How many quotes can you think of that basically tell you to follow your passion? I can definitely come up with at least a handful on the spot. “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” “It’s never too late to be who you might have been,” or “Shoot for the moon—even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Take your pick.
These quotes and others are certainly inspiring, but they make a big assumption: That everyone knows what their passion is. Which, as I’m sure many of you can attest to, is not the reality.
So, let’s step back a minute.
Maybe you’ve expressed before that you don’t really know what your passion is, and you’ve heard people quip in response, “Well, what gets you out of bed in the morning?” As a non-morning person, I’ve always found this horribly difficult to answer—because I am just not thinking about my life passion in the AM. I’m thinking about hitting the snooze button, or how many sick days I have left, or if—by some stroke of luck—it’s daylight savings and time to turn back the clock.
For me (and maybe you), a better question, first introduced to me by career expert Richard Leider, is "Why do you stay up at night?"
In other words, what are you staying up late to research or watch videos of or read about online? What do you keep mulling over in bed before you fall asleep? What precious subject do you give up precious sleep-time to continue learning more about?
For me, it’s career development—my own, my friends’, my students’. If I know your story, I’m thinking about your career development. I stay up late researching companies that I could never work for, but someone I care about certainly could. Or I’m rolling around in bed, unable to calm my mind because I’m wondering how an important (onsite, final round, dream company) interview went for a student.
Of course, it doesn’t have to just be one thing. For most people, it’s not—so, don’t fret. Start keeping track of where you’re spending your “me time”—your lazy weekend afternoons, your free time after work. See if any trends emerge. And if they do? Give them a whirl, and consider how you might integrate them into your work life. You don’t have to make a major career change to incorporate your passion into your career. It could just be little things like moving toward more client-facing responsibilities, taking on some freelance writing projects, or taking the initiative to plan your office-mates’ birthday parties. It’s hard to say what will happen when you start to do this. You might clarify what you really like to do and decide a new gig is in order, or you might find more things to keep you up at night. Either way, the worst thing you could do would be to ignore it.
It’s also worth mentioning that knowing what you’re passionate about is helpful no matter where you are in your career—whether you’re a slightly lost job seeker or a content and seasoned professional at your company. Regularly paying attention to what really gets you excited can help direct your career exploration process or guide your career advancement in a way that prevents burnout. And, hey—maybe even gets you excited to get up in the morning.
Photo of woman in bed courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author