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.

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  1. Sam Davidson
    Sam Davidson says:

    Very good post. I like the notion of passion as engagement, or better yet, engagement as flow. Like when athletes are “in the zone.”

    And I agree – not everyone is cut out to “save the world”. I also don’t think passion needs to be turned into a career for everyone, but I do think people will be happier when they are engaged in their work.

    Again – very thought provoking stuff here.

  2. Jon Putnam
    Jon Putnam says:

    Great article, Penelope. I am very pleased to see the recent trend of articles like this here. I took the Myers-Briggs and came up ENTJ, however, I am like 10% for each. This is a bummer to me because it validates (to whatever degree a test like this can anyway) my thinking that I have vitually equal parts of two very different personalities. It’s frustrating because I can have great wonderful lofty ideas and get caught in analysis paralysis to the point that I actually end up doing nothing.

  3. Erin
    Erin says:

    Great post, Penelope! I definitely used to get hung up on what I thought were typical “passion” careers. Through a lot of self-reflection, I identified that I do like office work in healthcare instead of the patient care, even if it’s not as impressive to some people. What’s funny with the MBTI is that I go between INFJ and INFP. I read Do What You Are and thought I was INFP, but I still sometimes don’t know. I dont mind knowing what im doing each day and being able to check it off a list. Maybe its true what I’ve read that INFP’s are tricky to categorize anyway. And my introvert side is really strong and, while I like having co-workers around, even a job where I worked one on one with clients would drain me too much. I love being tucked back in my cubicle, preferably without having to answer the phones. I’ve tried a lot of the jobs suggested for INFP’s and most just didn’t fit. One to one was still giving a lot of my energy to someone else, and I have no talent or inclination for other typical INFP jobs like writing. They also tend to be the artists and I have no artistic ability. Do any other INFP’s have that confusion?

  4. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    I’m a pretty strong INFP and I have to disagree with your oneliner. I can have trouble getting things done but I feel so much better about myself and my life when I do. The one liner I would use is: Are you an INFP? You have to work with something that coincides with your deeply held values and allows you alone time with your own ideas. For example, improving cities and education are very important to me so I’m involved in tech startups working to improve on those. I love it because I’m doing something that directly relates to something really important to me. Yes most people should do something that aligns with their values but for INFPs, it’s REALLY important. If you go deeper into Myers-Briggs, it’s related to the Fi function, introverted Feeling that relates to thinking about whether your own internal values hold true to what’s happening within and around you.

    Actually you as an ENTJ have introverted Feeling as your 4th function and this sentence I found reminds me a lot of you: “introverted feeling also tends to ignore social limits regarding the communication of critical responses, to the point of appearing to depreciate others.”. I do this more than I wish as being kind to others is an important value of mine but other values can be more important sometimes.

  5. Justin Lee
    Justin Lee says:

    hello again Penelope,

    I can create a test for you like the Meyers Briggs one.

    lets talk about it.

    Ans career passion is a definitely derailing myth… now you have given me a piece of content that I can ask people to read when arguing on the matter.

    Great post indeed Penelope,

    Justin Lee

    P.S. for the test (if u really want it made) contact me on

  6. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    i love it when overcapitalized individuals with ridiculous vanity jobs, and clearly more free time then they know what to do with, and produce nothing of value except sucking up to rich people who still have shitloads of expendable income for vain household whims, because the rich have ransacked the nations savings and don’t pay anywhere near their fair share of taxes. I love it when this kind of self satisfied know it all, who doesn’t know what its like to bust your ass for a pitance, feel they are entitled to telling me that I’m irresponsible for asking rich, corrupt politicians and corporations, who have used their power and influence to create a system that allows a small few unimaginable wealth at the expense of the entire middle class,the environment, and our constitutional rights, says that Im not allowed to ask for acountability! what nonsense, steampunk is adorable for someone who has made a life of avoiding the present into some false past, get a grip! We are in the age of ‘Irresponsible International Corporations’…Penelope your clueless, and your advice only applies to corporate suck ups and self help addicts..HELLO

  7. Roberto
    Roberto says:

    THE MBTI test is not about “what you need in your life to be fulfilled”. It is about your personal preferences about how you like to relate with others. It is a pure measure of preference, not a description of the way you are or what you need.
    I am an ENTJ type, so I prefer to have discussion which are grounded on data but where not too many details are discussed. This does not mean that I need to work in a place where this approach is employed, and that this will make me happy.

  8. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    This was a great post. It reminds me of Cal Newport’s book, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” which synthesizes a lot of these themes. Did you have a chance to read that book?

    He basically says the most fulfilling careers, the ones you develop passion for, are those where you have autonomy (your “control over hours” point) and impact (your “helping people” point). And you only get to that state when you’ve developed enough skill in something that you become valuable at it — then you trade that in for doing the kind of work you believe is impactful, on your own terms that allow you to be autonomous. The specific field is almost irrelevant to cultivating genuine career passion — it’s the autonomy and impact people are really after.

    In fact, very few people have intrinsic career-related passions (e.g., “I am passionate about financial analysis work”). So pondering passions in the abstract, and then trying to find a career to sculpt around that afterward, just doesn’t reflect how people really become passionate about their work. Instead, what those people do is find something they’re curious about / interested in; learn and develop skills in it; develop enough skill that they’re actually good at it; and then use that skill on projects that are impactful (which tend to become successful). That allows them to be increasingly autonomous, which allows them to devote even more time to doing the impactful stuff, which in turn awards them even more autonomy, and so forth.

  9. Kayla
    Kayla says:

    Perhaps the catchphrase became “find your passion”, but it really meant meant things you could easily spend hours on, things you have a knack for.

    ‘Not things you’ve told yourself are interesting or glamorous. Not things you have a crush on, so to speak, and once you start doing them for money the honeymoon is over.

    How one’s time is spent is an indicator of one’s interest level. Attention is an act of love.

  10. Avril
    Avril says:

    I’m a ENTJ, but none of the career paths interest me. Not having the education to do any of those jobs doesn’t help either. I’m trying to find the best career for me, but I’m frustrated any suggestions?

  11. mariel
    mariel says:

    Just out of curiosity, which personality types ARE “made for saving starving babies in Sudan, and rescuing crime victims from chains in dark basements”? If you happen to know?

  12. Suzi
    Suzi says:

    I am an INFJ. I love how you compared that some types can handle jobs that would drive other people insane. Like dealing with dark issues. Where can I find more information that would compare and contrast in this down to earth way so I could understand myself more? A lot of sites are very technical and open ended so I find it difficult to grasp where I’m located in it all. I find that I don’t like people telling me what to do, but would very much like to work with people on MY projects. LOL But I also have poor follow through like INFP.

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