Dr. Bob Wright | May 8, 2019

Why Following Your Passion is a Formula for Failure

Do you love your job? Do you wish you loved your job more but don’t? Do you worry that you’re not in your dream job or on your dream career path?

Do you feel like your career was the right choice? Here’s why following your passion isn’t necessarily the answer to success.

Most people go through life being told they should follow their passion and live out their dream. The truth is, following your passion isn’t the best advice for happiness.

It may sound unbelievable at first (especially since “following your passion” has been drilled into us—particularly the younger generations—since elementary school), but there’s more to life and your career than simply following your bliss.

Here’s why following your passion isn’t the answer to success or career fulfillment.

Does a Job Need to Be Creative to Have Meaning?

We’ve been told that people need to follow their passion to hold a great job.

Did you always dream of being a rock star? Quit your job as an attorney and join a band.
Did you love art as a child? Give up your career as a CEO and take up illustration.
Love writing? Why not quit your job as a medical professional to write full-time?

On the surface, the idea of following our passion sounds ideal, doesn’t it? We’d like to believe part of the reason we’re unfulfilled in our current job is that it’s not the right “fit” for our creative side. Plus, this notion is reinforced by tales of people who left their careers to become YouTube sensations or jumped careers to pursue their true passion.

Of course, this sounds tempting…like those who believe a fairytale romance is out there waiting to “complete” them. We all like to believe there’s a perfect person; someone out there who will change our life or a job that would make all our problems melt away.

Time and time again, I’ve met with people who are looking for a magic answer to satisfaction and our society is busy selling them this concept that there IS a perfect solution. If we haven’t discovered the ONE, we need to look harder.

A brilliant attorney came to me and said, “I hate the law!” As we started discussing why he hated his career, the real truth came out.

I said to him, “Why don’t you tell me how it’s going at your office?”

He said, “Well, a bitchy senior partner is chewing me out on my briefs all the time. Everyone is super uptight. I feel criticized and attacked. I keep thinking, growing up, I always wanted to become a poet, a novelist, or a politician. I’m wondering if I went into the wrong field.”

The truth was, he had stopped stretching for the meaning in his work. Yes, he was smart and had secured a great job at a major firm, but because he was smart enough to get by and to carry himself, he’d never had to really stretch or push himself in the career.

I said, “Do me a favor before you quit your job and go off to write the next Great American Novel. Prepare like crazy for your next meeting. I want you to go all out. Prepare as you’ve never prepared before. Research the topic until you own it. Push yourself.”

Well, low and behold, he returned the next week with a big grin on his face. I asked him how it went, and he told me, “You know what? I had a lot of fun! I knew more than everyone else in the meeting and I ran the entire thing. It was actually really great!”

After a few months of this interesting experiment of applying himself, he ended up excelling so far at his firm, he was offered the position of Chief Information Officer at an even bigger firm. The position developed into him becoming the COO and he’s now developing a new line of contextual law.

He didn’t end up on the NY Times Best Seller list, but he ended up finding more purpose and satisfaction in his job than he previously believed possible. He discovered a renewed zest for what he was doing.

People don’t realize that to love your job and find satisfaction in your job, you must get engaged in your career. It’s not simply about getting paid to do something you enjoy, but about fully immersing yourself in the company. It’s about taking ownership of your role in the success of the business.

Loving Your Job vs. Following Your Passion

People who love their jobs have worked hard. They’ve broken through barriers. They’ve overcome obstacles, made mistakes, faced setbacks, and forged ahead.

You don’t love your job because you’ve followed your passion and it was easy. You don’t love something because you possess an innate talent or natural aptitude. You love it because you’ve disciplined yourself to become excellent. The meaningfulness of your career comes from the growth you experience as you become excellent…and the learning that comes along with striving to become even better.

When people tell me they’re bored with their job, it’s often that they’re doing “good enough to earn a living” but they aren’t striving for excellence. They haven’t decided where they want to go with their job or they’re chasing a false idea of what happiness looks like.

Happiness isn’t the absence of struggle. Happiness comes from working through—and overcoming—challenges. Our happiness and satisfaction in our job stem from our ability to do the job better and better.

Many people’s inner artist says, “I must be creative.” So, they look for a creative field that’s straightforward with the opportunity to express themselves. When they don’t break into a creative field (and sometimes even when they do), they’re left disappointed and full of regret.

What they don’t understand is life itself is creative. It’s actually harder, more stimulating, and more challenging than drawing or creating something. If you want to be the artist of your life, you have work to do. Nothing that comes automatically will ultimately feel satisfying.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with creative expression. There’s nothing wrong with people becoming an artist, a musician, a writer. It’s not that you shouldn’t pursue a creative career. But you will only feel satisfied and fulfilled if you are continuously striving and working toward your next goal. So, if you want to be an artist, push yourself to be in the top of your field. Don’t only create what comes naturally, create what comes unnaturally. Choose the path with the most challenges.

Most people want to feel fulfilled, but they don’t want to be challenged and unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you frame it) the key to fulfillment is in overcoming obstacles.

Finding the FLOW

Your job is part of a larger picture. If you aren’t providing something of value to others, then it’s pretty hard to earn a living. There’s true meaning in our role in the fabric of society. Look at the jobs we may write off—street-cleaning, trash collecting, or janitorial services, for example. Without these extremely valuable services, our entire society would fall apart. Every job has a purpose and plays a part in the larger world. To think your job only has value because it’s your passion…well, that’s not how the game works.

Hungarian Philosopher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discussed the concept of flow and satisfaction in his TED talk. After witnessing WWII as a child, he became curious about the idea of satisfaction and happiness. What was it that brought people happiness, even in dire circumstances or poverty?

What Csikszentmihalyi found was most people don’t have a greater sense of purpose in their work because they don’t have meaning and purpose in their everyday life.

Happiness doesn’t come from money, it doesn’t come from self-expression, it doesn’t even come from doing what we enjoy. Happiness is derived from a sense of “flow.” Flow is the feeling we get when we’re challenged. When we’re turned on, engaged, and working toward a goal. The happiest people, regardless of their job or life circumstances, found meaning in what they were doing.

Just Because It’s Easy Doesn’t Mean It’s Worth It

People think things should be easy, and that includes jobs. However, things that are worthwhile require us to stretch and engage. It’s part of embracing a growth mindset.

Our gut tells us we should look for something easy, but easy jobs are never as satisfying. I was leading a seminar one morning and I was talking about how I wasn’t the best person in my training groups and how difficult it was. Someone said, “Well, why don’t you quit?”

Honestly, I’d never even considered quitting. My way has always been to go forward to the next place. I said, “Well I guess I’m not a quitter.” It hadn’t even occurred to me. I didn’t think about it.

The blessing in my life has been that as I’ve addressed what’s in front of me and use these opportunities to learn and grow, new opportunities continue to open up every step of the way. People miss what it means to complete what you’re doing. They want to break out or escape. If they aren’t winning, they want to walk away

But if you feel like you’re ready to throw in the towel, I would challenge you to become MORE engaged with your work. Go to your boss and say, “What should I do to learn and grow? What else in my job can I master?” If your boss can’t tell you, then you need to become the boss or move somewhere else. But in most cases, your boss will give you plenty of ideas as to what areas you need to work on.

People look to get into the “right” career, but they don’t look into the ways they can become the “right” person for the job. Talk to any employer and they’ll tell you employees who initiate and step into responsibility are critically hard to find.

Now, that means chances are if you’re reading this, you may not be the most desirable employee on the planet either. You might think you are, but what would your boss say? Ask yourself what you could do to become better.

It all comes back to the fact that people who find the purpose, meaning, and challenge in what they’re doing are the happiest, most satisfied people—and the best employees.

We had a 15,000-piece mailing campaign we were putting out. We hired a young man who was doing odd jobs and two temps from an agency. The two temps thought the work of stuffing envelopes was tedious. They put on music and spent the day complaining, and b.s.ing.

The young man who had been doing odd jobs simply got to work. He made a game of it. He challenged himself to see how many he could do, how quickly he could get it done, and how it could make it interesting. He ended up getting more accomplished than both of the temps combined and he enjoyed it. Today he’s a respected entrepreneur in Milwaukee!

Learn to love what you’re doing, and your passion will find you. Love life and create experiences in yourself and in others, no matter what pursuit you’re on. Live as an artistic creator of a creative human being (yourself) who takes responsibility for your life.

For more on living a life of purpose, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training weekend, where you’ll learn to get more satisfaction, more joy, and more meaning out of life, every single day. Go forth and ignite your world!

About the Author

Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.

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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.