The 6-Fold Path to an Impassioned Career

job-action-day-badge-blueNote: this blog post is a contribution to LiveCareer’s 2016 Job Action Day event.

Pssst!  Want to know a secret?  Most of us spend close to 40% of our waking hours either working or commuting, so there’s nothing wrong with following your heart when it comes to your career.

But Mike Rowe (the star of the Discovery Channel‘s popular “Dirty Jobs” show), in his entertaining 5-minute address to new university graduates, cites the naive exhortations of Oscar winners and the comic failures of “American Idol” contestants as examples of why we shouldn’t follow our hearts’ desires.  Mike’s blunt advice?  Leave your passion to your hobbies because when you’re on the job, you might discover that you “suck” at what you thought you’d be thrilled to do.

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Mike’s right that often we’re unrealistic about how good we really are at expressing our passion and whether we could actually make a decent living that way.  If you are fortunate to land a job (or build a business) where you’re indulging your passion and being sufficiently rewarded (financially and otherwise), then that’s great.  But for most of us, this doesn’t happen – at least, not early in our careers.

So, how can one find the path to real fulfillment?  There are six things you can do to maximize your long-run chances of springing out of bed at 6:00am on a rainy Wednesday morning:

1. Understand (and be mindful of) what TRULY motivates you.

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You may be hell-bent to be a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker – but whatever your envisioned path, surely there’s a constellation of similar ones that might provide more satisfaction, better rewards, and greater stability.  And you’ll only be drawn to them if you’re flexible and can distinguish the activities you enjoy from whatever jobs might involve those activities.

Resist the urge to define yourself by a specific job role.  Don’t think “I am (a this or a that)”, but instead think “I love to do (this and that).”  Here are a few success stories:

Kareem

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A freshly minted 2008 b-school graduate, Kareem had long pictured himself working in corporate finance and was gunning for a Wall Street job.  But global financial markets had imploded that year and nobody was hiring.  So he went for a long hike and reflected upon his obsession with corporate finance; was it all about managing money, or was it something broader than that?

Kareem concluded that his underlying passion wasn’t for corporate finance; it was for analyzing any kind of data.  Very quickly, he thought “actuary” and “statistician”… and he’s been happily crunching numbers for a major insurance company ever since.

Sylvia

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She’d dreamed of carpentry since being knee-high to a grasshopper, but upon completing trade school Sylvia encountered a slumping construction sector.

After a few weeks of research and introspection, Sylvia realized that what truly motivated her wasn’t so much carpentry as molding and sculpting things with her hands.  She thought “prosthetist”… and now she leads a successful business creating artificial limbs.

(By the way, Sylvia’s case also illustrates how our passions often take time to reveal themselves; while obsessed with getting a carpentry job, she hadn’t discovered that she’d love captaining her own ship!)

Ursula

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A Vancouver schoolteacher by day, Ursula finished a Master of Education degree with high hopes of a promotion to Vice Principal.  But schools were being closed, teachers were being laid off, and the principalship door had slammed shut.

Ursula pondered her identity as “high school principal” and concluded that what she really was passionate about was having any kind of educational leadership role.  So after some research she happened upon “adult education”… and for the last 15 years, Ursula has been the popular Director of a local adult education college.

Besides considering adjacent careers, there are four more ways to defy the passion-naysayers:

2. Remove passion from the equation.

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Yes, you read that correctly!  The whole point of Mike’s address, doing this will keep you afloat until you find that your career and your passion have become delightfully intertwined (a good shot of realism always enhances the career-planning cocktail).

Expressing one’s passion definitely boosts job satisfaction – but interestingly, it didn’t even make Forbes Magazine‘s Top-10 list of job happiness factors!  (Perhaps many of us have been taking Rowe’s advice too seriously.)

So whether you’re fresh-faced or silver-haired, write down your own Top-10 job satisfaction list.  Rank-order it, strike “passion” from the list (if it’s even on the list), and seek opportunities that provide the remaining elements.  Your work may not be ideal, but it should satisfy most of your important needs and provide a bulwark of stability while you to do everything else on this list!

3. Indulge your passion during your free time!

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This another thing that Rowe gets right.  During your off-hours, by all means express your passion! Join the local Rotary Club!  Check out the Metalsmiths’ Meetup!  Volunteer with the local Stream Keepers chapter or soup kitchen.  You’ll have fun, hone your skills, and increase your potential value to others… and it’s a great way to open professional doors by networking (see Item 6 below).

4. Build your personal brand, even if your job doesn’t perfectly align with it.

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The magic key to a career that really stokes your passion, personal branding is about discovering and broadcasting your “unique promise of value” to the world.  It’s about figuring out who you are (and what you’re really passionate about), expressing yourself and your value (both online and off), and maintaining that expression over time.  Done properly, personal branding will benefit your career in numerous ways.  It will establish your competence, integrity, and trustworthiness in a highly-visible way that draws opportunity and satisfaction to you like flies to honey.

5. Learn who shares your passion and how they’ve woven it into a career.

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Study industry pioneers, recognized authorities, and other thought leaders.  Learn from those who’ve broken the trail before you – but be realistic about whether or not you could make a living the same way.

6. Network!

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Networking opens invisible doors.  And I don’t just mean LinkedIn, Facebook, and other kinds of “social networking”; I’m talking press-the-flesh, real human contact!  No further explanation is necessary.

In conclusion, when it comes to your career you needn’t abandon your heart’s desire.  Your passion can express itself in numerous ways, and your best way to truly engage it is to explore the side roads along your career journey.  Follow these strategies (and the examples of Kareem, Sylvia, and Ursula) and over the long term, you’ll find a way to infuse your career with passion and joy.  Like Mike says, “never follow your passion… but always, bring it with you.”

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Paul Raworth Bennett (Founder and Principal of NOVA Career Strategies) is a résumé expert, LinkedIn consultant, and Reach-certified Personal Branding Strategist (who was lucky enough to have Susan Chritton and Kirsten Vernon as his instructors).  If you want to star in your own career, Paul would be happy to connect with you via the NOVA Career Strategies website, his Twitter account, or through his LinkedIn page.

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