Following your passion takes guts. There’s often nothing easy about doing what you love, particularly because it doesn’t immediately pay dividends. But I also believe the investment you make in doing what you love can yield a massive payout later in life in financial security and, more importantly, in happiness and well-being.
After working with various types of people at different stages of their careers, I’ve seen a few themes emerge. There are obviously other scenarios, but these two are prevalent:
1) Individuals pick a path that is proven to lead to financial security. They find security, often quickly, but also find that they don’t like what they do. The quarter- and/or mid-life crisis hits and they feel driven to find their true passion and follow it. However, by now they are so heavily invested in their field that leaving it behind takes an enormous leap of faith. Some make that leap, but many do not.
2) Individuals choose to seek out an undefined path, starting and stopping various activities in an attempt to truly discover a vocation or “life’s work.” They may struggle for some time, even enduring ridicule, negativity, or doubt from close family members and friends. When they find their passion and invest themselves in it, they eventually become well known for what they do because they naturally thrive in their self-selected environment — they are doing what they love and people recognize it. Not only do they recognize it, but people pay them well for their talent. Good pay + high levels of satisfaction leads to increased well-being. Like the former example, they also took leaps of faith, but these likely occurred earlier in their journey.
From my tone, you can probably sense that I advocate for the latter anecdote. So many of the people I work with follow the pre-defined paths to “success” without a true conviction to drive their pursuit. This may take the form of individuals pursuing law, pre-med, engineering, or business, without really knowing why. Don’t get me wrong — these are valuable fields that need intelligent and committed agents; in addition, people may truly have passion for these arenas and make significant contributions (in fact, those with passion are likely the ones making the significant contributions). But choosing one of these fields because you don’t know what else to do could lead to a difficult path later in life.
On the other hand, individuals who invest the time, energy, and self-reflection now to identify a compatible life path, and then pursue it with vigor, may not see an immediate “reward.” I’m one of these. I’ve identified a passion and pursued it whole-heartedly, but I’m still not driving a Jaguar. However, monetary reward isn’t at the top of my list and the satisfaction and sense of congruence I feel on a daily basis makes up for the lack of financial perks. But I still believe that the time and effort I’ve invested to identify my path will likely lead to a jump in compensation in addition to the peace that comes with following a passion.
I was reading this interview yesterday in the Harvard Business Review with Ricky Gervais, the guy who developed the idea for The Office (a.k.a. he now makes a lot of money and loves what he does). I didn’t realize two things about him: 1) He didn’t hit paydirt until he was 40 (as a result of The Office), and 2) He used to be an events director of a student union. There’s hope for us all!
What struck me about the interview was this question and answer:
HBR: Tell me about a time you failed.
Gervais: Well, I certainly failed at being a pop star, and that was my fault, because I was trying to be a pop star and I should have been trying to be a musician. That taught me a lesson. I was only 20, and I wasn’t doing what I wanted, I was doing what I thought would be successful. So I deserved to fail. And I’m glad I did, obviously.
“I was doing what I thought would be successful” instead of “what I wanted.” I think that’s a powerful and self-aware statement. Too often we look at vocation as a quest to find the quickest way to the gravy train; after all, money can be a tangible measure of success. I truly believe, though, that those who eventually succeed, and lead others, are those who do what they were meant to do instead of what they think will bring success.
Maya Angelou had this to say about finding success:
“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”
Do you agree? Disagree? Drop me a note in the comments. I’m interested to hear what you think. And if you know someone who may benefit from this article, please pass it along!
Hi! I'm Dustin.
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