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Should our path to success revolve less around passion? Why it’s time to lose the career cliches and escape passion-hood.

By Aminat Amoo, Cloud Infrastructure Engineer at Permutive

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices

When one meanders through the journey of figuring out career goals, a question that is commonly asked as a prompt is: 

“What’s your passion?” 

When this question was posed to me at the age of 17, as a means of inspiring a choice regarding the degree course I’d be applying for, I panicked. Up until that point, my sights were solely fixed on getting into university. I had paid little mind to what I’d be studying and what career aspirations I had beyond that. As a result of this prompt, I started to believe that there was a strong correlation between the career I would choose and my passions, and that my success depended upon it.

Steve Jobs once said: “You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.” 

David Cuschieri has said: “Love what you do and do what you love. Passion is the key that opens the door to joy and abundance”. And this is somewhat backed by the experts, with Professor of Psychology, Robert J Vallerand, writing in his 2007 publication On the Psychology of Passion: In Search of What Makes People’s Lives Most Worth Living: “Indeed, if one is to engage in the activity for long hours over several years and sometimes a lifetime, one must love the activity dearly and have the desire to pursue engagement especially when times are rough”. The general consensus is that passion should be your primary motivator. 

But is it really essential? And thus is the only road to happiness in your career truly only through following your passion(s)? I’d argue no.

In my experience, despite being enthralled by career anxiety for years because I was unsure of what my passions were, or if they were viable as a career choice, I’m now in a space where I’m both happy and successful in the career in tech I’ve chosen to pursue despite still not necessarily knowing where my passions lie. The PERMA theory (Prof. Seligman), summarises 5 indicators of job satisfaction:

  • Positive emotion – feeling happy day-to-day.
  • Engagement – challenging, absorbing tasks.
  • Meaning – having a purpose higher than yourself.
  • Relationships – connecting with others.
  • Achievement – being good at something.

These indicators as well as other drivers, such as job security and compensation, can be just as important as passion in the role of drive and motivation in a career.

Recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences backs the idea that other factors can equally, if not more strongly, contribute to career motivations and success, especially in “collectivistic societies”. Collectivistic societies emphasise the needs, wants and goals of a group over the needs and desires of each individual as opposed to individualistic societies such as North American and Western European societies. The research found that “In collectivistic societies”, passion was “a much less powerful predictor” of achievement and, instead, “parents’ support predicted achievement just as much”. In the collectivist context, a “more interdependent model of motivation” is reflected and reinforced, where the happiness and progression of the group encourages the individual.

Career advice is littered with cliches and old-school thinking. So my recommendation: don’t be tunnel-visioned by narrow ideology! Motivation can be found in a plethora of places, and so focus on different – sometimes unexpected – sources of motivation and finding this in your future career. Once I released myself from the shackles of career cliches and passion-hood, I was able to discover the opportunities that were in front of me I hadn’t seen before, and that could bring the contentedness and achievement we all strive for in our work.