It’s the theme of graduation speeches and motivational talks everywhere: Following your passion. “Follow your heart,” speakers tell you. “If you do something that you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
But what does that mean? Some people have the expectation that just because they enjoy doing something, they can make a career of it and be well-paid to boot, only to wind up disappointed or frustrated. Others use “following my passion” as an excuse for poor choices or failures; after all, even if you are sleeping on your friend’s sofa because you can’t afford rent, at least you are following your passion, right?
The problem is that many people confuse being “passionate” with being “engaged.” What we call passion is really the sense that our work is right for us, that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and that we’re able — and willing — to do a good job at our work. It’s a sense of fulfillment, without a lot of frustration.
And it eludes so many people.
According to a Gallup poll, 70 percent of all American workers are not engaged with their jobs. They are not committed to performing their best, and instead do the bare minimum to keep the paychecks coming.
Many workers are quick to blame employers for a lack of engagement. After all, when you feel unappreciated, overworked or constantly in danger of being fired, it’s hard to want to go to work. So you check out, and just do what you have to do, and dream of the day when your work fulfills you and adds more to your life than just money.
But often, the problem lies not with the work or the employer, but with the employee, since most employers choose to help employees find their passions and benefit from their engagement. In most cases, lack of engagement often stems from your own mindset and approach to work. With a change of perspective, you might find that you’re enthusiastic and fulfilled at work, even if you aren’t pursuing your passion.
A Few Words of Warning
Being passionate about your work and engaged in what you’re doing is great. You have energy, you don’t dread going to work every day and you feel as if you have a purpose. However, it’s important to remember two important points about engagement that often throw people off course. First, being engaged doesn’t mean you are going to love every task you have to do. Even the people who are doing exactly the work that they always dreamed about have aspects of their work that they hate. Remember that passion doesn’t equal doing exactly what you want all the time.
Second, passion and engagement doesn’t always automatically guarantee a high salary. Some jobs are just never going to pay as much as others, no matter how much you love it and how committed you are. What engagement will do, though, is allow you to do your job well, which will eventually open up doors to better opportunities that will earn you more money.
Improving Your Engagement
So how do you become more engaged in your career — or in a job that is mind numbing or frustrating.
- Determine what you are well suited for. Just because you’re interested in something doesn’t mean it’s the right fit. Take a personality test, get career counseling and determine the careers that are the best for your personality and skills.
- Learn new things. Taking classes will help you discover what motivates you and help you do your job better. Again, when you commit to continuous improvement and approach every task with the aim of doing it the best you can, your boss will notice and you will grow in your career.
- Go beyond your comfort zone. Doing the same things repeatedly is bound to get old and boring, and eventually extinguish any spark you may have once had. Look for ways to stretch yourself and try new things, both at home and at work.
- Choose to engage. Sure, you are doing a mind-numbing task. You don’t want to be a waiter forever. But if you approach your work with the mindset that you’re going to do the best you can no matter how much you don’t want to, you will eventually begin to be engaged for real — and that engagement will spill over into other aspects of your life and spur you to find your real passion.
The idea of being passionate about your career is great, but in reality, it often plays out differently. After all, we can’t all be the ballerinas and cowboys that we dreamed of being as children. If you focus on engagement instead of passion, though, you’ll have better luck finding the satisfaction and success you’re looking for.