Finding Your Passion: The Paradox of Career Change


"Find Your Passion". You’d think it would be the easiest and simplest thing about a career change. Identify what you enjoy, love, are passionate about…and do that. Sounds easy enough, and quite fun, right? Yet, for many of my clients, it’s the hardest and most joy-sucking thing to try and do. Hearing "find your passion" distils dread in them. They think they don’t have one, so what on earth are they supposed to do? Are they doomed to a career with no passion?

The Passion Paradox

When it comes to career change, I find that, often, it is this exact pressure (or expectation) to find something they are truly passionate about, which actually ends up getting in the way of them understanding what they enjoy and deciding what they want to do with their careers. It's a paradox of sorts - it's meant to help, but I'm not sure it does.

I wonder whether phrases and quotes, such as, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”, “Find Your Passion”, and “Do what you love, love what you do” plastered across Pinterest, Instagram, picture frames and notebooks these days have contributed to this paradox - the notion that trying to follow your passion, which one would assume would be a fun pursuit, can actually result in a negative, overwhelming and confusing experience.

What does Passion look like?

As mentioned above, clients often tell me that they don’t know where to start with their career change because they don’t have any passions or interests. But how true is this really? I often wonder whether we sometimes believe we don’t have any passions, because, as a society, what being ‘passionate' looks like these days has been skewed by visions of Tom Cruise bouncing up and down on a sofa declaring his undying love for Katie Holmes (showing my age here!), stories of obsessed entrepreneurs going for months without sleep to launch the business they’re so passionate about, programmes like The Great British Bake Off and The Pottery Throw Down vocalising stories of people with life-long hobbies and passions, Social Media declarations of pure dedication to one particular hobby or cause close to their heart, the side-hustle trend, the Dragon’s Den trend…the list is endless. We come to the conclusion that being ‘passionate’ about something has to look like this - energetic, consistent, noisy, unavoidable, lively, obvious, obsessive - otherwise it's not really passion.

For a while, I have to admit that, a while back, this representation of ‘passion’ created doubts about the career I am in. I don’t shout from the rooftops about coaching, I don’t read about it every second of my spare time, I don’t think about it all the time, I don’t want to talk to people about it wherever I go, I don’t post about it on Social Media all the time. Does this mean I am not ‘passionate’ about what I do? I know I like and enjoy what I do, but somedays it feels like hard work, so does that mean I don’t LOVE what I do? Should I therefore be on the search for something else that consumes me way more than coaching currently does? Some coaches and self-help experts would have me believe that I should. After all, I should ‘find my passion’ and go after it, right?

But….what if you’re an introvert? What if you’re just not the type of person to sing from the rooftops about anything? What if ‘passion’ in you looks like something entirely different? What if you have a diverse range of unrelated interests? What if there are quite a few things that you’re mildly interested in - do they count? What if passion is important to you in your career, but so is buying a house - can you have both? That’s when it gets confusing, and creates doubt in peoples’ minds as to just how passionate and interested they are in certain things. We think it has to be all consuming to count as a passion.

I love this article by Mark Manson, Screw Finding Your Passion. He points out, in quite frank terms (!), that passion looks different in different people. For some, it’s a feeling of excitement, for some it presents as curiosity, for some it’s pure intrigue and interest, for some it’s pleasure or simple enjoyment and escapism. The point is, you might be missing what you’re passionate about because you have expectations about what passion ‘should’ look and feel like.

How long can Passion last?

We also expect our passions to last a lifetime, at a consistent high level of persistence and commitment. I’ve been a Career Coach for 11 years. I, personally, think it’s unrealistic for me to think that I am going to demonstrate passion in a stereotypical way for that many years. I’d be exhausted! For the first five years or so, I read constantly about personal development, behaviour and thought change, coaching tools and models, etc. I’m still ‘passionate’ about all of those subjects, but it comes in peaks and troughs. Now I find myself reading more and more books about overcoming fear, stories about people who have successfully changed career, practical tips on how to change career in the current market, how to make decisions, etc. The interest is still there - understanding and helping people through personal and professional development - but it’s taken a new direction (now mixed in with other interests such as horse riding, yoga, and meditation). Underneath it all, lies my passion I guess - understanding how we think and how to change. I know I could talk about that subject for hours. Psychology really does fascinate me! But it doesn’t show up as a traditional ‘passion’, that’s the point.

Utilising Passion

As a side note here, my career so far has fed this passion in a variety of different ways. I originally trained as a Probation Officer, having studied Psychology and Criminology at University, because how we think and how we end up behaving in criminal ways intrigued me. I then tried Marketing for a while, because it was interesting to understand how Psychology can help you predict how people would behave, buy, and make decisions. And, of course, coaching has the same interest at its core - understanding the person, their behaviour, what they want to change, and how to do it. The point is that, just because you love painting and art, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be an artist. Underneath that interest, might lie a passion around self-expression, mindfulness, escapism and/or symbolism, which can be fed in a number of different ways. Our passions don’t have to be interpreted in such a black and white way when it comes to coming up with career change ideas based on passions and interests.

Still no clue on what your Passions are?

Back to Mark Manson’s article. I love how he maintains that, often, our passions are right in front of us, but either we discard them as possible career routes because of the perceived pay cut, or we buried those interests a long time ago, when we started to believe that adults can only partake in activities that have a purpose - to loose weight, to help someone, to be productive, to lead to a side-hustle and income of some sort. Why on earth is that?! As kids, we gave ourselves permission to play without purpose. And, through that approach, we just did what we enjoyed. We didn’t overthink it. We were just drawn to what we love, and we knew what our passions were.

As a result, one question I often ask clients is, “What interests have you lost touch with over the years?” It’s a great place to start in getting to know what your passions might be today. You might not necessarily think you’re going to make a career out of knitting, playing the piano, playing with animals, making pottery, drawing, baking, etc, but just re-engaging with such passions can help you understand what does and doesn’t make you tick these days. It’s definitely a good place to start.

I also ask clients what and who they follow on Social Media, what newsletters or magazines are they subscribed to, what charities have they donated or fundraised for in the past, what do they enjoy talking about at dinner parties or with friends, what do they have heated debates about, what do they do in their spare time, what section of the news/magazine do they go to first, what do they choose to read, listen to, and watch - and, of course, why? Understanding your passions is sometimes about identifying the themes behind ‘why’ you do the things you do in your spare time. By joining the dots between your interests, this can help you further understand your passions - perhaps it’s people, perhaps it’s play, perhaps it’s stories, animals, fairness, justice, feelings, politics, current affairs, characters, etc. Any seed can be helpful to identify, and then water to see whether there’s enough curiosity, intrigue, interest, and perhaps passion there to take into your working life.

Remember, no job is 100% perfect

And, even then, there is the option to keep your passions for your spare time. You don’t HAVE to be passionate about your job. It’s OK to decide that your hobbies are your passion, and you get lots of other needs met through your work - income, intellectual stimulation, meaning, purpose, learning, etc. No career can meet ALL our needs. Sometimes we can accept and be OK with the notion that our passions are met through what we do in our spare time.

So, in conclusion, feel free to take the pressure off yourself to be this extremely passionate, outspoken, loud, lively campaigner-type person before you start to consider whether you have passions and what they might be. You might not be that type of person in the first place, and passion may look like something completely different in you - curiosity, intrigue, wonderment, fascination. You may also decide that you’re quite happy leaving the pursuit of your passions to your spare time, leaving your career to meet all the other diverse needs and preferences that we often have in life - and that's OK.

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.