Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it. - Buddha
Following your passion is terrible advice.
Do you have a good friend that left a great job to become an artist, life coach or perhaps, teach yoga in a quest to follow their passion? I know several. Sadly, many of them returned to their old careers after struggling to not only get their new career off the ground but discovering the thing they were passionate about wasn’t what they were good at or passionate about after making it their full-time job!
Then there is this whole issue of needing to actually earn a paycheck….
Not only is “follow you passion” bad advice, so are the well-trodden paths of following the money trail (pick the most in demand high paying jobs) or sticking to what you are good at (often reinforced since childhood).
The best way to find a job that doesn’t just become a mediocre career is to find a line of work that fulfills all these three dimensions appropriately well: Passion, Skill, Need.
What’s misleading is when people talk about just one (or two) of these dimensions being the key to success. They all matter. Overemphasizing any one of these will lead to frustration, anxiety and dejection over the long-term.
I think we should all strive to find a vocation that strikes at the intersection of these three attributes. If you aren’t in a job you enjoy, or perhaps are out of work entirely, this mental model will help you sort out the best next step for you.
What are you passionate about?
Passion is a strange term. If you have a hard time stomaching it, swap it out for “care, fascination or interest.”
While I don’t think you should follow your passion blindly, I also don’t think you should ignore it entirely. What you are passionate about is what you care about. It’s something that totally fascinates you. These are the genres you will lose yourself in when engaging in them.
You probably spend your free time, energy and money feeding your passions. What are yours?
When times get tough, and you are climbing the learning curve on the job, which type of work will you be more likely to push through on, work you care deeply about or work that you could care less about?
The answer here is obvious.
You should pay attention to the types of activities and jobs that hold your interest. If you struggle to come with anything you are particularly passionate about, don’t despair.
People tend to get more excited about things they are skilled at. When you are good at something, it gets recognized. With recognition (monetary or otherwise), passion will build. Therefore, pick a job you care about, even if the word “passionate” doesn’t quite describe your interested level!
Build the passion up over time.
What are you skilled at?
We all have different skills. For example, some of us are natural entrepreneurs that easily self-direct our time and naturally sell our stuff. Others need to work hard just to make offers to potential customers and stick to our deadlines. You might be great at problem solving and math, or you might prefer to create meaning through words instead of numbers.
What you are good at is a highly malleable thing. We typically find out our strengths early on in life, and those are rewarded (if we are lucky) through schooling and positive reinforcement and peer pressure.
Unfortunately, if our strengths never get uncovered, we need to discover and nurture them on our own. Great books, teachers, bosses and coaches are vital in helping us do exactly that.
If you are looking for a job right now, it’s important to have the self-awareness to identify the things are you skilled at today. While you can always build new skills in the future, your current ability is what will be most appealing to an employer right away.
What if you are good at a set of things you are no longer passionate about?
It’s time to build new skills! Good thing the internet exists. It’s easier than ever to learn new skills from world-class teachers and coaches for free or low-cost from anywhere. A hundred years ago, learning new skills was tough. Today, it just takes the desire to do so and some concentrated effort.
What does the market need?
There is a saying when it comes to the crazy dynamics you see around pricing, salaries and value exchange in the economy:
The market is the market is the market!
You might not agree with what the market is demanding, or how much the market values certain things over others, but this doesn’t make the reality any less real. Just look at the starting salaries for website developers compared with kindergarten teachers. I don’t think anyone will deny the vital importance of teaching our young children, yet, a 21-year-old web programmer can make triple the amount (with greater upside) of pay as a 25-year-old teacher with a master’s degree!
The market demands what it demands. There is a shortage of competent software engineers, driving salaries up.
If you want to ensure yourself a career that you enjoy and also pays the bills, don’t ignore the market! You may not need or want to make 6-figures a year, but you do need to make enough to provide for basic necessities.
Putting It All Together
How does all this come together to inform the ideal career for you?
To start, examine each of the parts of the equation:
- What are you passionate about?
- What are you skilled at?
- What does the market demand?
Find the jobs that fit at the intersection of all three attributes.
If you don’t like the answers you come up with, I have some good news for you. You can make up for a deficiency in any one area, through education, learning, experience on-the-job and connections to other people who can show you the right pathways to success or even help you outright.
What jobs(s) strike at the heart of passion, skill and need for you? Let me know in the comments.