It’s a question you’ve likely heard since the first time you sat in your high school guidance counselor’s office:
“What are you passionate about?”
What’s the problem with answering that question? For starters, we’re often passionate about lots of different things. Not to mention, what you were passionate about at 17 isn’t necessarily going to be the same as in your twenties or thirties. As we grow and change, our passions tend to shift.
So how do we decide which passion to pursue? And which of our passions can be best translated into a long, fulfilling career?
I see my clients struggle with this all the time. Of course, you want to follow your dreams and find a job that aligns your passion with a successful career.
But it’s easier said than done.
It’s a fact that job satisfaction escapes many of us. A recent study found that 40% of U.S. employees are at least somewhat dissatisfied with their jobs. Another 20% feel neutral—and 10% are just about ready to assume the fetal position underneath their desks.
How do you avoid falling into that unsatisfied 70%? Instead of laundry-listing your passions and deciding which one to follow (it’s probably not your love of Netflix marathons), ask yourself these five questions.
1. What lights me up and gives me energy?
Take a look at your day-to-day life. Which of your everyday tasks make you feel energized? This can be anything at your current job, like delivering a project on a tight deadline, or outside of the office, like helping a neighbor with his or her yard work. Think about how your body reacts to these occurrences. Do you smile when you talk about these parts of your day?
Figuring out which aspects of your current life make you feel alive and energized will help identify what kind of career would be most satisfying for you. For example, if working on short deadlines is something you thrive on, you might be well suited for a career in event management or news production.
2. What am I actually good at doing?
Regardless of how unhappy you may be in your current role, there’s likely at least one thing you’re known for being really good at around the office. Do your co- workers come to you when they need help creating spreadsheets? Are you the go-to person for a certain system that your company uses?
Pinpointing what you have a knack for will help direct you toward a career where you can thrive. In fact, the experts at the Gallup Strengths Center have found that employees who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job. Once you’ve singled out your strengths, try searching for jobs that encompass those tasks.
3. What recognition am I receiving (from managers, peers, professors, clients)?
If you’re having a tough time putting a finger on what talents you have, take a look at what you’ve been recognized for at your current job. Has your boss thanked you for jumping in at the last minute to help with a project? Were you thanked for fixing a peer’s computer glitch when IT was bogged down with other issues? Take a look at what gets noticed by others in your company. These may sound like small instances, but they’re very valuable anecdotes to have in your back pocket on your next job interview!
4. How do I serve others?
The majority of jobs are focused around service—whether it’s for a client, a consumer or an individual. In your current role, what are you doing to serve others? Do you have a connection with the service you’re providing? Is your company’s mission in line with your core values?
One of my clients was working in a fast-paced consumer-facing role designing handbags. She began to feel like her work didn’t matter—that the people she was serving were just highbrow ladies with money to throw at frivolous bags. She liked the art of designing, but her service wasn’t in line with her core values. Instead of overhauling her career as a designer, she found a role at a company that donates a portion of their revenue to a charity that provides underprivileged countries with clean water. Almost instantly, she began to feel like her work had more purpose—even though her day-to-day tasks had not changed all that much in her new role. Sometimes it’s not a career shift that you need, but rather, a change in the company you’re serving.
5. What does success look like to me?
Take a minute to imagine how you would feel after a successful day at work. What does that look like for you? Did you lead a team to help achieve business goals? Or maybe you concocted a solution for a tricky client barrier.
Success means something different to each of us. Mapping out what it means to you in terms of things like your work-life balance, daily tasks, flexibility and compensation will help bring you a step closer to finding the right career fit.
Our passions will change throughout our lives—but that doesn’t mean we have to choose a new career path each time that it happens. Take the time to learn how you work best, what you’re good at and what makes you feel fulfilled.
Trust me—the right job will be much easier to find once you know what it looks like.