Don’t follow your passions

“What inspired you to get into medicine?” I asked the physician assistant (PA) who treated me the other day at the urgent care. 

“Great question,” the PA replied following with “I always had a science-y brain so I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field. I knew I didn’t want to go to medical school because I didn’t want to be in school for ten years, and I knew I didn’t want to go to nursing school because of the demands that we put on nurses, so PA school was a good medium. And I wanted to help people.” 

I wanted to help people is a topic of its own as the answer is as generic and popular as a high school diploma. But the other part, the part about the “science-y brain” and the choice among the three routes into practicing medicine. That part got me perplexed.

Like this PA, I was presented with choices. Choices for how to assess the answer I was given and choices for what to believe. The judgmental part of me, knowing that there are careers which, though not all lucrative, actually orbit around science-y brains, translated this PA’s selection into I wanted to make money and not deal with shit (the literal kind – that’s what nurses or certified nurse assistants are for, folks). The genuine and supportive part of me wanted to believe that this PA possessed something that deep down inside I always yearned for and hoped I’d find – a calling; in the PA’s case to become a medical provider. But the answer fell flat and did not allow me to trace a single thread of passion, which got me wondering how this person got into PA school in the first place, since admission is highly competitive and personal statements are supposed to bleed thirst for the career. I simply deduced that this person’s strong suit was in fact science, and in the end, this person took the path of least resistance

85% of employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged from their jobs ( Staggering statistic, but disregarding its economic repercussions, it would appear that many people in today’s society are on that same path as my PA. Emerging and flooding the work force millennials, however, have been challenging the traditional methods of disengagement by demanding the 3 P’s: passion, praise, and prosperity for their contributions to employers. Praise and prosperity are fairly easy to understand. Everyone enjoys being valued and it is only fair that those hard-working ones get compensated proportionately to their efforts and inputs. On the contrary, passion is difficult to explain, almost like explaining color to someone who was born blind. It is an emotional beast which may drive someone to climb to greatness or fall to doom; either way, its result is as drastic as the sensations involved. 

The average employees spend about a quarter of their time at work, and when the time put in aligns with their values, they are able to find meaning in their job. Passion is a term that has been used in excess in the midst of the structural shifts in organizations and it has been coined with work, leading people to believe that if they don’t feel strong emotions about their professions, they are stuck in the meaningless and endless cycle of “another day at the office” to simply meet their financial obligations. But can you really be passionate about what you do or can you turn your passion into a career? 

Well, it’s complicated and it all depends on who you talk to. Or read about. 

Take for example the inspiring case of Ed Sheeran who dropped out of high school and spent two and a half years sleeping on trains, streets, or occasionally a bed, while pursuing musical gigs in London and perfecting his songwriting abilities. He eventually moved to Los Angeles where he was spotted by Jamie Foxx’s manager who then introduced him to Jamie Foxx which opened the flood gates of opportunities for establishing his now very strong presence in the music industry. But this story doesn’t only illustrate the beauty of overcoming obstacles to make one’s dreams come true. This story exemplifies focus on one’s strengths(in some cases, strengths can be passions and vice versa) – in Ed Sheeran’s instance, a godly voice and panty-dropping lyrics – because chances are slim that if Ed was really passionate about singing but sounded worse than a screaming goat [], his pursuit to live out his passion would have been as fearless. 

With enough rational considerations and realistic expectations of the life one is able to create for her/himself, the infamous follow your passionmantra may just be painting an idealistic image of a mostly unattainable lifestyle. 

Marc Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and a star of the TV show “Shark Tank,” claims the mantra to be “one of the great lies of life” upholding that people should focus on their strengths rather than their passions because they aren’t always good at what they are interested in. Case and point, Cuban used to be “passionate to be a baseball player” until he realized that he had a “70-mile-per-hour fastball” when competitive league pitchers throw fastballs at 90-plus miles per hour. He also argues that taking time to perfect a strength can become a passion in itself, 

“When you look at where you put in your time, where you put in your effort, that tends to be the thing that you are good at. And if you put in enough time, you tend to get really good at it. If you put in enough time, and you get really good, I will give you a little secret: Nobody quits anything they are good at because it is fun to be good. It is fun to be one of the best.”

I mean, Marc is right. But what’s this talk about passion then? 

Passions are like seasons, they change. As you grow and gain experiences across various areas of life, you mold yourself into your own unique compilation of the people, events, and other stimuli you come across. Your childhood passions probably differed from your adolescent passions, and your adolescent passions probably differed from your young adult passions, and so on. Consider a handful of qualities that define you or your personal values at the given moment and think back to how those came about. Maybe they were born out of a life-changing event. Maybe you went through a crisis, a divorce, a death of a loved one, or you moved across the globe and met the love of your life. But of these, how do you decide what takes precedence over another? Prioritizing is tough. Regardless, you need to recognize that life is fluid and what we envision for ourselves today might be entirely different than what we live out tomorrow because tomorrow we might have a different idea to act on our passions.

But because I don’t know of any workplace supportive of swinging from job to job, there needs to be a certain degree of separation between a career and passion. If you are one of those people who found a way to capitalize on your hobby and deepest desire, I applaud you and hope that the quality of your life is stellar, and in the words of David A. R. White, 

“If you can make a living doing what you love, that is a blessing.” 

But if you feel that you are stuck in that “another day at the office” cycle, think about WHYyou are there. Is it because you are passionate about your significant other/family and the flexibility allows you to spend quality time with them? Is it because you are passionate about travel and learning about other cultures and the financial compensation allows you to go on two international trips within a year? Is it because you are actually really good at what you do? But if it is what you are actually really good at, how did you get there? Did you take the path of least resistance or have you encountered challenges and evolved to love what you do? 

In math terms, every square is a rectangle but not every rectangle is necessarily a square. Uhh what? Simply put, I don’t believe that in life you need to do what you love, but I do believe that you need to love what you do. To love what you do, you must remove the ego-centricity that is associated with a job and instead of asking yourself “how does this benefit me?” ask yourself “how am I contributing to my passions with this?” or “how am I contributing to the world?” There are many people who want to make an impact that will stand beyond their days, like Steve Jobs was here “to put a dent in the universe.” But many of those people have absolutely zero clue how to go about that. It could be that they don’t know what they are good at or it could be that they know what they are good at but don’t want to keep doing it. It gets a little complicated but either way, it appears that there is a plethora of potential waiting to be discovered. 

This exploration requires that people open up their minds and consider unconventional ways to achieve their goals, all driven by their passions. Maybe these people can invest their time in acquiring a new skill, which with enough honing and time put in, can turn into something they develop an expertise in and eventually a loving relationship with. Or maybe they can consider the skillsets they already possess but revolutionize their utilization approaches. Whichever route obtained, the outcome and level of success will be determined and equivalent to the level of invested effort, determination, and perseverance. 

Superficial assessments of someone else’s pursuit of success is easy. Becoming great is not. It takes a lot of introspective thinking to uncover one’s strengths and weaknesses to find areas of opportunity and biggest threats to success. It takes a lot of guts to step outside of one’s comfort zone into uncharted territories to face accompanying challenges. But no great work was ever attained by taking the path of least resistance and no great achiever ever fell on top of the mountain. 

So, whether you want to climb mountain peaks, solve the world poverty crisis, combat the global climate change, or do something on a smaller scale, identify your passions but do not turn your passions into a career, because you might end up disappointed due to the unattainable reality you’ve envisioned for yourself. Instead, find what you’re good at and maximize your strengths to contribute to the world using your passions as guiding lights.

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