By Lauren C. Howe, Jon M. Jachimowicz and Jochen I. Menges
June 21, 2021
The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted many of us to re-consider our career paths. In the past year, we’ve heard from our students, time and again: “The pandemic has given me time to think, and I’ve come to realize that I want to pursue work that I’m passionate about. How do I go about doing that?”
Our students' curiosity comes amid a growing body of research highlighting the benefits of pursuing your passion at work, including higher job performance, job satisfaction, and career earnings.
If you’re pondering this question yourself, consider that while there are definitely upsides to combining your work and your passion, like all choices, it also comes with some tradeoffs. For example, a passion for nature and the outdoors may make you inclined to become a park ranger, but you’d likely have to move somewhere remote, where it’s more difficult to have a social life. If you’re passionate about the news, you might consider pursuing a job as a reporter, but you’ll probably end up working long and nontraditional hours. If you want to turn your passion for cooking into a profession, you may end up running your own restaurant while riding the emotional rollercoaster of worrying about its commercial success.
The bottom line here is that passion is an important factor to consider when choosing a job, but it’s not the only factor. Instead of asking “How can I find a job that I’m passionate about?” try asking “How can my career be a conduit to passion?” Reframing the question this way frees you up to honestly weigh the pros and cons of pursuing your passion through work.
Follow up with questions like: “Which industries will allow me to pursue my passion? How do the constraints of these industries align, or conflict with, my other goals — like my desire to have a family, spend time on my hobbies, build wealth, or choose where I want to live?”
You can also play devil’s advocate and ask: “Do I need to pursue my passion through my work? What would it look like to pursue this passion outside of work? Would it be equally fulfilling?”
The Benefits of Pursuing Passion Outside of Work
Let’s consider that last question: Should you make your career your passion, or find a job that allows you to spend time on it outside of work?
First, know that the latter option can be less risky. You can dip your toes in the water by joining a club or taking a class to test out what pursuing your passion is like before making it a full-time job. There are even companies that enable this — for example, Yellowbrick.co offers on-demand classes in everything from “Sneaker Essentials” with experts from Parsons Design School to emerging trends in global gaming from leading e-sports personalities. Taking this approach gives you more freedom to explore a passion that you might be nervous about committing to as a career, since you’re free from the pressure to turn it into your livelihood.
In addition, drawing a line between what you love and what you do from nine-to-five can help you build healthy boundaries between your work and personal lives, and allow you to build and become a part of communities who share your interests. You can get to know like-minded people who might give you better insight into what your day-to-day would look like if you ultimately do decide to make your passion your job. (Plus, research shows that a diversity in social ties can contribute to happiness and health.)
There are other benefits to keeping work and passion separate. Some research suggests that transforming hobbies into work could undermine your enjoyment of these activities, as your interest gets sapped by the pursuit of external rewards like compensation. This may be particularly true for creative passions, such as writing, painting, or music. Your passion(s) might also evolve over time, so you may not want to lock into a career path based solely on your current interest.
Create a Plan for Your Passion
If you decide not to pursue your passion at work, what should you look for in a job? We suggest asking: “Will this job give me the resources — meaning time, money, and energy — to pursue my passions?”
For example, one of us once asked a friend why she became a travel nurse, and she responded that it was because the job allows her to spend time skiing and visiting national parks throughout the U.S. We’ve also met a watch collector that finds their job “not particularly fulfilling” but told us it pays well enough to buy beautiful chronographs, and a dad who does his part-time job because it allows him to take care of the family he loves.
If time is your scarcest resource, finding a job that offers schedule flexibility and predictability is one way to gain more time for your passions. Luckily, flexible work arrangements are being increasingly embraced by companies across the globe. Would you want to take a mid-day break to go for a swim, perfect your latest cake recipe, or practice an instrument? When considering flexible work arrangements, think about how you can structure your job around the hobbies, art, or activities you love.
If money is your biggest concern, make sure you look for a job that allows you to pay for the life you want to lead. If you pursue expensive passions, then your job is one way of making sure you can afford them.
Finally, when it comes to energy, it’s less about the actual job you hold, and more a matter of how you view your job. Those who pursue passion outside of work often find that those personal interests energize them to go to work and do their jobs well. But, at the same time, your job shouldn’t just be completely draining; instead, we recommend you see your job as an integral part of your passion pursuit. Without the security, flexibility, and income it provides you, you wouldn’t be able to pursue your passion at all. Casting your job as the fundamental basis that enables your passion will help you value your job — and can give you the energy to excel at it.
Passions can define us as individuals, helping to make our lives satisfying and meaningful. But passion doesn’t necessarily have to define our work. Taking a broader view of passion — as something that can be pursued through work, but also outside of it — can help us live passion-fueled lives in whatever way works best for us.
Lauren C. Howe is an assistant professor in management at the University of Zurich. As part of the Center for Leadership in the Future of Work, she focuses on how human aspects, such as emotions, empathy, and social relationships, matter in the changing world of work.
Jon M. Jachimowicz is an Assistant Professor of Business Administration in the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School. His research focuses on two topics. First, he studies employees’ passion for their work, highlighting that passion is an attribute that varies over time. Second, he studies economic inequality, exploring how disparities in income are perceived, and how they influence individual’s emotions and behaviors. He particularly focuses on how those at the bottom of the income distribution can be supported to attain more favorable long-term outcomes. He received a Ph.D. in Management from Columbia Business School.
Jochen I. Menges is a professor of leadership and human resource management at the University of Zurich and a lecturer of organizational behavior at the University of Cambridge.
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