We all know people who ended up in careers because they were “good at” something, not because they love their jobs. Maybe your friend’s dad is a CPA because he was a math whiz in school. Or your aunt is a savvy negotiator, so she became a real estate agent. Maybe your next-door neighbor ended up as a pharmacist because she aced all her chemistry classes.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “she works to live, not lives to work” then you know what we’re talking about. People often land in their life’s profession thanks to proficiency, not passion.
The late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said in his now-famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford University: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do skilled work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better as the years roll on.”
Instead of just letting our skills guide our career path, what if we led with passion and skill?
When we’re passionate about something, it’s easy to feel invested and remain invested in it. It rarely feels like work because it’s important to us. And employers know this.
Skills are also important, don't get us wrong. Employers want to fill a position with a candidate who has the right skills to get a job done. Just having a passion for computer hardware won’t get a network fixed—you need some knowledge of IT systems, too. But you can bet employers will be much more excited to hire someone who has strong skills and loves what they do—because this powerful combination translates into a motivated, productive employee! That’s why being proactive, not reactive, about the type of career you want is so important. Ideally, your passions and skills will align before you start job hunting and will be reflected on your resume.
Sometimes our passions are just not a realistic career path. For example, our friend’s high-school aged son is an exceptionally talented basketball player who has competed on high-level travel teams since he was in grade school. He is crazy about basketball and very dedicated to it. But he also loves hanging out with his buddies and playing guitar. So, while he once dreamed of playing hoops competitively, he just doesn’t have the grit and determination it will take to play in the NBA. Might he play in college? Possibly! But he’ll need to find another way to make a living.
You may say, “what if I have a passion, but it doesn’t match up with my skills?” For example, let’s say you love writing, and you’ve dreamed about becoming a journalist ever since you were a little kid. But you’re not very good at working under pressure. After working on your high school newspaper this year, you discover reporters are always operating under tight deadlines. Now we would never tell you to give up on your passion of writing—because it’s what you love! But you may need to pivot to find a career path that syncs up better with your skills, while still allowing you to write.
Remember, when we look at what excites us, and we match that up with what we do well, every situation is unique. For example, employers in the hiring process often must choose between someone’s skills and their enthusiasm for the work. And many companies today recognize that unlike someone's natural passion for something, many skills can be taught. The net-net here? Not all career paths can be written off completely because your skills don’t match your excitement for the job.
Here’s a good example of will and skill coming together: we have another friend whose son Ben was always into computers, from a very young age. When his brothers and the other neighborhood kids would be outside playing soccer, Ben was sitting inside on his computer all day. His parents tried for a few years to get him to play sports, but he wanted no part of it. They were concerned because they thought he was playing Minecraft for hours on end, but it turned out Ben was actually teaching himself how to code. This kid was fanatical about coding and would do it for 16 hours a day if he could. Ben ended up going to college this year knowing seven or eight programming languages, all self-taught. That’s the intersection of will and skill—he’s passionate about and really good at computer programming.
Sure, it’s great to be super motivated about what you do and excel at it too. But if you’re panicked that you haven’t found that will-plus-skill connection, don’t worry! It’s actually pretty rare for people to have this duo in complete balance, especially when you’re young and still exploring who you are. Passion isn’t static, and neither are your skills. What you love to do and how well you do it can grow, shift, and change over time and as we gain experience.
The important thing is to be proactive and not reactive about this process. If you take time for self-reflection and think about what excites you and what you’re good at, you’ll be a step closer to finding a career path that feels right.
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