Work Life Balance

If You Tell Your Kids To Pursue Their Passions As Careers You Will Royally Screw Them Up, No Matter What Steve Jobs Says

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shutterstock_131389763It seems the biggest advice recent graduates are getting these days is to find what you love and make it your life’s work. Some say this trend started with Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address to the graduates of Stanford University.

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And 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. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.

It’s so romantic, right? Don’t settle! Demand more for your life! Who doesn’t want to believe Jobs’ words? Well, today, a writer for US News & World Report is calling bullshit on this theory. From my experience I agree, unless you want to completely avoid the work-life balance question by making your work into your entire life. Problem solved. You’re welcome.

Basically there are three main reasons why mixing passion and careers is a set-up for failure. First, passions and income don’t usually align. You might love watching cat videos on YouTube, but unless you scored a slot on the Bravo reality show “LOLwork,” it’s probably not going to pay the bills. Second, making it your job can destroy your love of said activity. Too much of a good thing, right? Third, your interests are a terrible indication of your strengths. People don’t generally pay you for things you suck at doing, so unless you have mad skills in the thing you love, it’s not a great career choice. For most people, the author suggests, this approach causes high anxiety and job dissatisfaction.

Despite graduating before Steve Jobs dispensed this life-changing advice, I thought I was following my passion when I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. From a very young age, I loved to argue. I was told I would make a great lawyer for the first time in kindergarten and then many times after that. Then later I discovered I loved – and was really good at – writing, researching, and crafting an argument. With a practical sense of what it took to succeed in law school, I decided for sure I wanted to be a lawyer. Boy, was I wrong. Turns out I valued some semblance of work-life balance more than I liked to research and argue, which made a career in the law a pretty awkward fit.

It might be too late for me, but the author includes practical suggestions for a more realistic approach.

[W]hat makes people happy at work isn’t that they’re passionate about what they’re doing, but rather that they have a sense of accomplishment or impact, or they enjoy the autonomy they’re given, or they feel respected or useful. So a better goal than “follow your passion” is probably to do something that you’re good at, that brings you a reasonable amount of satisfaction, and that earns you a living.

I never got the “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” advice as a kid, but maybe that’s because my mom was a waitress and my dad a cab driver and they were both content with having their jobs just be jobs and not their purpose in life. Which makes me really wonder where I went wrong. If I could go back and give my young self advice it would be this: ditch the career and just go get a job.

(photo: DeiMosz/Shutterstock)