According to Cal Newport, computer science professor at Georgetown and columnist for the New York Times, I’m a slave to the Cult of Passion.
Before you click away, fearing this blog has turned into platform for the bizarre and kinky, let me clarify. The Cult of Passion, as Dr. Newport describes in his article “Follow your Career Passion? Let it Follow you”, refers not to amorous liaisons but to that age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I, for one, always wanted to be an actress. Sometimes I still feel tremors of disappointment that my life didn’t lead to the silver screen. I love writing, but if asked what job I would be most happy with, I’d still say acting.
That is, until I read Dr. Newport’s article. A small number of people do have an overarching desire to do one thing and one thing only. But not everyone. Not most people. Not, evidently, me.
Life has not followed the straight trajectory I imaged. I’m a meanderer. And reconciling that with my long-held belief that I had but one true calling has been difficult. I face career decisions like navigating a pit of quicksand, certain that one misstep will sink me, doom me to a life barren of fulfillment and joy. And I’m plagued by that vicious grass-is-always-greener mentality and his noxious twin brother “if only I had…”
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
According to Newport, “The traits that lead people to love their work are general and have little to do with a job’s specifics.” Autonomy, mastery of our skill, a feeling that what we do has an impact on the world—these are the qualities associated with job satisfaction (check out Drive by Daniel H. Pink).
I love this because it takes away that fatalistic approach to career happiness (find the right job and—POOF!—I’ll be happy). Put in the work, the time, commitment and engagement and passion will follow.
I still believe in reaching after one’s dreams. After all, I quit my well-paying job to be a (as yet) penniless writer. Life is too short to hate what you do. But the path to job satisfaction is not always linear. And happiness is less the reward of making the right decision, and more the result of patience and investment.
So adieu Cult of Passion. Goodbye obsession with finding the “right” job, making all the “correct” career decisions, and pining after that elusive “true calling”. I’m ready to let my passion follow me.