What does it even mean to say people should “follow their passion” to find the work that suits them? I don’t know what passion means in that context, and I bet you don’t either. What you’re really imagining when you talk about wanting a great career isn’t so much passion as engagement.
Of course you want to be engaged in what you are doing every day. Engagement lies at the heart of your work, where it is either presently lacking. Most research on what makes people happy at work finds that engagement is the key. Passion doesn’t even factor, probably because no one, including researchers, has any idea what it is.
In the book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about a pinnacle of engagement, the state of flow, where we are so completely engaged that we lose track of the world around us and even our sense of time. Flow isn’t passion, it’s proficiency. We do work to become engaged, and that is practice that enables us eventually to completely lose ourselves in our work.
Workplace engagement also has nothing to do with prestige. Bigger careers don’t make people happier. What matters more is having control over your time, and feeling like you are helping people or making them happy.
Sonja Lyubomirsky finds that janitors are incredibly happy at work, because they manage their own time and see every day how their work makes people’s lives better.
Entrepreneurs are happy because they control their time and they are engaged in solving problems for customers. Lawyers, on the other hand, are overall the most miserable: their time is dictated by clients, and these are clients who, no matter how good the lawyer is, are angry that they had to hire a lawyer at all.
You should find Lyuobomirsky’s research liberating because she is saying that more simple accomplishments make us happier than imposing, complicated careers.
Of course, her effect on me was to show me for once and for all that I have no hope of ever being happy, because I can’t resist life’s complications. I actually revel in them. But I still have hope for engagement, which is what she’s really talking about.
Instead of saying that you want to do something you’re passionate about, you should focus on finding work that is right for you. Rather than passion, you should look for fulfillment, and a good fit.
You probably never learned how to figure out what that is. Schools teach children to subjugate their own interests so that they can learn what we tell them is important and then pass required tests on it.
We take away their ability to find what engages them. Then we wait until they’re adults to tell them to go do what they are “passionate” about. But there’s no way for them to know what that is. That’s why I started homeschooling my kids.
You can help kids find their engagement by letting them play unlimited video games, because these are challenging and social and let them construct their own narratives. But as an adult, forget video games. You need to focus on learning about yourself more directly. And for that you need Myers Briggs.
Myers Briggs is a personality test. Here is the link to a fast, free Myers Briggs test. Go take it.
You’ll find out that you’re one of sixteen possible personality types. Only a couple of these are the personality type of a Mother Teresa or an Aung San Suu Kyi – people who are just made to help others.
Probably your personality type demands stability. Maybe you need isolation. Maybe you need a high degree of control over your environment. Any of those things will mean you need a very different kind of work.
Maybe you’re an ISTP. Then you need to use your hands to make things. Or, if you’re an ENTJ, you are a natural leader. As an INTJ you will lose it if don’t accomplish something every day, but as an INFP you will come unglued if you do have to accomplish something every day.
It’s actually simple. Once you know your personality type, you will know the kinds of work you’re innately suited for. So what if it is not the kind of work your parents expected when they sent you to college? Who cares if your spouse (or even you) don’t think this work fits with the idea you had of who you are? If the work meets the core needs of your personality, it will be fulfilling. You will be engaged.
If you decide to ignore your personality, and instead go after prestige or expectations that are a bad fit for you, you will always feel like there is something missing in your career. Something will always be off.
So discover your personality type. Find out what work will fit with who you truly are. Find that work. If you can control your time and see the good you are doing for people, you will feel engaged. And then you can finally stop worrying about passion.