Why I never ask: What’s your passion?
Many clients contemplating a new career tell me: “People keep asking:‘What’s your passion?’ I wonder if there’s something wrong with me, because I don’t know!” My response is: There’s nothing wrong with you – it’s the question.
- If you’d like a more in-depth discussion than appeared in my newsletter about what’s wrong with the passion question, keep reading!
- Or, skip to the coaching tip and find out about a more gentle way to tap into interests that can lead to rewarding career options.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE “WHAT’S YOUR PASSION” QUESTION?
Passion is too intense a word.
- Passion implies an urgent, huge emotion that’s difficult to control. With this kind of definition, it’s hard to think of passion as sustaining, but something that will burn out over time.
- Interests that lead to career choices don’t have to be a lion’s roar – they can be a gentle whisper.
Passion implies there’s only one.
- People frequently have many interests. The passion question throws them off when one interest doesn’t stand out as being more ardent than all the others. No one asks the plural: what are your passions?
- In fact, it’s important to consider all one’s interests. Each of them – or a combination of them – may lead to viable career options.
The link between passion and career is not usually direct or obvious.
- If it’s that clear, the person has likely found it already. One hears about passion a lot as related to athletes or artists. Basketball is my passion. Music is my passion. In these cases, passion (and underlying talent along with the discipline to develop it) directly link to career.
- But what about a person with an interest in numbers? Or keeping things organized? Or video games? Or finding humor in odd situations? One of the most important aspects of the work I do is helping clients figure out how to translate general interests into specific career directions.
The question has undertones of blame.
- There are certain questions that if you can’t answer, you may feel guilty or inadequate. Which leader do you most admire? (If you can’t answer, it means you don’t know what to look for in a leader.) Who’s your favorite author? (If you can’t answer, you don’t read enough.) When people can’t answer “What’s your passion?” they can end up feeling that they’re squandering their lives by not having figured that out.
- This is a question most people would be hard-pressed to answer. Asking it of someone already in distress over career just isn’t helpful. Instead, I help clients get at their interests by listening intently and asking them questions based on our conversations, giving them customized exercises, and sharing my observations of themes they repeat or topics they discuss that make them come alive.
COACHING TIP: WHAT’S A BETTER APPROACH?
While I don’t call it passion, I believe it is important that there is some pull, some emotional tension, that connects people to the work they do. Here’s a way to start identifying what these might be for you:
- Decide how you want to capture the info. It may be a notebook or diary, or a file folder where you can collect papers, or even a decorative box. Choose something that feels friendly and approachable!
- Be aware of what captures your attention – and start collecting it. If you read something you find interesting, jot it down – or even clip it and file it. If you find yourself engaged in a conversation you find stimulating, make a note of what you enjoyed about it. If you hear a radio show or podcast that piques your curiosity, capture that info using whatever method you decided in step one.
- Don’t worry whether these various random thoughts are practical or connected to each other. Don’t worry whether they’re deep interests or just passing fancies. Just start capturing them. Over time, patterns may emerge.
In the meantime, whenever you start questioning whether there is anything that holds your interest, you can refer back to this collection you are beginning to accumulate, and realize you have a variety of interests that are unique and engaging for you.
Please stay tuned for future blogs, where I’ll share other ideas on exploring interests and connecting them to career direction.