Why "Finding Your Passion" Doesn't Really Work

Finding Your Passion Doesn't Work—Find Your Impact Instead
by Leila Hock
November 29, 2016
If you're interested in one-on-one advice from Leila, check out her Mentor page. 
I get it. You want to do something you’re excited to get up for every day. Something that will keep you fulfilled not just for the money, but because it’s meaningful to you. In short, you want to do something you’re passionate about.
I’m all for finding excitement and meaning through your work. It’s why I quit practicing law—a lucrative, sustainable career that I was quite good at (if I do say so myself)—to start my own business that most of my friends and family don’t quite understand. But going on some vision quest to find your passion has just so many problems with it and I’m sick of hearing that touted as some genius career advice.

To start with, will someone please tell me what a passion is?
Anyone that knows me will tell you that I get pretty excited about just about everything in life. I would say I’m quite passionate about a number of things: how our collective lack of reading is ruining modern culture, good wine, bike trips, and why hot yoga is bad for the body and soul, just to name a few. But pursuing any of those as a profession? I’ve thought about a couple of them, but they don’t work for a number of reasons. And one of the main reasons is that I’m not sure my passion will trump the negatives that go along with them.
To start with, will someone please tell me what a passion is?
I mean, what does a passion that I’m supposed to pursue feel like? One of my favorite movies when I was in middle school was Sister Act 2, and before I ditched the idea of trying to find my passion, I followed the words of Whoopi Goldberg to Lauryn Hill, “If you wake up in the mornin’ and you can’t think of anything but singin’ first, then you’re supposed to be a singer.”

Well, I’ve never woken up thinking about the same thing more than once or twice in a row, so does that mean I’m not supposed to be anything, Whoopie? I don’t think so. I know I have tons to contribute and if I were to sit around and wait on that one true passion or something consistent that I wake up thinking of, chances are I’d be too afraid to start anything.

Passion is nice, if you have it. But what about skills?

I know that Facebook and Instagram have given us so many pretty quotes about how we can be anything! We just have to want it bad enough. Nope, sorry. You have to have a marketable skillset to be successful in this world. Passion is just not enough.

Maybe a strong passion is enough to drive you to acquire the skills. Maybe. What I believe is that we are all unique beings with different abilities and skills and that’s what makes us interesting. Some skills must be acquired.

And if you have a passion and can go acquire the skills that match that passion—go get them! But if you’ve really tried and given it a fighting chance, maybe it’s time to pursue your passion as just that—a passion—and not as your career.

It can certainly depend on your passion, but generally, the thought that you automatically get paid to do what you love is pretty self-centered. There is a place where what you enjoy doing must intersect with what someone is willing to pay you to do for a career to be sustainable. Will someone pay you to take walks in the woods, practice yoga, and read all day? If so, please write me now and introduce me to them!
It can certainly depend on your passion, but generally, the thought that you automatically get paid to do what you love is pretty self-centered.
If passion doesn’t work, what does?

Impact. Instead of focusing your quest on what you’re interested in and what you want to do, try focusing your search on who you want to help. Stop bouncing that vague question of “What do I want to do in life?” around in your head and flip it. Ask, “What impact do I want to make?”

It works because you knock that third problem right off the list. By asking yourself what impact you want to make, you’re automatically hitting upon a demand. You can only help someone if there is a need for help, so that makes the career prospects much more likely.

Making an impact, even the same impact, can look different for everyone. For example, if the impact I want to make is that people learn to cook delicious food at home, I can do that in a number of ways. I could write a book. I could teach some basic cooking classes. Those are pretty obvious.

But I could also work for a company that has that mission and achieves it within a more corporate capacity. Choosing to make an impact with your work can come in the form of the role you take (i.e., teaching directly or working hands-on) or the organization you work for. It’s much more transferable and allows for growth and transition while still making the impact you choose to make. In this sense, I could work for a meal delivery service company. I could even work for a nonprofit like FoodCorps. Focusing on making an impact allows for tapping into a broader skillset, so you’re not stuck having a passion to create good food with no talent to do so.
Choosing to make an impact with your work can come in the form of the role you take (i.e., teaching directly or working hands-on) or the organization you work for.
Finally, because it’s outward-looking, it’s more likely to sustain you. Look at the happiest, most successful people you know. Often, they are that way not because they’re doing what they want to do, but because they believe in the impact they’re making in the world. Whether that’s by raising great children as a mother or representing underprivileged communities as an attorney, what keeps them going every day is others. It isn’t that they love what they do every minute of the workday—because no one loves what they do everyday—but because they believe in it on a greater scale. 

By changing the question of “What is my passion?” to “How can I help?” you’re setting yourself up for a meaningful and fulfilling career. Focus on others and your impact on the world will help center you on a clear mission, rather than lead you on a wild chase to find exactly what you love doing in the moment.
How does your passion relate to your impact, and vice versa? Tell us in the comments!