

I’ve jumped off the carousel and I’m rolling right about now. I’ve written a post explaining my current situation, but I still haven’t worked out whether I’m up to publishing it yet.

  • I won’t let myself become the person who’s been in a mediocre, non-challenging job for over a year.
  • I won’t let myself be the person who’s afraid of taking a risk and making their 20s count.
  • I won’t be the person who just sits back and lets life happen.

I’m often told finding the right work for you is just as much about luck and accidents as planning. But we make our own luck by meeting new people, trying new things out and taking risks, not by staying in the same place with the same people while our minds go mushy.

It pays the bills vs wrong path

traffic_lights_mist

So the plan is to keep this blog pretty impersonal until I’m fully back on track (VERY long story – if you were unlucky enough to spot my emotional rant that was up for about half a day a few weeks ago then I sincerely apologise, no-one wanted or needed to see that). But I do want to keep up blogging.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between an ‘it pays the bills’ job and a ‘wrong career path’ job… is there a difference? These could both be classed as the same thing, but I’d argue there are subtle but important differences.

greenlightLet’s start off by looking at the Right Career Path Job:

You’re on track, in a role that sort of feels in line with where you want to be heading. It’s not necessarily ideal, but you’re not worried about it messing up your CV or making it difficult to get your next relevant job. You’re building the right skills and contacts to get where you want to be.

redlightSo now we come on to the Wrong Career Path Job:

A right career path job can easily slide into a wrong career path job. As we start to realise what it is we really care about and what we’re really passionate about, as opposed to the things we have a passing interest for, we can begin to feel like we’re not actually building the skills and contacts we want to be building after all.

amberlightWhich leads to the It Pays the Bills Job:

Now temporarily and purposefully I don’t have the slightest problem with it pays the bills jobs. With an it pays the bills job you know exactly why you’re doing it – to pay the bills. That’s it’s aim and you carry on doing it while it’s achieving that aim. If it goes above this, say you learn some new skills or meet some new people, then that’s great, but if not, well that wasn’t really the intention of the position anyway.

I think the problem comes when either your right career path job or your it pays the bills job slides into wrong career path territory. Then you’re making a choice. An it pays the bills job is temporary. A wrong career path job could turn out to be much more permanent. And you don’t want that. Don’t settle for that.

Staying focussed

And now another little book review…

The quest for fulfilling work

fulfillingworkbook(How to find fulfilling work, by Roman Krznaric)

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labour and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both. – François-René de Chateaubriand, French writer

Love this quote. This is exactly what I’m aiming for in life.

I appreciate it’s a pretty hefty goal, but one that I think’s worth working towards.

This might not be a life changing book, but there are some good little lessons in it. The conclusion talks about growing a vocation, rather than finding one. Roman says that the three key factors for fulfilling work are:

  1. Meaning – to be fulfilling your work has to have meaning for you, you have to believe in what you’re doing every day
  2. Flow – that state where you’re so engrossed in your work that time just flies by. It’s never going to feel that easy all day every day, but a bit of flow during parts of your work is definitely important
  3. Freedom – no-one wants to feel boxed in by rules and routine, there’s got to be some flexibility

Roman goes on to say that the way to find a career that fulfills the above three factors is to carry out:

  • Branching projects – like writing a blog alongside your day job, freelancing on the side or starting a small scale business that you run evenings and weekends
  • Conversational research – a personal favourite technique (if you ever meet me you can guarantee I’ll be asking for your full career history and the pros and cons of every job you’ve ever had!)
  • Radical sabbatical – I particularly like this last one, but it is difficult to put into action for most people. Going part time while carrying out work experience/ shadowing/ informational interviews/ voluntary work could be the most plausible path

There are great fulfilling jobs out there, it just takes a bit of experimentation to find them.