How Important Is It To Be Passionate About Your Job?

passion for work

Do you need to be passionate about your job to be happy and successful?

Well, that depends on who you ask…

A large body of evidence-based career advice says, yes, employees who are passionate about what they do will be both happier and more productive at work. Their passion stems from caring deeply about what they do or where they work and being personally invested in and motivated by its mission.  

As Steve Jobs famously said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

And then there’s Richard Branson: “There is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passions in a way that serves the world and you.”

Or, better yet, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” which is often attributed to Confucius.

But, is passion really the most important key to success? What about the large percentage of people who don’t absolutely love their current job — are they doomed to a life of failure and misery? Is having passion for your work or loving what you do absolutely necessary to achieve success and fulfillment, to do “great” things? And, further, must you sustain this passion in every role and at each point in your career?

There is a vocal chorus of neigh sayers who claim “not at all,” who believe job-related passion isn’t a key driver for success but, rather, an over-rated, over-valued trait that more often than not leads people down the wrong career path.

According to Mark Cuban, “Everybody tells you ‘follow your passion, follow your passion. … One of the great lies of life is ‘follow your passion.’”

Cuban echoes other “passionate” critics who take a more pragmatic approach and suggests people focus their careers more on what they’re good at and what they tend to devote their time to (again, because this is what they’ll end up being most good at), leaving true passions for the hobby bin.

In 2015, Ben Horowitz flipped the script on an audience of recent graduates at a Columbia University commencement speech by explicitly advising them “don’t follow your passion.” He went on to make a compelling case against relying on passion as a guiding light in the workplace, primarily because, as Horowitz told the audience of young professionals, passion is an elusive emotion that changes over time and may not be the best indicator of your unique talents, skills set, and potential. In other words, it’s not the most reliable predictor of long-term professional success or even happiness.

In fact, as one peer-reviewed study titled “On the Role of Passion for Work in Burnout” found, passion can sometimes even be a negative indicator for success or job satisfaction, not to mention that ever-elusive work/life balance everyone seems to be chasing after. Not to be confused with a healthy regard for one’s job, the authors found that “obsessive passion” for one’s work (basically, caring too much about your job) can lead to an increase in “conflict between work and other life activities because the person cannot let go of the work activity,” which then causes an overall sense of unhappiness and an increase in “burnout” at work.

But, on the other hand, not having passion doesn’t mean you don’t care about your job or don’t have other factors motivating you to do “great” work and advance in your career. And, not everyone defines passion in the same sense. Does it mean simply liking your job? Or is it defined more as finding your life’s “calling?” Ask 20 people what it means to have passion for their career, and you’ll likely get 20 somewhat different responses.

What most people can agree on, however, is that love for one’s job, passion — or whatever you want to call that fire inside of some people that drives them down a certain career path — is difficult to fake. Either you feel it, or you don’t, and if you’re not sure if you feel it, well, there’s your answer.

The good news is, if you fall into that category of professionals who seem otherwise satisfied with your career path but wouldn’t go so far as to say you’re living out your life’s passion (i.e., you’re not miserable, far from it, but you may not be driven to ecstasy by your current job), then there’s a lot of evidence — real and anecdotal — that says you’ll be just fine. Passion, it seems, is optional. You can still be successful, and you can still find happiness without it. What a relief.

And, if you happen to be one of the lucky ones who can proudly say you’re 100% passionate about your job (which you’re also good at) and career choices (which you’re consistently satisfied with), good for you. You may not need it as much as you think you do, but it sure feels great when you’ve got it.

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