Passion, purpose, and paycheck: expert tips to find a job you love
Feb 23, 2023
“Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!” While this idea seems comforting, how exactly are you supposed to find said job? The “love” aspect when talking about work is often linked to passion. According to a 2023 Zippia survey, 65% of US workers are happy with their job, but only 20% are passionate about their jobs. So despite decent job satisfaction rates, there’s clearly a need for more workplace passion in the US. But what if you don’t know what you’re passionate about? First things first: that’s ok! There’s a certain excitement about not knowing where your passion lies because it means you get to test different things and exercises to find out.
To help you figure out where to start, we spoke to three career experts. Each of them shared their top tips when it comes to finding a job you love, without sacrificing financial stability or your mental health.
Finding the motivation to find your passion
Joann L. Perahia, an NYC-based career assessment coach, starts her sessions by saying, “Knowledge is power, but self-knowledge is empowerment.” She explains that learning about yourself, whether good or bad, clarifies your proper direction, hence empowering you. “Remember, self-motivation has to come from within,” Perahia insists. But to reach self-knowledge requires motivation.
The journey to understanding yourself and finding empowerment must first come from understanding your motivation, says Atlanta-based coach and career transition expert Andrea Holyfield. “It’s important to understand where this need for change is coming from; what are your motivations for change?” she asks. It’s essential that motivation comes from wanting something new and not from fleeing something old. “If we’re running away from something, that will probably not end well. We want to be running towards something, towards new goals,” she says.
San Diego-based Emily Stark, seasoned career coach behind Marketable Mama, echoes this theme but adds that finding your passion takes patience. “You need to give yourself time to objectively observe what’s going on with your career and emotions,” Stark adds. “America is a fast-paced society, and that doesn’t always match the type of change that is going to fulfill us,” she says.
Finding your passion through problems
Holyfield brings a new perspective by relating passion to personal problems. She explains that problems can arise with families or communities that can hinder you from finding passion, but that in fixing whatever problems you face in your personal life, you may actually stumble across your passion. “You hear stories about people creating businesses, non-profits, foundations, et cetera, to help alleviate a problem that they faced at some point in their lives. That lived experience informed their purpose in life,” Holyfield adds.
Holyfield shares a personal story in which she felt limited by her belief system around her career opportunities as a young single mother. She spent a decade at a job that was not challenging or in alignment with the life she wanted to live. Years later, she took a non-traditional path through college and became passionate about helping ensure other women didn’t have the same experience. She faced her personal problems and turned them into her passion. She adds, “As I’ve grown and become aware of additional needs and values; they’ve informed my passion.”
Finding your passion through your strengths
Stark recommends looking at what you’re good at when trying to find your passion, explaining that it’s a good first step in finding a job you love. “It’s a good ingredient when trying to find a passionate job because you’re likely to see what you do well and match it with what you want to do,” she adds. Holyfield adds to this idea and suggests looking at your performance reviews from previous roles. “Look at the things that you’ve done well in and that others have recognized you for,” she says. You might find passion in the things you excel in.
However, Perahia warns that strength doesn’t always equal passion. You might be good at something, but that doesn’t mean you like it. If you’re really good at math but don’t actually enjoy it, seeking out a career in data science may not be the answer to finding a job you love. That said, learning new skills and discovering new strengths could point you in the right direction.
Tools to help find your passion
Still not sure where to start when looking for a job you love? Using certain tools and exercises can help you narrow down what you enjoy to find your passion.
Make lists of fulfilling daily work life
Both Stark and Holyfield suggest visualization and lists. Holyfield explains that she has her clients imagine their perfect day. “Often, that visualization will give us some clues and ideas of what we’d like to do, even if we don’t have a name for it yet,” she explains. Stark recommends “being like a fly on the wall for yourself,” and suggests finding your ‘flow state.’“What is the work that puts you into this state of feeling productive, gives you tunnel vision, and what brings this state on?” she asks. She suggests thinking about that time and taking stock of your environment. “Were you working individually or collaboratively?” It’s all about realizing when you enjoy work and understanding your surroundings. By doing this, “you will be chiseling down all this stuff that’s not working for you right now and forming a more solidified vision of what brings you passion while working,” Stark adds. “Making a list over time will help you see a pattern.”
Stark also suggests taking stock of your day. “Look through your calendar and what you normally do in a work day and make a list of everything you do.” She says that at the end of the week or day, make a checkbox and list five things that fulfilled you during that time. But she warns not to rush this process as there are a lot of external factors like colleagues and current projects, so you need time to sort through what tasks really bring you joy; maybe you’ll find your passion by narrowing down what brings you joy in your current position.
Another exercise Stark does is something she calls ‘best day.’ She asks her clients to visualize the best day they’ve had at work and list all the factors that brought them joy. “Normally, that’s an excellent indicator of what you want to do more of or what could bring you more passion,” she adds. If you’re looking for your first job and not sure how to apply this, you could look back at the best day you’ve had in college or school and list out the factors that made it so.
Leaning on personality assessments
Personality tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator—a more traditional assessment—or tests that link personality to potential talents can help you narrow down what you enjoy to find a job you love. Holyfield also recommends the US Labor Department’s sponsored O-Net Interest profiler and Gallup’s Clifton Strengths.
However, Perahia recommends a personality test that links personality and talents with potential job titles. “I use the Self-Directed Search. It’s based on John Holland’s personality traits and finds whether you’re realistic, investigative, artistic, social, and other personality traits. It then directs you to the industries and jobs that would best fit your personality,” she explains. The search then connects you with open, local positions in fields related to your personality test.
Narrowing down your passions to actual job titles
After figuring out what makes you thrive at work, it’s time to figure out actual job titles and paid work related to those passions.
Researching potential job titles
After the extensive list-making at the beginning of your quest, each expert recommends doing some research. Perahia says, “Go to LinkedIn and find job descriptions that match what you are looking for. Then you can see what your next step should be to either upskill, reskill, or even what transferable skills you may already have.” Holyfield says to audit your lists, use LinkedIn to search for those skills, and find out how people use those skills in a job. “Read their current job titles and learn what’s out there. You never know, there may be a job you’re not even aware of,” she adds.
Stark agrees with this task but adds making a list of these job titles and companies who offer them. “You should then order this list so you have a good idea of where to start your research. You can then research which transferable and hard skills are common with these jobs,” she adds. This is a solid jumping-off point for finding a job you’ll love.
Networking is key
The best tool for navigating a career change is networking, and all three experts agree. Once you’ve narrowed down job titles, they advise you to find some people on LinkedIn that work in the field you’re interested in. Holyfield recommends “talking to other people, learning what they do, learning what they’ve done, learning what their organization needs. Then, using that kind of personal audit to determine whether or not you could see yourself in those roles.”
Stark echoes this idea through ‘shadowing.’ This is when you find someone, either through networking or someone at your previous or current company, who works in the job you want to get into. Here you can really see if the daily tasks required for this job spark passion in you. She recommends doing this early in your search before you make any decisions that cost money or jeopardize your current role. Stark knows from experience: “I wanted to go into instructional design. I sat with a colleague at that job for about two hours. She walked me through her calendar and we worked on a little project together. That was the last day I will ever be an instructional designer.”
Another suggestion for networking is to get involved in LinkedIn groups. “People ignore them, but there’s so much activity that happens: recruiters literally hang out in these groups,” Holyfield explains. Both she and Starks encourage job hunters to turn virtual connections into real meetings. They suggest setting up lunch events or scheduling in-person coffees with people in positions you wish to work.
Putting the plan in motion
It’s vital to be strategic when creating your action plan around finding a job you love. Holyfield stresses the importance of a timeline: “How fast do you want to transition or start the passion job? How much are you willing to invest in education or re-skilling? Your motivation and finances can affect your timeline.” All experts agree that transferable and soft skills can be used throughout different fields, so use them to your advantage. If your timeline is short, “find realistic careers you could transition to that require similar hard or soft skills you already have,” explains Holyfield.
Goal-setting is another common theme when trying to find a job you love. Holyfield suggests using SMART goals; those are goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, so you know that you’re always working towards something. These could be updating your tangibles, which Holyfield explains as “any piece you use for your professional brand.” For example, updating your resume, professional bio, and LinkedIn profile.
Stark agrees and also suggests setting micro-goals to keep you on track. She gives an example, “15 minutes a day or a few times a week, work on finding your passion, researching job titles, or reskilling. It’s important to see progress but also not get overwhelmed.”
Everyone’s passion looks different
Even by following your passion to find a job you love, ensuring your work aligns with your lifestyle is a factor not to be ignored. “I think it’s really important to honor the fact that career satisfaction and passion mean different things for different people and that’s ok,” Holyfield states. Maybe your lifestyle requires a high financial return from your job, or perhaps your passion is to earn a lot of money, and she insists that’s ok too. So long as you honor what satisfaction means to you.
Lastly, Perahia mentions considering if a passion is better as a hobby. She adds, “If your passion doesn’t make enough money to support your lifestyle, maybe it should be a hobby. But you can find happiness by mixing passionate hobbies with a lucrative career.” As with many things in life, it’s all about balance.
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