Published on March 13th, 2014 | by Dan Walsh5
Finding a Dream Job: Why Passion Was Not The Answer For Me
The following post was written by Lauren Bryant. She and I had a brief conversation about job satisfaction a few months ago, and the ideas really stuck in my head. I knew we needed a full-fledged post after I referenced the ideas in multiple conversations with friends. The following is Lauren’s story about the journey she took to find a job she loves.
“Do what you love, love what you do. Follow your passion. If you chose a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
At least, that’s what they say. I remember hearing those mantras as far back as kindergarten. My parents, like most parents I know, worked hard to develop my interests and passions. They sent me to dance lessons, soccer practice, and art classes. But in the end, I just wasn’t meant to discover my life’s work at a cello lesson—and I know I’m not alone.
Some people stumble onto their dream job early in life, but the rest of us have to find it our own way. In my experience, passion is an elusive beast. Many things I’m passionate about would make horrible jobs for me. For example, I love to cook, but I’d hate the chaos of a professional kitchen too much to become a chef.
This is the story of how I ditched my passions and figured out what “having a dream job” really meant. It was a search not just for a job, but for meaning. I dove headfirst into the question, “Just what, in the end, will make me happy?” Answering this question goes beyond my current job and into every new job I will look for throughout my life. It also goes beyond me: I can’t be the only one who never became a ballerina or a star soccer player. This is why I chose to tell my story, in hope that it will help someone else or at least start a dialogue about that elusive dream job and just how to find it.
My search began in college, where everyone else seemed to have their lives figured out. They were future engineers, doctors and think-tank strategists. At the time, I was nothing. I was a sophomore creative writing major with no plan. When the rest of my classmates began landing internships and summer research positions, I figured I should work one out.
I remember sitting in the snowy January light of my dorm’s common room. I searched through job listings and wondered, “Consulting? Is that for me?” “Web Design? Is that for me?”
I needed a way to sift through the endless career paths, so I fell back on those mantras: it’s all about passion. At the time, I was passionate about environmental sustainability and I felt I could learn about it forever. That summer, I landed an internship with a nonprofit focused on making green office buildings and homes. It was a good experience, but disappointing. The fire I had in my environmental classes seemed to sputter and go out at my job. I spent all my time on the computer sending emails, formatting spreadsheets and doing design work. When I looked around me, my superiors seemed to be doing the same thing, but somehow they seemed happier than me. They actually enjoyed their job! “I guess sustainability just isn’t my passion,” I thought.
I tried the film industry next. I loved movies and I was passionate about film, so I job shadowed my sister at her small production company. I thought it would be great, but I spent the entire week watching L.A. traffic from an office window. I was supposed to be sending emails, formatting spreadsheets and doing design work, but I was bored.
I thought about my two internships on the plane ride back to the East Coast. The clouds and mountains passed beneath me. Despite my strong interest in both subjects, neither job had ignited my passion like I thought they would. But there was something else, some other similarity that nagged at me. I realized that even though environmentalism and the film industry have almost nothing in common, I was doing the same work at both jobs. I wasn’t saving the environment or making movies, I was typing on the computer!
I tried to find a job I could be passionate about, but I had made the assumption that loving an industry was the same thing as loving my job. It wasn’t. It isn’t.
There had to be something more to keep me motivated. I had to enjoy the actual tasks I performed. I had to love the daily minutiae, not just the industry. Passions are usually nouns. “Sustainability” and “film” are both nouns. To find my dream job I’d need a verb. It had to be something I loved to physically do.
Skills matter. My internships were unfulfilling because the skills I used were unfulfilling. Collecting data, writing copy and doing design work weren’t rewarding for me. As the plane landed on the snowy East Coast, I knew the next round of summer applications had already begun. I decided it was time to forget my passions and focus instead on the skills I wanted to use.
The next day, I sat down to start the job search again. This time I was in an unheated apartment with a mildew smell and peeling paint. I started by examining jobs I had loved and identified the skills I used while working there. The first job was in a school garden. I felt I could work there forever if it wasn’t for the exhausting physical labor. Another job I loved was at a summer camp for teens. The job had been stressful, but it was satisfying too.
The old me would have said, “Okay, so I should do something with plants or teens,” but the new me said, “What skills did I use in these jobs?” I looked at every job I’d ever had, from a popcorn stand attendant to a temp doing administrative filing. The same two skills came up again and again: I loved working with people and I loved working with my hands.
These were the skills I wanted to use. Now, equipped with the knowledge of what I actually wanted to do every day, the real job search could begin. I set my sights low at first. I researched jobs where I could use my desired skill-set at least one afternoon per week. I also included high job satisfaction and a decent paycheck to my criteria.
I found three potential openings: physical therapist, museum professional and radio news journalist. They seemed totally unrelated without context, but they all involved using my hands or working with people at least one afternoon per week. I’d either help patients move through exercises, give museum tours to school groups, or interview people out in the field. I could use the skills I loved. These jobs coincidentally related to my interest as well, but I knew the skills would keep me satisfied in the long run.
Some people are lucky enough to find their dream job early in life. I had to do a lot of searching to find mine. Letting go of my passions and embracing the skills I loved ultimately led to work that makes me happy.
I ultimately chose museum professional after falling in love with the job during an internship. A majority of my day is still spent on the computer. I can’t completely escape emails and spreadsheets, but I get to have my fun too. I take exhibits out into the community and help kids and parents learn. Once in a while I even get to use my hands and build exhibits of my own. It may have taken a little while, but I found my dream job. Have you found yours? If so, how did you find it?
Image: Andrew Morrell Photography