Work and Passion - not the same for most of us

Our generation - the first one to have started a career after the internet and social media boom - has been inundated with advice to "pick a career you are passionate about" or to do your "life's work". Every new age company, at least in Silicon Valley - from food delivery to marketing automation - now uses the passion playbook to pitch their employees or candidates on why their mission to deliver burritos is so world changing and the most important part of your life. 

Not surprisingly, we have collectively developed a borderline obsession with our careers. We spend a lot of time working and thinking or talking about our work, we expect to love it, we are anxious about our path, we feel the pressure to grow quickly and update our Linkedin with fancy titles, and we try to derive our status and purpose from it. This is quite a change from our parents and grandparents who had fewer options, stayed at one or two jobs their entire lives, and hardly talked about their jobs outside of work. 

There is merit to this "find a career you love" advice and it is great that many of us enjoy more choice of jobs than our parents. After all, we do spend a lot of our life time and energy on our careers, so it makes sense that we enjoy the work we do and find it interesting, meaningful and challenging. For the same reason, it is also good to find colleagues and bosses you like working with. If you are pursuing something that needs intense work, say your own business, enjoying what you do and aligning it with your passions gives you a significant advantage. 

But I disagree with the intensity of the advice and I disagree that work is the right way or even the most common way to pursue passion. I think propagating such a view is myopic, harmful and even manipulative if intentional. 

1) It's nice if that works out, but it is also rare to find someone to pay us for pursuing our true passions or interests. I'd bet that most people, even the most successful careerists, wouldn't willingly work if they had a choice to never have to work. Social media gives a megaphone to the minority who have stumbled on this good fortune, like Steve Jobs, who then espouse their exceptional path as if it's normal. It's like the Beatles advising everyone to become rock stars because it's fun and it pays well. 

2) Holding this unrealistic expectation is counterproductive. It makes people expect too much out of their work. Parts of work can and should be fun and interesting, but parts of it are just mundane work that needs to get done. It's OK if work is boring, it's OK if your weekdays are boring. That's why someone is paying you to do it. Even famed entrepreneurs or artists have to deal with stuff they don't like to do. The expectation for work to be always amazing, interesting and the path to actualization often lets people down. It's so common to hear our friends regularly complaining about their work or colleagues, and I attribute at least some of it to this misguided expectation. A more realistic bar for work is that it should be somewhat interesting, pay decently, and not consume your life and mind. 

3) Most importantly, the expectation of work to be our main passion or meaning often blinds us to the more common path to passion that our grandparents enjoyed - they developed and seriously pursued hobbies outside of work or dedicated their lives to their families. They had reasonable jobs that paid for their living and left them with enough time to pursue their passions outside of work. This makes sense as it is hard to get paid for true passion or hobbies, so you take your own time to pursue them. 

As Derek Sivers says it in his blog post about Balance

"I prescribe the lifestyle of the happiest people I know:
- Have a well-paying job.
- Seriously pursue your art for love, not money 
Do something for love and something for money. Don’t try to make one thing satisfy your entire life. "

An excellent comic strip from Zen Pencils -