Opinion: Don’t Follow Your Passion, Follow Your Curiosity

Post written by guest blogger Ana Martins Ribeiro, Special Programs Coordinator in OITE.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from more than a year of teleworking and social distancing is that people are extremely versatile in adapting to new realities and finding innovative solutions. As the world slowly celebrates the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, our workforce is reluctant to the “return to normalcy” idea; in fact, people’s “new normal” seems to be seeking for new and creative opportunities for revamping their careers. “The Great Resignation” has reshaped the world of work and is here to stay.

If you’re considering new professional opportunities or a shift in your career, my advice to you is beware of unhelpful career advice. In my opinion, from all the myths that negatively influence someone’s pursuit for new career directions, the most detrimental to success is “follow your passion”. Here are a few things you should consider about this old cliché:

  • Most people don’t know what they’re passionate about: It is not always easy to point out what activities or ideas make our hearts beat faster, or how they can be tied to a career. Exposure to different realities is often what brings new and creative ideas! If you haven’t found your passion yet, don’t worry – take your time and keep an open mind.
  • We can be passionate about many things: People often have more than one specific interest. Thinking that you can only be passionate about one thing is simplistic; it makes you follow an idea of what energizes you and leaves no space for other possibly interesting avenues. When people believe they can find something more meaningful, they incorporate effort as a way to become better at it, and find creative ways to achieve it.
  • Passion comes after you try something: Don’t follow the career that your young self thought would make you the happiest. Instead, follow the opportunities that you think will help you learn the most professionally and about yourself, where you will willfully commit to developing your skills and naturally grow your passion over time.
  • Most passions don’t translate into careers: One student once told me “I am passionate about writing, but because it means so much to me, I don’t want it to become a job!”. Being passionate for something could mean that you don’t want to transform it into a commitment with daily responsibilities and demands. In fact, you may be passionate about something you haven’t developed skills for, or that you want to do for pleasure, not necessarily to master it. You can transform what you’re passionate about into a hobby instead of a profession.
  • Find out what you’re good at: Sometimes the thing we care the most about isn’t what we do best. This doesn’t mean you should give up on your dreams! It just means that you need to figure out how to transform that dream into a reality. Ask yourself what skills have helped you thrive in the past, what tasks make you feel energized and motivated, and what other people most complement about your work.
  • Passion is a consequence of effort: You develop your passion, you don’t follow it. It is often when you dedicate time and energy to something that you realize how much you enjoy doing it.
  • This advice reflects a ‘fixed mindset’: We are dynamic beings, constantly changing. If our interests and values change over time, chances are that what we see as our ‘mission’ changes too.A ‘growth mindset’ means thriving on challenge and growing from our existing abilities towards something we want to become.
  • Expectations and reality don’t always align: Finding a job that aligns with what we are passionate about is not always possible. In many cases, people apply for certain jobs because those are the only ones available or because it’s a way to pay the bills. If you feel “trapped” in your current job, focusing on your goals by working on developing transferable skills and acquiring experience in your current position will help you feel that you are actively working on your future.
  • It’s a message that comes from privilege: A significant part of our workforce makes career decisions based on their socioeconomic context and life history, and money (as well as cultural values) often shape our career choices. If that is your case, focus on what you consider valuable, and how your current job can be an opportunity for developing useful skills that will help you pursue other professional opportunities in the future.

It is not your passion that will drive your career success, but the joyous and creative exploration of what’s out there and how it aligns with your interests, skills, values, and personality. Passion is not some pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it comes from the desire to seek out new knowledge and information, and the subsequent joy of learning and growing.

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