Do you ever feel like your work life could be more rewarding?
I mean, it’s paying the bills, and you’re grateful to have it. And it’s certainly not the worst job in the world.
Like many of us, you probably have good days and bad days, but when all is said and done, there is still something missing.
The truth is the problem isn’t with the job. And it’s not even with the type of work.
The problem is where you’ve been looking for rewards.
American novelist Charles Bukowski famously said: “My dear, find what you love and let it kill you.”
Which, by the way, is terrible advice.
Don’t follow your passion blindly until it kills you. The saying should be: “Find what you love and let it fuel you.”
Why you’ve been chasing fool’s gold
Let’s get something clear.
You don’t work just for money, you work for gold.
More specifically, you work for psychological gold.
What I mean is that what you want to get out of your work is a fulfilling experience. The only reason anyone ever wants to profit is so they can have mental wealth in their life.
Part of it is the stability that comes with consistent income; being able to put food on the table, pay medical bills, go on holiday every year. But a lot of it is also the other feelings that come with the job.
“There’s a well-known gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps who explains to his young Marines when they complain about pay, that they get two kinds of salary – a financial salary and a psychological salary. The financial salary is indeed meager. But the psychological salary? Pride, honor, integrity, the chance to part of a corps with a history of service, valor, glory; to have friends who would sacrifice their lives for you, as you would for them – and to know that you remain a part of this brotherhood as long as you live. How much is that worth?” – Steven Pressfield, The Warrior Ethos
You have a psychological salary that is far more important than your financial one. The psychological salary is your experience. But even figuring out what that is can be difficult. And I expect that most of the advice you’ve had is flawed.
We’re all mining our own minds for this gold. But while some signs point to where we might find it, they don’t always lead us in the right direction.
And the one bit of advice that we’ve heard over and over in the last 20 years…
Follow your Passion!
We hear it all the time.
I like to call it The Passion Fallacy.
It goes a little something like this:
Figure out what you are passionate about. Find a career that allows you to pursue whatever the thing is. Follow that career path. Make money, kick ass, live happily ever after, etc., etc.
Unfortunately, it’s not that straightforward.
Passion is just one ingredient that will lead you to a fulfilling work life. And it’s also somewhat misleading.
As we’ll see, there are a number of reasons that following your passion can be a problem:
Passion means different things to different people
To some people, passion may mean “pursuing an area in which you are most interested in the content of the work.” To others, it may mean “the feeling that gets you up in the morning”, or “the idea that occupies most of your mental time.”
These can all be very different things. What gets you up in the morning may be playing basketball, but most of us can’t play in the NBA.
The idea that occupies most of your mental time may be writing horror novels, but most of us aren’t Steven King.
Follow your passion is inherently confusing because of this incongruence. And now, because the phrase has been so overused in recent years, it’s loaded with preconceptions.
All of this makes ‘following your passion’ very limiting when it comes to work opportunities and living out your dream.
Many of us don’t have a tangible passion
If we look at the definition of passion as a strong emotion, what we realize is that a lot of us just don’t have a solid and well-defined passion.
You might be most passionate about socializing with your friends or board games or listening to classical music – but how are you going to turn that into a profession?
What you’re passionate about one day, you may not be passionate about the next.
Typically people are not chasing things; they’re chasing feelings.
Because the nature of feelings is so transient, it’s inevitable that they’ll change over time. Creating a work-life around a passion is therefore financially unstable as that passion will change and you may decide you no longer want to do it as work.
Seeking your passion can make you depressed
Passion is like happiness. The more time you spend seeking it, the more depressed you’ll be when you don’t spend every minute of your day experiencing it.
…which leads us to a hugely important point:
Passion is unsustainable
Passion is a strong emotion, and the nature of emotions means that they’ll ebb and flow and rise and fall. To expect to be fuelled by passion alone is not only unrealistic, it’s pretty damn irresponsible.
You need to find a way to get rewards from your work irrespective of your emotional state.
Likewise, if you don’t know the job first hand you may be confusing the idea with the real-world experience.
It may be obvious to hear aloud, but many people overlook the fact that to be passionate about a job you need to have experienced it!
A lot of people can be passionate about the idea of being an actor; far fewer are passionate about the actual day-to-day grind.
We don’t always want our hobby to become our job
Sometimes the best thing about our hobby is the inherent lack of structure, responsibility, and need to achieve specific goals.
We can pick it up and put it down when we want; we don’t have the stress of having it be related to money; it’s not being judged by other people, and we don’t feel like we have to do it every day.
Turning a passionate hobby into a job may just take the passion out of the hobby!
And most important of all:
What if your passion doesn’t pay (or is really expensive)
Want to know one hobby I’m really passionate about?
And no, I don’t want to become a scuba diving instructor.
What I like about scuba diving is the tranquility. Being relaxed underwater without other people around, not having to think about anything apart from what is right in front of you. I also enjoy the diversity of the dives, the different countries, reefs, fish, and coral.
I can’t think of anything that would put out the fire I have for scuba diving more than if I had to take groups of (often nervous) people to the same dive sites over and over again.
I like that I can only do it a couple of times a year and how it gives me something to look forward to.
Reverse engineering the Passion Fallacy
There is a way to be passionate about your work, and it’s not by following your passions.
It’s by creating them.
Have you ever met someone you’d call a passionate person? They just seem to be enthusiastic about everything they do? They probably looked to be pretty talented as well.
This isn’t a coincidence, what these people do is pretty simple:
They grow new passions.
“Follow your passion is a nice slogan, but we need more than slogans; we need systems, supported by evidence, that actually work.” – Cal Newport
So here’s what I propose:
If you want to be passionate, don’t make your passion into a job. Instead, create a lifestyle that you can passionately engage with.
Here’s an alternative four-step roadmap towards fulfillment in your life.
Decide on a lifestyle that will make you happy
This is important; most people never ask the question to themselves, although really it should be the first one you ask.
Unfortunately answering this question requires a level a self-awareness that most people don’t have. It’s not uncommon for many of us to never know what makes us happy.
For example, consider these questions.
What time of day do you want to do the majority of your work?
Do you want to be sitting, standing or moving?
How much money do you need to support your lifestyle and your hobbies?
You love to surf more than anything in the world. And you want a lifestyle that allows you to go to the beach at least once a day, preferably in the morning.
In this case, surfing is your Psychological Gold!
Choose a job that supports the lifestyle
Depending on what part of the world you’re in, a yoga instructor may make less than an IT specialist. But if your personal goal is to spend less than four hours a day sitting, you’ll be better off teaching in a yoga studio than being hunched over a desk.
Though banking may not be your passion, you see that a small surf town near your city is growing quickly, banks are increasing their number of branches, and they’re hiring. This job would allow you to go to the beach once or even twice a day.
Cultivate a skill that will bring you success in the job
Again, this is pretty straightforward. Once you determine the job you want, you need to figure out what skill is going to bring you success and help you to support that lifestyle.
You’ve always been pretty good with people, so you decide to learn the ins and outs of professional networking and apply for an Account Manager position.
Leverage this skill to create the lifestyle you want
When you find the lifestyle you want and are fortunate enough to be in a position to live it, you’ll find you’ll have far more motivation and energy than you’ve had before. You’ll naturally develop a more positive attitude towards your work and begin to see it as an active challenge, rather than a drain on your wellbeing.
You land the job and are able to work from 9 to 5 while surfing once or twice a day.
The first step in creating a lifestyle that gives you energy and vitality is to truly understand what kind of life you want.
It requires a level of self-awareness and introspection that you may not be accustomed to yet, or that you’ve felt you’ve had little time to engage in recently.
Take a little time to cultivate this skill, and you’ll soon figure out what sort of lifestyle is going to make you feel good.
What’s your Psychological Gold? Let us know in the comments!