You do not need to have a life full of passion. What is that life, anyway?
You probably don’t even know what passion is. But if you really thought about what you were aiming for when you talk about passion and careers, eventually you’d get to the idea of engagement.
This is not a controversial thought: that you would want to be engaged in your work. Engagement is one of the most important aspects of your worklife. Almost every study about what makes people happy at work comes down to engagement.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the book Flow, transformed the idea of work passion to be the idea of engagement. The work we do leading up to engagement is just practice time until we are so proficient at what we’re doing that we enter the state of flow, which is such a high level of engagement that we don’t even notice time passing.
Getting to the state of flow requires years and years of practice at a single thing so that work is so much a part of us that we can get to the high level of flow. (As I write this post, I think to myself that I should be there with writing, and I can get there sometimes, but then every time I think, “Am I there?” and I stumble. So part of flow is not thinking.)
Sonja Lyubomirsky talks about workplace engagement as a result of having control over one’s time and being able to make people feel good. Janitors, she finds, are happiest at work because they can control their workday and they can see immediately how they are helping people. Lawyers, by contrast, are the most universally unhappy, because they have little control over their hours and they are generally dealing with people who hate that they have to hire a lawyer, whatever the lawyer is doing.
Lyubomirsky’s research is freeing because she finds that happiness comes from the most simple lives, rather than the lives with big, complicated, impressive careers. (You can read her book, The How of Happiness to find out why I realized that it’s hopeless for me to be happy—I relish the complications of life too much. But there’s still hope for me in the engagement arena.)
When you say you want to do something you’re passionate about, you really mean, when you think about it, that you want to do something that is right for you. Something that is fulfilling and feels like the thing you should be doing with your life.
Ironically, you can prepare kids for this adult-life hurdle by letting them play unlimited video games. Because video games are engaging, challenging, and social. This is why I took my kids out of school. So they could learn how to find their own paths to engagement.
However schools train kids to subdue their own drive in order to pass required tests. Then we toss those kids into the adult world and tell them to do what they are passionate about. So you need to bridge the gap between what you learn in school to pass tests and what you need to learn about yourself to have a good adult life. This comes down to Myers Briggs.
So here’s the link to a fast, free Myers Briggs test.
So go take the test. You will be one of sixteen personality types. Only two or three types of personalities are made for saving starving babies in Sudan, and rescuing crime victims from chains in dark basements. Most people would be psychologically destroyed doing that kind of work. Most of us need stability and order and predictability in our lives. Some of us need to control other people. Some of us need to be alone all the time. All of these types of people should not be doing that traditionally meaningful, passion-filled work of saving lives.
You will find, after discovering your personality type, that you are well suited for a particular type of work. It might not be what your dad wanted, or what your wife wants, or what fits your idea of who you wish you were. But if you do the work that meets the core needs of your personality type, you will feel passion. Because you will be engaged in your work. If you refuse to pay heed to your core personality, you will always feel that you’re searching for something elusive in your career.
Are you an ISTP? You need to use your hands to make things. Are you an ENTJ? You need to lead people. Are you an INTJ? You’ll go nuts if you don’t get something done every day. Are you an INFP? You’ll go nuts if you have to get something done every day.
Figure out what you need in your life to be fulfilled. Find that work. Then, as long as you have control over your hours and you can see how you help people, you will feel good about your work. And you know what happens when people feel good in their work? They stop asking themselves bullshit questions about what they are passionate about.