Question: “What should I do with my life?”
Answer: “Follow your passion.”
“Follow your passion” advice is like putting a bandaid on cancer; it’s ineffective because it’s a trite response to a deep question.
Like all bad advice, follow your passion rears its ugly head regularly—most notably at the Oscars when movie stars spew out the inevitable cliche. I learned the hard way that just because I was passionate about something didn’t mean I wouldn’t suck at it.
If you are passionate about something, of course, you should pursue it; but here is the question: to what end? Because at some point in life you will need to see yourself in the bigger picture. What did you put back into your community to help other people? It’s not about having a passion, it’s about doing something with your life that will benefit others.
The word passion has become a dump bucket for a range of experiences, from vacuous visions of self-discovery to the grit needed by pragmatics. So let’s start with a definition of passion: it can be anything that stimulates, intrigues, or motivates you. It’s not a pampered concept about work being effortless; passion puts you to work. Passion means you’re willing to sacrifice leisure and pleasure in pursuit of values that will provide joy and contentment.
Since passion is not play, it will require grit and resilience because you’ll need to work harder than you’ve ever worked before. Resilient people know that if they’re not on the right course for them, hard work will get them nowhere. It does no good to follow in the footsteps of others and hope that’s also where you’ll find meaningful work.
Here is what resilient people about how to follow their passion:
1. Uncertainty Is a Saboteur
Most of us feel we’ve experienced enough uncertainty over the past few months with COVID-19 to last a lifetime. Grit up, because the human condition entails a life of uncertainty. While we have no control over many things, it is our choice to be stressed, slammed, or burned out because of those uncertainties.
Even if we know exactly where we’re headed and how we’ll get there, our brain can sabotage us at any time because our first reaction to the unknown will always be fear, which is often triggered by our uncertainty. Fear is an appropriate and helpful reaction in many situations where it alerts us to danger in our environment. But fear can also paralyze us and inhibit our ability to move toward the things that are important to us. Not everything new and different is a threat to our safety.
When you’re afraid or uncertain, a primitive part of your brain will try to take over, but remember that the logical part of your brain needs to be in control. Resilient people will tell the emotional brain to shut up. They do this when they engage the thinking brain and ask: Is there a logical reason to feel fear? Or has a negative emotion over-reacted to the uncertainty that’s in front of them?
How To Make It Work For You: Spot the fear produced by your uncertainty as soon as it rears its ugly head. Once aware of the fear, label the thoughts behind it. Focus on the rational information at hand and activate the logical, thinking part of the brain. Only then will you know whether the emotional brain is trying to sabotage you or warn you of danger ahead.
2. Pursue Values, Not Passions
In his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport warns that a follow your passion mindset asks the wrong question of us. Our obsession with passion in our work is flawed because it creates the wrong attitude. We’re haunted by this question, “What should I do with my life?” We become convinced there is only one path forward for us, and if we miss the boat, we’re doomed to live with mediocrity and unhappiness.
Newport suggests that developing valuable skills will lead to greater satisfaction in the long run, in both career and work. Those skills will produce a lifestyle that gives you greater control over your time. Newport refers to this concept as reverse-engineering your life. Decide how you want to live and then fit a career around that vision.
Once you’ve identified an ideal lifestyle for yourself that is based on your values, use this image to guide your early career decisions. If passions alone guide you, you’ll give up when obstacles in life throw you off guard. You’ll jump ship at the first scrape and grab onto the next shiny object that passes your way.
How To Make It Work For You: Resilient people will remind you that shitty values will lead to shitty choices about the kind of lifestyle you want to live. Focus first on what is important. Sure, you may want to make lots of money and live in a nice house. At the end of the day, what you really need are solid relationships and a lifestyle that will benefit others and make you feel as though you’ve made a contribution to the world. Have the mental toughness to ask yourself the important questions.
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3. Open Your Eyes To The Important Things In Life
We’ve all gotten sucked into social media and slick advertisements that tell us what should be important to us. If we’re naive, or just plain stupid, we spend a great deal of our adult life in pursuit of vacuous goals. And then we die, bitter and cynical.
Wow. That’s really something to look forward to, but if the only measure of our worth is looks or money, we quickly learn they’re cruel masters. They lack the heft and endurance to fill you with joy and contentment. The really important thing in life is that we have the confidence to meet our own needs and not rely on someone, or something else, to do it for us.
Resilient people have a profound way of meeting their own needs with whatever resources they’re given. Of course, they experience sadness or anger when they meet with devastating circumstances, but the Stoics remind us that everything in our lives is eventually lost anyway.
How To Make It Work For You: Seek out chunks of time when you can be alone with your thoughts. They’re opportunities to unravel your negative emotions. Often those dark periods force you to recollect what does make you feel joyful. The contrast between the highs and lows in your life can bring amazing clarity to what is important to you. Sort out superficial pleasures from those that are more authentic.