Sep. 19, 2014

Is it still practical for us to pursue careers we’re passionate about?

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November 26, 2012

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From a young age we are probed with the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

As kids, we usually had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to be. While some of us dreamed of becoming ballerinas, astronauts or superheroes, others imagined themselves in the uniforms of police officers and firefighters or the scrubs of doctors.

Unfortunately for most of us, our childish innocence and wild imaginations were curbed when we realized that the jobs we fantasized about as children were impossible to snag or that the career field we intended to pursue hardly covers future bills — let alone rising college debt. Despite the economic problems today’s generation of hard-working idealists face, professors and advisors still encourage students to “follow their passion.” However, as one such New York University professor, Pamela Newkirk, wrote in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education piece, “Today’s vexing realities now render reckless my past advice to students simply to do what they loved.”

With half of society encouraging future graduates to “go forth unafraid,” as Newkirk sometimes told her students, and the other half constantly reminding us of the desolate job market, many of us are stuck at a crossroads on what career to pursue. Fortunately, life isn’t simply black and white, and it is possible to enter a field you genuinely enjoy that can also provide economic stability. By following my more pragmatic advice of finding your sweet spot — the point where your passions intersect with your talents and your desired lifestyle — future graduates will discover that passion and practicality aren’t mutually exclusive and are both necessary in finding work fulfillment. Just ask yourself the following questions.

1) What is your passion and what drives you?

Undoubtedly work is a lot easier when we do the things we find interesting and feel passionate about. However, doing what you love doesn’t mean doing what you makes you happiest this very second. The key to doing what you love is doing something that will make you happy over a significant period of time. If your interest lies in effecting change in your community, then consider a career in the government, the public school system or non-government organization.

Feeling passionate about your chosen career is critical. Many people spend their lives doing what they’re proficient in or what they feel they have to do without sincere interest. Feeling passionate about your job can lead to a stable career.

2) What are your talents? 

Passion and interest alone shouldn’t dictate your career choices. There are plenty of people passionate about football, but they are better off rooting for Robert Griffin III and the Redskins from the comfort of their sofas. Therefore, when choosing a career, consider the things you excel at to narrow down your choices.

3) What lifestyle is important to you?

Once you have figured out something that allows you to live out your passion and highlights your talents, you must then decide whether your chosen vocation fits the lifestyle you want. You have to ask yourself: Are you willing to give up all that is familiar to you in search of that stellar job? Will that stellar job provide you with an income to maintain your current lifestyle? What are you willing to sacrifice in order to live out your dream?

Contrary to Deloitte’s Shift Index survey that reports that 80 percent of workers hate their jobs, it is possible to find fulfillment in your career. You just have to find the career in which natural talent, passion and lifestyle align. Unfortunately, most people are unable or unwilling to find this meeting place of passion, talent and happiness, which prevents them from understanding what they are truly capable of and who they really are.

Email Kristen Hill-Clemons at kehillclemons@email.wm.edu.

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