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What Should I Be When I Grow Up? 5 Tips For Uncovering Your Career Passion

Written by: Tracy Briggs
Published on: Oct 4, 2017

kids career pictures

Whether you’re working now or on the job market, chances are you have those days when you wonder if the career path you’ve chosen for yourself is truly where you should be headed. Growing up, we get advice from high school counselors, college career centers, and even Mom and Dad. Where is the greatest need? What pays well? What are you qualified to do? All of these practical questions are important, but true career satisfaction is much more basic.

You’ve heard the saying, “if you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life,” right? According to social scientists, the most successful and happy workers in America are those who say their work is a “calling” or a “passion.”

But what if you have no clue what you love or what your passion might be? “Finding” your passion has been a buzzworthy topic for a few years now.  But Dr.Cal Newport of Georgetown University said it’s more appropriate to learn how to “cultivate” it. That might mean looking inward to understand what you really enjoy and whether you can make a living from it. Or perhaps, developing a passion for your career while you work at it. You get invested in what you do for a living.

These five tips will help you uncover what your passion is and how you might make a living (and a life) from it.

  1. Focus on interests, not just qualifications. I once knew a woman who worked 9-5 in an insurance office. She’d watch the clock all day, only to go home and bake all night. Her co-workers loved the treats she’d bring. But one finally asked, “Why are you here? You hate it here.” She took their advice, quit her job and went to pastry school. After graduation she opened her own bakery and hasn’t watched the clock in years. Could this be you? Ask yourself, what can I not stop doing? How am I spending my free time? What do I do even when nobody pays me to do it? It might be that you can’t earn a living on your hobby. But you never know unless you look into it.
  2. Pay attention to others. Normally we’re told to pay attention to our inner voice and ignore what others say. “What others think of me is none of my business,” or so says the old adage. But other’s opinions can be of use in job searching.   What do friends think you do well? Are they constantly coming to you for advice on something whether it’s organizing school fundraisers or navigating social media? To some, you might already be an expert. If you happen to like what others say you do well, all the better. The baking insurance woman was glad she listened to her co-worker’s advice.
  3. Accept your leopard.  leopard can’t change its spots. either can you. Don’t get me wrong, in some areas, people can absolutely change. But you also need to accept who you are and what your true nature might be. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? You might envision an exhilarating career in sales, but the thought of meeting new people and making cold calls makes you sick to your stomach. Not to say it can’t be done and that you can’t overcome those limitations. But passion is more likely to come from your core self. Introverts will probably feel more job satisfaction in a career where they can work on their own and immerse themselves  in a project. Extroverts, on the other hand, will most likely thrive in careers that bring plenty of personal interaction.
  4. Can I see myself growing with this passion?– According to Gretchen Rubin’s  book The Happiness Project, one of the key indicators in personal happiness is when people believe they are experiencing growth. When individuals feel stagnant at home or at work, dissatisfaction rises. Improvement happens when they find a way to get “unstuck” and make progress. To avoid those pitfalls altogether, pay attention to what you feel drawn to do. If this is a career passion, can I grow with it or will I eventually stall?  This is where the notion of cultivating passion comes in. If you feel some sense of purpose in your current job, work with it. Can you develop a passion for your work? Immerse yourself in a project, or come up with ideas that you love. More than likely, your employer will appreciate the effort and you might have found the passion you sought.
  5. Am I making the world a better place? – Whoa! That’s deep. We’re not talking about achieving world peace here. But everyone can contribute in some way. If you feel you can look back from the rocking chair on your front porch and tell your grandchildren that what you did mattered, you’re in a good place. When people believe in what they do a career becomes a vocation – something you are called to do. You have found your place in the world and earned a paycheck while you’re doing it.

It’s easy to overthink our choices when pursuing or growing our careers.  We live in a practical world and many of us might never make a living doing what we love. Instead, we will get up, go to work, and if we’re lucky, as the years go by,  develop a passion for the work we do. If that’s you, or you’re one of the luckiest among us who can earn a living doing what you love, it’s important to never stop looking inward to define what makes you come alive.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.