Why it’s hard to find passion in your work and maintain it
“Follow you passion!” is the phrase that seems to be instilled in our subconscious when we think about careers or corporate culture, as a survey of Columbia MBA students showed, as over 90 percent of them listed “pursuing their passion” as an important objective when looking for new jobs.
Although it may seem disheartening, but only 20% of people say they are truly passionate about their work, according to a recent Survey of 3 thousand full-time US workers, across various industries and career levels. So if pursuing their passion is so important to people, why does attaining this goal seem so difficult? According to research done by Columbia University and others, many of us (if not most) don’t know really how to pursue our passion, and consequently fail when it comes to actually achieving it.
The research shows that there are three main ways to achieving this highly sought-after ambition and can be described as follows. Passion does not really have a clear, defining point of attainment; there is no black-and-white distinction of having passion for your work, or not having it. It is something that needs to be progressively developed, and not something that is necessarily ‘found’. Secondly, it is important to understand that achieving your passion is not necessarily synonymous with having fun – at least not all the time. Nor is finding your passion easy, as truly caring about what you do can often be challenging, which is part of the process. Last but not least, it is vital to recognize that passion can often distract and mislead us, therefore it is important to realize that passion has its limits and downsides, which must be also be acknowledged and understood.
The misconception that having passion for your work is something that just suddenly “happens” once you “find the right job” or “wait for the right moment” or even “once you attain that certain level in your career,” is actually very limiting. It misdirects focus onto tasks that may actually lead away from the very goal that we are trying to achieve. Also, believing that experiencing passion will happen once “that something” happens also leads to a snowball effect. Once we actually reach “that something” that we are waiting or looking for, we come to find that it didn’t help and we still have the same level of passion or less. This is something that will likely discourage us and prevent any action that will actually help develop passion for a job, such as honing our skills, improving confidence and building relationships.
To overcome this, one must disregard the belief that passion will be discovered around the corner and focus on exploring job tasks that bring out the feeling of passionate more than others, or simply ones that seem more interesting. Surround yourself, and listen to people who inspire you in your workplace; get to know them and what makes them feel passionate about their work. This might help you discover new activities and job aspects that will help you develop your own passions and help develop them, along with helping your coworkers to do the same. Don’t limit yourself to the workplace either; pursue things that you are passionate about outside the work environment.
There is another aspect to finding your passion and that is finding the distinction between enjoying what you do or having fun and actually caring about what you do. According to one study, which analysed every graduation speech that was given in the last decade at the top 100 universities and focused on advice about pursuing passion, the majority of the recommendations featured language like “focus on what you love”. Meanwhile, other graduates worded their advice as “focus on what you care about.” Although the difference may be subtle, it defines a fine line between the aforementioned distinctions. While focusing on what you love may lead to an enjoyment of your work, this is different from focusing on what you care about. The latter will lead to passion in your work as it aligns with your values and the impact you want to have on an industry or the world.
Another study underlines this aspect. By analyzing several hundred US workers, it was determined that those who believed passion was about doing that which brings joy, were less likely to find that passion and more likely to quit their job after only 9 months of working there, as opposed to the workers who believed that passion was about focusing on that which they cared about.
Finally, it is important to understand that being passionate about your work has its downsides and limitations. Displaying passion is often more effective and appropriate in some fields like sales or consulting, as opposed to others, like accounting. Studies show that passion is linked to success when the audience agrees that with the presented subject matter. For example being enthusiastic when presenting a new product or idea is a more appropriate that for instance, displaying passion during a presentation about a rising cost index in the third quarter.
Passion is not a panacea to success in the workplace and has its drawbacks. For example, a study at Columbia Business School found that passionate employees were more prone to being overconfident in their abilities. This may be a double-edged sword, as the trait can be helpful in some situations, for instance when convincing investors to fund a startup, but can be also be detrimental and lead to sub-par work results in the long-term. This can be attributed to the fact that overconfident, yet passionate employees are less likely to seek feedback or information that may be vital to the success of a project or business. On the flip-side, another series of studies showed that employees that were described as passionate were more prone to being exploited by coworkers and management, due to the fact that they appeared to be enjoying their work more than others. This exploitation manifested itself in the form of giving the passionate workers jobs that were seen as undesirable and more overtime than others.
All in all, having passion for your work is as challenging as it is paradoxical. Having passion may lead you to achieve your dreams and being content with your work as it can lead to achieving progress that aligns with your values. While at the same time, having passion may lead to undesirable work, stretching yourself too thin and even to burning out. Having passion is important to leaving the mark you want to leave on the world, but it is imperative to know how to get there and what to do once passion is achieved.