JOLIE: You can find passion, fulfillment in life outside of careers

“If you do what you love, you won’t work a day in your life.” The clichéd nature of this quote makes it difficult to accredit it to just one person. Motivational speakers, high school counselors, and celebrities have all said it in one way or another.

The adage is presented as an antidote to the stinging poison of capitalism, a resolution to the rage that springs from acknowledging that we will have to work for decades to come.

The logical reasoning behind this statement is flawed, based on the assumption that everyone likes something. The idea that everyone will grow into passionate individuals is unfounded.

Julia Wuench Express how people are, “in constant flux, and that means our passions probably will be too.” At one moment, we can take a liking to something, at another, we can be indifferent to it.

In her book, “The Trouble With Passion: How Searching for Fulfillment at Work Fosters Inequality,” sociologist Erin Cech challenges the “passion principle”: the idea that you should pursue passion in your career before compensation fairness or job security.

The history books don’t tell us of a primitive America that attracted migrants with a rhetoric of love for one’s work, but rather with a promise of stability. Jobs were seen as a means of economic provision, not as markers of identity aligned with personal passions.

Even in the fight against the exclusion of women from the labor market, their argument was not that they were prevented from pursuing their passion. Instead, this tenet of the women’s rights movement was a pursuit of financial independence.

From supporting families to severing financial ties with unwanted husbands, the benefits of compensation were the fulfilling aspects of the job.

The last decades of the 20th century gave way to self-expression as the main motivator for employment. The idea that careers could reflect our personalities has become more appealing at the turn of the 21st century.

In his commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs said“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

Ironically, the majority of global workers consist of those who are not fully fulfilled by their respective jobs. Yet, these people do a great job simply completing the tasks assigned to them. Effective work is not exclusively done by passionate people.

Jobs’ choice to say this to an audience of college graduates shows the privilege students have of choosing a field of study they can possibly enjoy. Even then, Jobs overlooked the likely realities of some graduates who listened to his speech.

First-generation, low-income college students, for example, are likely more concerned with earning a living wage from their degrees. Higher education, for these students, is an opportunity that can alleviate economic hardship. In their case, passion is less important than payment.

America’s cultural zeitgeist is dominated by success stories that suggest that unerring success follows the pursuit of passion. The fact that some lack the social or economic stamina to pursue a passion – if they even have one – is conveniently overlooked.

Because work often consumes our lives, we are advised to make it profitable by pursuing what interests us. Cech rejects this and tells readers that it is possible to live a happy and fulfilling life beyond their job. She said to “diversify your meaning production portfolio”.

It would do us good to re-adopt the mentality “a job is a job” because it allows us to perceive occupations as conduits to personal fulfillment. NPR’s Ruth Tam puts it like this: “Instead of drawing all your passion from one place, ask yourself: what are the things that excite me outside of paid work?”

Tam’s question is incredibly helpful for those without a categorical passion. Although some people may not feel very attached to a singular topic, they may have an easier time naming what they are passionate about.

Maybe you are a person who wants to travel every year. Maybe you are a person who wants children in the future. Maybe you want to support your parents’ health expenses. Maybe you want to attend games of your favorite sports team frequently. All of these reasons, unrelated to passion, can help you decide which career path is right for you.

This mindset also makes individuals less likely to be exploited by their employers. Cech’s research found that many employers prefer to hire passionate people because they are more likely to “get more work done without demanding a raise.”

While this cliché continues to land on the pages of self-help books and spoken into microphones at graduation ceremonies, it’s best to prioritize what we want to accomplish through our work.

The workplace doesn’t need to be the epicenter of our happiness. Choosing a career becomes easier when we recognize that personal growth is not exclusive to our daily jobs. That’s all.

Faith Jolie is a first in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in Journalism and Media Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies. His column, “C’est Tout”, is broadcast every other Monday.


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