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?

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Does anyone have the answer?

keeplookingupI went to a careers workshop last weekend. It was a cheap informal event so I thought it might be a good chance to confirm my current career plans – and it did. My problem right now? Taking action.

Eight others were at the workshop, and most of them were close to twice my age yet are still struggling with finding purpose and meaning in their work. This worries me. Chatting to them they’d had varied career paths, and the lady leading the workshop had been an occupational therapist before moving into careers (and yoga). I love hearing people’s stories. Especially when they don’t make much logical sense and involve a bit of experimentation and risk-taking. They’re the best kinds of stories and the sort I’m trying to write for myself. But one story stood out to me. It’s a story I don’t want for myself.

Meet Tess. Aged 40ish. After leaving uni she temped, volunteered, travelled, trained as a teacher, realised this wasn’t for her, worked in a book shop, and now works as a teaching and library assistant in a school. She tells me she lies on application forms because her work experience is too bitty, and I’m guessing she missed lots out while speaking to me. She wants to travel and write alongside her day job but isn’t sure how to fund this. Money is a big issue for her.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this – Tess knows what she likes and just needs to work out the practicalities of making it happen. So why do I desperately not want a similar story in 20 years’ time? I don’t want a lack of money to prevent me from following my dreams and finding my meaning and purpose.

Let me introduce you to Kate, who I met a few months ago. In her 30s. After uni she did lots of temporary jobs, spent a year in Australia, taught English for a bit, and generally has a pretty chaotic CV like Tess. Kate is doing what she wants to be doing – experimenting. She’s created a website and is currently doing an illustration course. She knows she’s lucky. Her dad was an entrepreneur and she’s always had money – she currently rents out properties for an income.

There are two key differences that I can see between these stories. Kate doesn’t have to worry about money, Tess does, yet also, and I think more importantly, Kate isn’t ashamed of her rambling career path, whereas Tess seems to be less proud of her path. Is it about the money? I hope not. Anyone can save up and keep an eye on their spending, and Kate agrees we can live on much less income than we think we need.

smileworldI think it’s really all about the attitude. When Kate told me her life story she went into great detail, trying not to miss anything out, talking about where she’d worked and who she’d met along the way. The voluntary work she’s done and wants to do more of, the classes she goes to in the evenings. She isn’t ashamed of her lack of a career path. Tess on the other hand skimmed through what she sees as the most important things she’s done, brushing over everything else and seemingly viewing her unconventional path with much less pride and much more negativity.

Maybe there is no answer in the search for success. Maybe you just have to enjoy the journey.

Location, location, location

perfect-officeLocation has been a pretty big issue for me since finishing uni.

I loved my university town, not too big, not too small, close to the countryside and the sea, everything within walking distance and easy to travel anywhere by train. I’d have happily stayed had I felt in a position to. But with no job and huge uncertainty about the future, it seemed like madness to start renting there and force myself to find a part time job. I wanted the time and space to find the right job. Though I’ve since learnt there really is no ‘right’ job.

I moved back in with my mum. I don’t dislike my home town, it’s by the sea, it’s familiar and it wasn’t a bad place to be, just it’s a little too small, a little too close to the big city, and there’s no longer much there for me other than my family. I moved out once I had some money coming in and this was definitely a good choice – despite initially feeling little connection to my current city, as I get to know it and meet a few people it’s actually seeming like quite a nice place to be, at least for the time being.

I don’t feel quite ready to settle somewhere yet. I haven’t done the travelling/exploring thing, and I’d quite like to. Maybe then I could decide where I’d like to call home.

Rebecca’s post at Working Self really hit a chord with me, and then shortly after I came across Katie’s post at Ask the Young Professional offering similar advice. Both say the same thing: if you have just one true thing to hold on to, make it happen. If you know where you want to live, live there. And I think this applies to things other than location too.

If there’s something you find you keep coming back to, a dream that just won’t go away, no matter how hard you try to find an alternative to following it, then maybe that’s your one true thing to hold on to. Maybe that’s the thing you need to make happen. And it could just be that once you’ve made it happen everything else begins to fall into place too.

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

The truth about choices

everythingisgoingtobejustfineI did a mini-series on decision making a while ago and came across varying opinions on what it takes to be a good decision maker. Except I’m not sure that I truly fully support the conclusions I came to at that time.

My main issue is the distinction between rational logic and ‘irrational’ emotions. Because all irrational means is without logic, yet it’s often construed as really negative. One definition of irrational is ‘Without normal mental clarity or sound judgement’, but where does authenticity fit in with this? Can you make an irrational choice that at the same time comes with emotional clarity and authentic judgement?

Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal did a TED talk titled How to make stress you friend, and right at the end she said:

Chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort. That’s the best way to make decisions. Go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.

So maybe logic, aka stress avoidance in this context, isn’t always the answer. Because doesn’t chasing meaning mean being authentic and true to yourself and your deeper values and emotions?

And I guess this also comes back to the question of whether you can have both happiness and meaning. If striving for meaning creates stress, then maybe the choice we need to make is whether we allow this stress to make us unhappy.

If we choose meaning and authenticity and embrace the stress, the discomfort, the uncertainty, then surely this is the only way to find true fulfillment and happiness?