On my career psychology blog I wrote about Ken Robinson’s excellent video about finding and connecting with your passion. I love this talk, and his book ‘The Element’, but I think there are a number of problems with his viewpoint from the perspective of finding one’s passion at work.
Your passion does not always translate into a career.
As Seth Godin once argued, some things are best left as hobbies. For example, my early talent was in sport, but I could never make it professionally and turning that passion into something sport-related is not going to meet the other criteria I have for a job. A passion is one element of many that needs to be considered.
Passion is learned
It’s rare for us to have a truly natural, God-given talent or passion. More often, the things for which we have a ‘natural’ capacity are in fact learned. If they are learned, then unless we have already learned them we will not know what they are. Therefore, searching for your passions is misleading – we should be creating passion.
Passion is contextual
The things we love are loved for many different reasons, and for those in difficult jobs the things they love are loved because they are a release from their troubles. Very often, ‘what we love’ is simple behavioural reinforcement of the relief we experience when not working. That’s why so many of us want to run B&Bs or cafes.
The flipside of what we really value is what we really fear.
For example if I value counselling people, I will fear the consequences of failing to help them. Following a passion often comes with higher states of anxiety and fear. In my experience it can also come with higher states of uncertainty. ‘Is this really my passion’?
Exploring passion is a fantastic exercise. But if we cling too rigidly to the idea of passion, then we risk getting stuck right where we are.
What’s the answer?
We need to hold all thoughts – what we love, what we’re like, what we need to do to succeed – lightly. Thoughts can help us and imprison us. Far better to focus on identifying broad, valued directions to move towards, and developing a willingness to keep moving towards these.
Following your passion means bargaining with life that you must or should feel passionate about something. When we subsequently do not feel passionate about something we conclude we have lost our way. In contrast, following our values is a moment to moment choice, that is available to us all right now.