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?

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.

Failure (and when to quit)

Quitting isn’t always failing. There are times when it really is the right and best thing to do. Working out whether the choice to quit is a logically or authentically good or bad one is the difficult part.

Scott Dinsmore, founder of Live Your Legend, created the Should I Quit My Job quiz. It’s great to get you thinking about your work and what it is (or isn’t) doing for you. My result was 105/130, but of course I knew it would be high, I’ve already quit.

Last week I went to watch a day of TEDx talks on the topic of failure. I learnt how government drug policies fail young people, how war is a failure of humanity caused by leaders who aren’t prepared to fail themselves, how universities are failing to teach medical students the importance of openly talking about their failures, how we’re failing by valuing protection over connection in our relationships.

Success-consists-ofBut I also learnt how we should embrace failure, share failure, open ourselves to the world of rejection, practice failing, and that failure is a sign that we’ve surpassed ourselves, that it’s just a process we go through to get to where we want to be, that we should just learn to fail a bit better next time around.

We’re taught that making mistakes is bad, that we should never make poor decisions, that we must always strive to get things right. Except that’s not teaching us resilience. That’s not teaching us how to learn and move forward. You’ve got to build failure into your plans, because it’s going to happen. You show up and you make your own choices, but you can’t control anything else, failure is just experience.

So I want to leave you with a little technique for accepting failure and moving on, something to help us fail fast and learn quick: The Failure Bow: Matt Smith at TEDx

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.