Do you feel hurt or annoyed when you’re told to follow your passion? If so, you’re not alone. According to Bill Burnett, the Executive Director of Programs at Stanford and co-author of Designing Your Life, most people don’t have any idea of what they’re passionate about—so this advice is not only useless but also painful.
In addition to Burnett’s observation, I would add that if your last job was your passion, chances are slim that you have a second passion to pull out of your pocket for your next career.
I followed my passion when I was 34, joining the circus as a flying trapeze artist. It was my dream job, but it couldn’t last forever. My literal leap of faith (which I’ve now performed about 3,500 times) resulted in a magical, seven-year career that brought me to 40+ cities across Japan, Germany, and the United States. Sadly, my tryst came crashing to an end when my shoulder busted and work stopped loving me back.
Forced to move on, I thought I was left hopelessly searching for a passionless encore career.
For two years, I edited resumes to make ends meet. Then, I took an opportunity to coach people on job interview skills. The limited company training propelled me toward further exploration—which then turned into an obsession. I suddenly found myself discussing this “meh” job with unbridled enthusiasm. I started taking courses to develop adjacent skills. I looked forward to each workday. I surely hadn’t followed my passion this time, but, suddenly, it appeared.
You don’t need to follow your passion; you need to create one.
Instead of following your passion, you can create one by following a roadmap. This map will help you select a job that interests you. You’ll be able to create your passion within it. From my experience as a career coach and avid career changer, I’ve discovered that “follow your passion” thinking often leads to heartache. The good news is you can skip that sensation by accepting two things: that loving your job doesn’t mean it will unconditionally love you back, and at some—or many—points in your career, you’ll need to change jobs.
Whether you approach this transition with flexibility and a sense of adventure, or trepidation and a feeling of dread, has everything to do with which way you create and follow your roadmap.
If you feel lost while attempting to follow your passion, try out these four simple directions to create your passion instead.
When people say, “Follow your passion,” thank them and move on. These people have good intentions and bad advice. Instead, uncover hidden treasures in what you already do and engage in new activities that interest you. You never know where they’ll lead.
Make a table with four categories: activities, enjoyment, skill, and total.
The activities category should list everything you’ve done in your career. Use your resume to jog your memory, and don’t filter this category—just write down every activity.
Under enjoyment, rank each activity from 1 (stick a fork in my eye) to 10 (I prefer this to lounging on the beach).
Under skill, rank each activity from 1 (don’t let me near this) to 10 (the news is calling for your expert opinion).
Add your enjoyment and skill scores in the total category.
If you’re using a spreadsheet, sort the table for the Total category in descending order from largest to smallest. Highlight the 8 to 12 activities that have the top scores.
Look for paid or volunteer work that speaks to your top activities as well as anything new you’d like to try out. Volunteer with a cool organization in a role that can help you build your network and explore your skills. Shadow someone with a compelling job. Take an internship with a company that makes something you’re interested in. Whatever floats your boat.
Just try something. If you fail, that’s okay. Take the lessons you learned with you as you try again.
This roadmap has many byways to connect you with different routes if the first one doesn’t suit you. Lean forward. Take a step. Turn left or right. Take another. The goal isn’t to arrive somewhere; it’s to find enjoyment—or learn something, at the very least—in each step.
By dedicating yourself to this process, you’ll build such positive momentum that this “fail forward” mindset will become part of who you are. You’ll realize that losing your job doesn’t mean foregoing passion. Instead, it’s an opportunity to create your next love affair.
Honor the immutable fact that passion can be created. You’ll repeatedly find yourself in a job you love if you approach each career transition with time, perseverance, and a bias to action.
Kyla Duffy is an honest, bold, and invested career advisor and writer with a master’s degree in Human Resources and experience helping 4,000+ job-seekers achieve their goals. Having lived a life less ordinary, Kyla’s sense of humor, optimism, and worldliness permeates her interactions and publications. Her main squeeze is helping clients overcome barriers and see themselves in a new light. Get help finding your way at https://kyladuffy.com.