When you ask Millennials why they love the job that they do, they are likely to tell you that they are passionate about it. This is sometimes accompanied by a story of when they had a job that was miserable for them, and then they had a revelation that lead them to leave that terrible job and start their own underwater basket weaving co-op.
But overall, most people who are highly satisfied with their careers have more than just something that they are passionate about. They have autonomy, they feel competent, and they get along well with the people they work with.
And, most importantly, they have a job that supports the life that they want to live.
Just like a good life partner helps you become the person you want to be, so should your career. Love isn’t enough in relationships or in careers. It takes hard work and compatibility. That’s something you can commit to, and that’s a career that launches you out of bed each morning. No coffee-driven, inner motivational speeches required.
If you’re passionate about painting, but living with the uncertainty of your next paycheck would make you miserable, then you’re not going to thrive pursuing that career.
If you’re passionate about horses, but competing requires a high amount of travel that you just can’t stand, then then you probably shouldn’t pursue it as a career. No matter how much you love horses.
Like many people, I have many passions. And at one point in my life, I felt pressure to pursue each and every one of them or else be branded as a square. But what I found was that doing what I loved every day was often, surprisingly… miserable. Because no matter how much I loved something, it wasn’t enough to counter the glaring incompatibilities.
Here is my story about finding a career I could commit to, and therefore all the motivation I would ever need.
When I first started college, I was a classical violin performance major. I played in the pit orchestra for an opera company and taught children music lessons. I felt like I was brightening the world I lived in! I felt truly alive when I was playing a Dvorak quartet. However, the sedentary, isolated nature of that profession took its toll on my mental and physical health. I found it hard to achieve any resemblance of balance, and my anxiety skyrocketed. In order to make a living as a musician, I would need to book side gigs continuously and submerge myself for hours a day to achieve any level of mastery. I would be up late at night and be occupied most weekends performing.
While music was something I was passionate about, pursuing it as a career wouldn’t provide me with the life that I wanted to live.
When I completed my bachelor’s degree in anthropology, I was planning on going to graduate school and getting my PhD. What did I enjoy doing most of all, at this time? Reading and writing about anthropology, and especially doing my field work. I loved college and wanted to stay and continue to be inspired by learning. However, at the time I was newly married and wanting to start a family. I knew that completing a 12 year graduate program while also raising a child was going to be difficult. The people I knew who were doing academia successfully moved a lot to find work, and I wanted to stay near my family.
While academia was something I was passionate about, pursuing it as a career wouldn’t provide me with the life that I wanted to live.
I moved a short distance to the mountains to take a job as an outdoor educator at a state park. This was the job I dreamed of having as a child, as I spent hours outdoors identifying every tree I could find. I got paid to spend ten hours, four days per week hiking in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I loved helping to create the next generation of environmentalists. One day, I ended up in the emergency room with a bad case of dehydration. I always drink plenty of water, but (shameful secret revealed!) I’m kind of a wimp. I love being outside for leisure, but climbing 500 stairs carrying two, full trash bags the size of my entire body was not sustainable for me. The physical nature of the job was demanding, and it was more than I could keep up with, even at my peak health.
While environmental education was something I was passionate about, pursuing it as a career wouldn’t provide me with the life that I wanted to live.
Finally, I accepted a job (summer 2014) as a Student Support Specialist at Soomo Learning. I realized that what a lot of my previous jobs had in common was helping people. I committed to something that I never could have imagined ahead of time: a desk job! Because what I’m really committing to are the people that I help every day.
My job doesn’t sound romantic. I don’t appear brave or unique to outside observers. But with this job I can work the hours that work for my family, I have room to grow and learn, and I am compensated fairly. I have autonomy, great coworkers, and a comfy chair. I have lots of room to grow in any direction I choose. It is something sustainable for me, and something I am grateful for.
The first thing his book does is dispel the myth that passion is what makes people enjoy their jobs and feel motivated at work. He argues that most of the time, successful people end up doing something completely different than what they thought they would.
Most of us have many talents and interests. Most of us have barriers to doing one or more of those things for a living. Real life, the real world (and yes, even “The Man”) has an influence on what you end up doing for work…. and that’s ok.
The three elements of motivation (as listed in Pink’s book) are autonomy, competence, and relatedness. If you’re respected as an adult who can manage their own time, if you can reach a level of mastery with what you do, and if you feel connected to those around you (coworkers, the customers you impact, etc) then you’ll wake up each morning feeling energized and motivated.
In the past, I had jobs where I had all three of these things, but I was unhappy. In fact, a lot of people can achieve these three things in a variety of jobs, but still feel unmotivated.
What was missing?
Where your strengths and the real world meet, you need commitment to make something of it. And you can’t truly commit to something if it’s creating a life that is at odds with what you really need. Even if you love it.
The choice to abandon the career paths of music, anthropology, and education were not done so lightly. I still sometimes mourn the loss of those potential lives and the fact that I now have so much less time to pursue and enjoy those things. But when I think about the practical implications of each and where I would be if I had gone down those paths, I know that I’ve made the right choice. I made the choice I can commit to.
This work in support isn’t my “one true passion”; I have lots of those. But it’s something I enjoy heartily. I give 100% to this job, and I’m getting everything I need in return. And it turns out, having your needs met is highly motivating.
This post is a part of the Spring 2017 Support Driven Writing Challenge.