AnnaMarie Houlis via Fairygodboss
You know what they say. “Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life!” “Follow your passions!” “You only live once, so you might as well do what you love!”
It’s ingrained in us from the time we’re kids. When we grow up, we should follow our passions in order to find success. In fact, the notion that following your passion is the key to life echoes through graduation speeches and is even disseminated in job advertisements well into adulthood. But new Harvard research says that chasing your passion isn’t necessarily what’s going to make you successful, after all.
In fact, according to a recent Deloitte survey of 3,000 full-time U.S. workers, only 20% report being actually passionate about their careers. Research suggests that many of us have no idea how to even pursue our passions and, therefore, we often fail in trying to do so.
“Research on passion suggests that we need to understand three key things: (1) passion is not something one finds, but rather, it is something to be developed; (2) it is challenging to pursue your passion, especially as it wanes over time; and (3) passion can also lead us astray, and it is therefore important to recognize its limits,” writes Harvard researcher Jon M. Jachimowicz.
That’s why Jachimowicz says that you shouldn’t follow your passion; you should pursue your purpose.
“One common misperception people have about passion is that it is fixed: You either have passion for something or you don’t,” Jachimowicz writes. “The problem with this belief is that it’s limiting, leading us to think of passion as something we discover or happen upon. As a result, we may try many different jobs looking for the right ‘fit,’ the role that instantly flips the passion switch, and we may not take into account the fact that it often takes time to develop one’s passion for a job, along with the skills, confidence and relationships that allow one to experience passion for work.”
That’s why he stresses the importance of focusing on what you care about, not on what seems immediately joyful or fun.
“The reality is that passion wanes over time, so if you just focus on following happiness, you might not stick with an endeavor like you would if you focused on how it helps you achieve what you care most about,” he writes.
Pursuing your purpose, then, makes more sense than chasing after an ever-fluctuating, sometimes-fleeting passion that doesn’t always develop immediately. And you, like many others, may be happier in the long run for doing so, according to the research.
“We found that those who believed pursuing passion meant following what brings one joy were less likely to be successful in their pursuit of passion, and were more likely to quit their job nine months down the line, than those who believed following passion was focusing on what one cares about,” Jachimowicz explains for the Harvard Business Review.
So the next time you get the itch to pursue your passion — remember why you really care and how you can navigate the ongoing and challenging process when that passion inevitably ebbs and flows.
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards and career advice.
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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.