Our first full-time job wasn’t in a field that we were deeply invested in or passionate about for most of us. It isn't a fault of our own because, for those of us who entered the workforce in the years surrounding The Great Recession, we pretty much had to take whatever job we could get, regardless of the industry. Plus, Great Recession or not, not everyone even knows what they’re passionate about when they first start their career, so it may not have even been a consideration when you accepted your first job.
So, for whatever reason, a lot of us started down career paths that we sort of just fell into and now here we are, a decade or so later, feeling unfulfilled because we aren’t doing something that matters to us.
How do you remedy this? You might feel like you’re stuck because following your passion may require a significant transition at this point in your career. Or, maybe you’re still not entirely sure what you’re passionate about, but you know it’s not what you’re doing. Either way, take comfort in knowing that you’re aren’t without options. While it will require dedication (and likely some sacrifice), you can still create a passionate career.
Identifying Your Passion
First and foremost, you have to know what you’re passionate about to implement it into your work. Are you passionate about a particular cause, like fighting climate change? Or, are you passionate about helping people in need? Or, maybe it isn’t mission-driven at all and it’s about finding a career that allows you to do what you love, such as playing music or creating art somehow. Either way, if you already know your passion, then you’re ready to move along to the next step.
If you aren’t sure what you’re passionate about, you’re going to need to do a little bit of work to figure out what you need to feel fulfilled professionally. You probably already know that well-intentioned advice to “just do what you love” isn’t always realistic. So, if there is no professional path around whatever you enjoy or care deeply about, then it’s time to do a little digging to find a plan B. Here are some questions to consider:
In what areas do you naturally excel (organization, math/data, public speaking, etc.)?
What did you love to do when you were a kid?
Is there a cause or mission important to you (ex: cancer research/awareness, food insecurity, mental health advocacy, etc.)?
Who is your professional hero, and why?
What do you like to do in your spare time (or would like to do if you had more spare time)?
Looking at all of this information, do you see a trend at all? Or, can you think of any job or industry that would fit some of your skills and interests? For example, if mental health is important to you and you love all things social media, then maybe you could find a Social Media position with an organization that is involved in mental health in some way, such as a doctor’s office, a clinical research company, or a non-profit organization.
When looking at this information, it’s essential to keep the current job market in mind. Consider what types of roles are in demand and relevant. How do the things you enjoy or care about translate into the professional world as it is today? How can you leverage your skills and interests?
Once you have an idea of where you’d like your career to go, you need to create a plan to transition.
How much maneuvering you will need to do to pivot your career will depend entirely on what you do now, your experience, and where you’re hoping to go. This transition may be pretty simple for some people, especially if following your passion doesn’t mean changing what you do but rather who you’re working for. In this case, your biggest challenge will be getting your foot in the door for an interview, so you’ll need to refresh your personal brand, update your resume, and do some networking to better position yourself for a new industry or organization.
For most people, though, following their passion will require much more of a pivot. Depending on how much of a change you’re trying to make, you may need to:
Carve out time (and possibly money) for training, certifications, etc.
Take on an internship or start a side hustle to get real-life experience for your resume
Develop your personal brand and career narrative so that it reflects your passion
Enlist the help of a mentor or advisor who works in your chosen field
Transitioning Your Career to Fit Your Passion
Now, start applying to jobs that align with your passion. You might have to ease into it with part-time or contract roles, but keep applying to full-time roles in the meantime, especially if you’re experiencing imposter syndrome (and selling yourself short). It’s not going to happen overnight, but eventually, you’ll find yourself veering off your current career path and onto one with new potential that will leave you feeling fulfilled. Trust the process because it will be worth the work in the end.
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