I have a client who’s an engineer and feels he’s just going through the motions, afraid that his career will always be humdrum. He asked, “Is there any chance that, age 35 (I’m changing irrelevant details to protect his anonymity), I’ll find my passion and make a living at it?”
A prerequisite question is “Is finding a passion needed for career contentment?”
As I’ve written previously, because most people hold one of the same few passions: the arts, entertainment, the environment, helping the poor, and sports, the chances of making a living at a commonly held passion are not great. And because of the oversupply of willing workers in such fields, pay is often poor if not volunteer.
More often, career contentment comes not from passion but from work of moderate difficulty, some impact, a decent boss and coworkers, reasonable commute, decent pay, and job security.
But just because passion isn’t the key to career contentment, doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to make a living related to one’s passion. But many people, like the aforementioned client, have trouble identifying a passion. Here are some questions that might help you unearth one:
The question I asked him that unearthed a passion for this client was, “What were you attracted to as a child?” He said, “Hunting for unusual wildflowers.” When I asked if there subsequently have been other things like that, he said that he had loved hunting for used navionics (electrical devices for use on boats and ships.) The common thread was hunting, so we explored a variety of careers that required some form of hunting, especially those that would leverage his engineering experience. One example: becoming a purchasing agent for a boat or ship manufacturer.
If that question doesn’t work or you, might one of these:
What do you most like to read, watch, and talk about?
What do you give a damn about?
What activity most engages you, for example, talking with people, doing research, working with your hands, making art, starting a business, handling details?
What value most drives you: money, fame, a non-profit cause, glamour?
What’s an unusual interest of yours? (The job market may be better when you’re away from the madding crowd.)
To what or whom would you donate or invest a million dollars?
If you had a year to live, didn’t care what anyone thought, and had to be productive, what would you do?
Career passion may be oversold—Do what you love and poverty may well follow. Nevertheless, it’s worth at least a shot at unearthing a passion and then seeing if there’s a career in which you feel the risk of pursuing it is worth it.