As a career coach, I am often asked my opinion on the topic of passion. How to find it, how to keep it, and how to honor it. I recently had a client nervously ask if it was terrible that she was motivated by money rather than emotions. In complete sincerity, I offered her, “Why would that be bad? We don’t need every employee to be a ride-or-die employee. Not everyone is going to find their purpose at work. If money brings you a sense of security, and if money is the aspect you don’t want to worry about, that’s OK.” Everyone deserves to be empowered at work, no matter if they’re motivated by money or passion.
Now I, on the other hand, have always known I wanted to love the work I do.
Through all of my life phases, I’ve been on a mission to find my purpose and higher calling, and connect it to what I do for a living. I need to feel creatively liberated at work to be fulfilled; I need to believe that the work I am doing is purposeful to feel successful. Is this a mindset for everyone? Absolutely not. But this is an open letter in defense of those who want to be spiritually fed at work.
In the last seven years, I’ve changed industries twice, quit a couple of jobs, been promoted at a couple of jobs, and the only consistent thing I’ve done is left my friends scratching their head — what the hell is she thinking? In the past, some friends would tell me to come back down to reality; that I was only setting myself up for disappointment if I set my expectations too high. Many would nudge me to settle for something that paid the bills and strive for complacency. Some even argued that the workplace should be the last place you look for passion; that could only lead to poor work-life balance and overstepped boundaries.
And here’s the thing: they were all right. I have been incredibly disappointed in the last decade, broken by a system that favors work-roomers over hard workers. In front of a therapist, I’ve struggled to understand that self-care is taking time to rest after an accomplishment. And my relationship with work has affected my relationship with other people. When I was working in HR, I had a manager look me in the eye and warn me that I was taking my job too seriously, and was too invested in creating a perfect and just workplace.
Being led by your intuition and gut isn’t the manic pixie dream girl fantasy you’d soon believe based on modern media. It feels like a blind leader leads you; you begin to wonder if you can trust yourself. You nurse self-doubt and consider the possibility that the world will always let you down. Of course, when things work out, or you’re gifted a glimmer of hope, you see the inner world you dreamt up in daydreams sparkle before you. You believe you’re making a difference. You believe you matter.
And here’s what I’ve learned about tragically passionate people: our peace of mind only comes when our mission and our actions are aligned. We’ve evaluated the situation and know it would be easier to rest than to dodge the labels of “naive,” “millennial,” or “entitled.” But without passion, we are floating bodies taking up space that belongs to someone else. That’s how it feels for me, anyway. When I was at a job that I didn’t feel connected to, I wound up internalizing the mask I was wearing, petrified that my life would weave a web of false prophecies and unhappiness.
Despite the countless think-pieces and Ted talks urging people to abandon passion in the name of realism, I want to champion the internal optimist to hold onto their purpose. Wanting to share values with your employer, doesn’t mean you are intellectually lazy or lost; perhaps you believe the American Dream can still resemble equity and justice within all spaces. Craving fervor for your trade doesn’t make you naive, you likely want to look back at your life with pride and little regret. Leaving big corporations to seize an itch for independence and chance at making a childhood dream come true doesn’t make you foolish; you still believe in magic. And those who still believe, get to experience it.