If you're struggling to find a satisfying career path, no doubt someone will soon offer you this gem of advice: "What's your passion? Just follow that!"
To which you are almost certainly going to want to respond, "If I knew the answer to that, genius, I wouldn't be having this problem in the first place."
We all know that the best work is the kind you find engaging and valuable -- in short, a job you have passion for -- the trouble for a huge percentage of people is discovering what that passion might be exactly. There's lots of advice out there on how to locate yours (more on that later), but pretty much everyone agrees that sitting on your couch musing about the issue isn't going to get you far.
As MIT career counselor Lily Zhang wisely points out on The Muse, "the question is so big that it's completely paralyzing for most people." So what should you ask yourself instead? Zhang offers three great suggestions.
What can I do to help other people?
"There are probably a million things that you I to do, but likely fewer that you can do, and even fewer that you can do for the greater good," Zhang writes. She's not the only one arguing that the legions suffering from career confusion (hello, me aged 26!) should think less about their wants and more about the best way to be of service.
"Focus on getting good at something that genuinely helps others and makes the world a better place, and that will lead to passion and a fulfilling career," argued Benjamin Todd, the founder of 80,000 hours, an organization dedicated to helping people make better career choices, in his TEDx talk. He offers a three-step plan to help you hone in on the best career choice for you by thinking this way.
What does my ideal day look like?
"What would the perfect (work) day look like to you? Do you get to have tea on your porch in the morning? Walk to the office? Have flexible hours? Physically meet with people on your team? Go to the gym in between meetings? Have dinner with your family? Whatever it looks like, this is your new professional goal," says Zhang. "For some (read: me), this is a more tangible goal than a lofty and vague position title."
Again, Zhang isn't the only one offering this advice. Chris Guillebeau, author of Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do, made a similar point in an interview recently. "The way we work is just as important as the work itself. Working conditions include things such as how you prefer to spend your time, how much you like to work collaboratively versus independently, and how you like to be rewarded," he said.
"Most people rarely think about the day-to-day ways in which they'll be spending their time when they pick a career path. They just consider the overarching big picture or the difference they seek to make. But it's really hard to keep the big picture in focus if you're hating the moment-to-moment!" Guillebeau stresses.
What do I find intolerable?
"Knowing what you don't want can almost be as helpful as knowing what you want," insists Zhang, so "start figuring out what doesn't work for you."
That doesn't mean you should cross any job that has unpleasant aspects off your list (every job has downsides), just that you should eliminate those that don't align with your core career values.
Or, forget about passion entirely for now
Zhang's suggestions are a vast improvement on the old 'What's your passion?' nugget, but some experts go even further than her, arguing not just that you should rephrase the question, but that you should upend the process of finding your dream job entirely.
Instead, of looking for passion and then taking action, these folks insist that it's far better to just throw yourself into whatever work is available. Passion, they say, comes from effort and expertise, not the other way around.
"It's time to stop searching and start doing. And no, they are not the same thing. Searching for your passion is not proactive; it's actually quite passive, because embedded in the pursuit is the erroneous belief that when seen, it will be immediately recognized. The reality is that a lifelong passion is most often revealed through working passionately on something you have immediate access to," founder Kent Healy wrote on the Young Entrepreneur Counsel blog, for example.