Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Stop Asking Yourself "What's My Passion?" and Start Asking This Instead

Whenever you’re unsatisfied with your job, people advise you to figure out what you’re passionate about and then just turn that into a full-time gig.

Honestly, how tired are you of asking yourself, “What is my passion?” I’m pretty sick of it myself, and I’m a career counselor. (Am I even allowed to say that?) The question is so big that it’s completely paralyzing for most people. In fact, it’s too big, and it therefore doesn’t usually help.

But, if you are unsatisfied with your work or really have no idea what step to take next, what else is there to focus on besides this elusive passion? I’ve thought about this a lot and come up with three questions that I think are a little simpler to answer and (hopefully) a lot more helpful .

1. What Can I Do to Help Other People?

Sometimes it’s easier to think about what you can do for others than it is to focus on what you can do for yourself. There are probably a million things that you want to do, but likely fewer that you can do, and even fewer that you can do for the greater good.

If you speak with a career counselor, the conversation is eventually going to revolve around your skills. It’s surprisingly tricky to identify them, but it’s an important part of figuring out what all your options are. Considering this in the context of what you can do for others frequently helps with that.

2. What Does My Ideal Day Look Like?

Or, more specifically, your ideal workday (and no cheating and picking a vacation day in Bali). The word “career” conjures up a pretty specific image for most people. It usually involves an office, more than 40 hours a week, and uncomfortable clothes. To break away from this restrictive perception, let’s talk more generally about how you would like your schedule structured.

What would the perfect (work) day look like to you? Do you get to have tea on your porch in the morning? Walk to the office? Have flexible hours? Physically meet with people on your team? Go to the gym in between meetings? Have dinner with your family? Whatever it looks like, this is your new professional goal. For some (read: me), this is a more tangible goal than a lofty and vague position title.

3. What Do I Find Intolerable?

Knowing what you don’t want can almost be as helpful as knowing what you want. Maybe you’re the kind of person who really can’t name what you find enjoyable, but who knows when you’ve encountered something you don’t like. That’s completely fine! Go with your strengths and start figuring out what doesn’t work for you.

Of course, I don’t mean go through jobs one by one and decide whether you like them or not. You’ll never get through a tenth of the options—let alone all of them. Instead, focus on what your values are and what they are not. Here’s a walk-through on how. Certain positions will align more with your values, plus you’ll be able to use this information to craft your perfect day.

I’m not convinced people can really ever know what their one true passion is. (If you do, good for you. Try not to rub it in.) But, I’m sure that people can craft and create fulfilling careers for themselves if they ask and answer the right questions.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Barwick / Getty Images.