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“Following Your Passions” May Not Be The Best Career Advice

career development

I am a firm believer that you should do what you love and love what you do in your career.

But a big part of that is identifying what I call your “DNA” – your Defined Natural Abilities – and finding career opportunities that FIT what you are good at and love, vs. setting your heart on a singular dream job and chasing it.

This thinking was reinforced in a recent study, covered in this article from The Atlantic.  Per the article, the experts doing the research suggest that passions aren’t found, but rather developed.

So, how did they find this information? What did they compare?

One is a “fixed theory of interests”—the idea that core interests are there from birth, just waiting to be discovered—and the other is a “growth theory,” the idea that interests are something anyone can cultivate over time.

The article does a great job of outlining some of the concerns with fixed theory of interests, specifically that they might overlook ways that other disciplines can intersect with their own.

The article quotes Greg Walton, a Stanford professor:

“If passions are things found fully formed, and your job is to look around the world for your passion—it’s a crazy thought,” Walton told me. “It doesn’t reflect the way I or my students experience school, where you go to a class and have a lecture or a conversation, and you think, That’s interesting. It’s through a process of investment and development that you develop an abiding passion in a field.”

Another reason not to buy into the fixed theory is that it can cause people to give up too easily. If something becomes difficult, it’s easy to assume that it simply must not have been your passion, after all. In one portion of this study, the students who thought interests were fixed were also less likely to think that pursuing a passion would be difficult at times. Instead, they thought it would provide “endless motivation.”

The article goes on to cite another study that reinforces the value of growth theory:

A different study done on adults’ views toward passions suggests that people who think passions are found tend to pick jobs that fit them well from the outset. They prioritize enjoyment over good pay. People who think passions are developed, meanwhile, prioritize other goals over immediate enjoyment at work, and they “grow to fit their vocations better over time,” the authors of that study write. “In conclusion,” they add, “people who have not found their perfect fit in a career can take heart—there is more than one way to attain passion for work.”

This is all very interesting information that really drives home the key takeaway of career development – finding joy, satisfaction and positive challenge in a career is an ongoing effort!