I recently received the following note from a career counselor:
I regularly counsel students on their career paths and I was having a hard time giving a student guidance today without referencing passion. ‘What are you good at?”’ I asked instead, and she replied that she didn’t know. She doesn’t know because she hasn’t tried enough things.
I like that this counselor is thinking critically about passion. I didn’t, however, agree with her alternative suggestion.
Asking “what are you good at?”, in my opinion, can be essentially the same as asking, “what is your passion?”
In both cases, you’re placing the source of career satisfaction in matching your job to an intrinsic trait.
And this is dangerous.
As readers of SO GOOD know, career satisfaction almost always follows: (a) building up a rare and valuable skill; then (b) using this skill as leverage to take control of your working life.
If you lead a student believe that making the right job choice is what matters for career happiness (whether you’re choosing based on “passion” or identifying “what you’re good at”), you’re setting them up for confusion when they don’t feel immediate and continuous love for their work.
My advice to a student in the above situation is the following:
Pick something that you wouldn’t mind investing years in mastering. If you already have some skills, then it might make sense (though is by no means necessary) to start there, as you already have a head start on mastery, but you should still expect years of deliberate improvement before deep passion can blossom for your work.
The key thing, in other words, is to direct expectations away from match theory — which says passion depends primarily on making the right job choice — and toward career capital theory — which says passion will grow along with your skill.