THE CONTRARIAN: Study suggests that “finding your passion” is bad career advice!


David L. Reitman, Esq.
Phone: 914-693-9165

I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up (still don’t!), so I took the LSATs, went to law school and became an attorney. I quickly realized I would have been a great lawyer if it wasn’t for all that darned fine print!



As a legal and compliance recruiter for the financial services industry, I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn.  As a born contrarian, I like to challenge the conventional wisdom.  Let’s talk passion!!  Judging by the amount of it being expressed, one might conclude that the invention of work is the greatest thing since gluten-free sliced bread.  I think “Gee, I wish I had THAT level of joy, an almost maniacally depressed state of existence.  I love being my own boss, making my own hours, doing things my way.  Even though I’ve been at this for over 20 years, I still enjoy it just as much as when I began my career.  I like my work, sometimes I love my work, but I’m not sure I would say that I’m passionate about my work.  Does that make me a bad person?  Would I be more effective if I had this “passion” that seems to be everywhere?  Seriously, I look at hundreds, maybe even a thousand profiles a day, and sometimes it seems like 90% express passion over their jobs.  Who is kidding who?  I’ve worked in many environments with hordes of colleagues over the years, and, I gotta tell ya, I wasn’t seeing it.  Oh, sure, there were always one or two folks with those loopy grins on their faces.  Passionate about the data entry, I guess (or maybe the porn they were not so secretly watching). 

So, I was somewhat pleased, in a twisted way, when I came across an article in a major newspaper that discussed this very topic.  The gist was that finding your passion is bad career advice, if you assume passion means no tedium or struggle.  Because the reality is that most of us are pretty bad at things when we first attempt them.  If we don’t build failure into our plans, we tend to give up sooner rather than later.  If we don’t temper our expectations and learn to celebrate the small, incremental steps and milestones, we quickly become frustrated. 

The article laid out a theory:  there are two ways of handling a situation, the “fixed interest” approach, and the “developed over time” approach.  

The fixed interest approach applies to people who expect to do well from the start.  They tend to discount the learning curve, which leads to a “learned helplessness” and a tendency to lose interest in new things if they don’t immediately excel.  This state of being does not create joy, and I would maintain that it is hard to be passionate while you are struggling with some of the tedium that is associated with the day to day responsibilities of work and life.  For those who believe in finding and following their passion, this experience with reality can be devastating, leading to low morale and poor job performance. 

The developed over time approach applies to people who understand that, at least when it comes to starting a new job, there is always a learning curve.  Even if you are the expert and know all the ins and outs, you still have to contend with a new roster of colleagues and the new corporate culture, among many other factors.  These folks understand that the process is just as important as the end result.  This understanding leads to an appreciation for the incremental progress that usually occurs, as we seldom go from what we know on day 1 to what we know on day 100 in an instant.  On any given day, you succeed and fail multiple times.  There is a natural tendency to celebrate the successes and reject and minimize the failures.  Those of us who respect the failures equally to the successes will come to see failure as a catalyst for positive change.  (Hey, I just created a new catchphrase:  DON’T REJECT, RESPECT!). This will subsequently lead to increased confidence, which leads to more joy, which may or may not lead to passion (unless you truly had it from the start). 

We don’t always make the right decisions.  We try things we hope, with practice and patience, we will become good at.  But even people who take the incremental, built-in failure approach may discover that they made a mistake.  Many years ago, I tried to have a career in sales.  I tried everything while watching my colleagues’ revenue rise, and mine go flat.  I wondered if I should just admit epic failure and move on.  I asked myself three questions: 

  1. At this point, am I enjoying my job?  
  2. How much did I actually care about becoming good?  
  3. Are these skills useful to me?  

There are, of course, other questions to be asked, and each of us will figure out the answers in our own ways.  

I have concluded that it’s OK to lack passion.  Some of us are red hot lovers and some of us are calm, collected and steady.  Most likely, many of us have a combination of all these traits.  I no longer wonder or worry about passion or the lack thereof.  I like my work, I’m good at it, and I run my own show.  Man, I’m one hell of a lucky guy. 

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Financial Services recruiter
DLR Associates Recruiting

David L. Reitman, Esq.
Phone: 914-693-9165

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