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Ready for Passion on the Job?

Vivia Chen

November 26, 2019

6d8051ae90eda84b1b44fb82e33fea68Why is everyone insisting on being passionate? Of all the career topics out there, the mandate for passion must surely win the prize for being one of the silliest and most tedious. 

To me, if you're working at a job where your brain is reasonably engaged, that pays decently and induces nausea only 40% of the time, isn't that good enough?

Granted, my standards aren't high, but maybe that's because I'm over 25. Plus, I'm a believer in the unvarnished truth. Thankfully, though, I'm beginning to see some honest discourse around the topic of passion.

Recently, the Harvard Business Review published an article about how most of us are pretty clueless about the passion quest, despite its popularity. (The article's author, Jon Jachimowicz, a Harvard Business School assistant professor, notes that 90% of a recent class of Columbia Business School MBA students cited “pursuing their passion” as a top goal.)

Advocating a more realistic approach to finding passion at work, the article gives the following advice:

- Don't be rigid about idea of passion. "Focus on actively developing a passion instead. For example, you can craft your job to spend more time exploring the tasks you are more passionate about (or simply those that pique your curiosity)."

- Focus on what you care about, not what brings you joy: "The distinction is subtle but meaningful: focusing on what you love associates passion with what you enjoy and what makes you happy, whereas focusing on what you care about aligns passion with your values and the impact you want to have."

- Be sure your passion has wide appeal. "We find that expressing your passion may only help you if your audience already agrees with what you are presenting. If they are not already on board, your passion for the subject may not be effective in bringing them along."

All sensible advice, though it seems to entail making big compromises. I'd go as far as to say that what's described isn't really passion at all but a rationalization of the path taken or a very water downed version of the dream job. So why we keep up this passion charade? Why can't we just say grow up and smell the reality?

"I agree with you that it is a realistic version of passion, but I disagree that it’s not really passion," Jachimowicz tells me. Passion is a critical component, he explains, because research shows that "the relationship between passion and higher engagement, higher satisfaction, lower turnover, lower stress and higher job performance are very robust." That said, he adds, "it might be overblown."
"Passion is a very tricky word, sort of like 'meaning'," says Dan Bowling, a senior lecturer at
Duke Law School who studies lawyer happiness."Longitudinal studies of lawyers indicate higher levels of life satisfaction when one is pursuing a task that is aligned with one's strengths and interests. To me, that's a pretty good definition of passion and certainly a pathway to happiness."
Okay, so passion is popular in academia these days. But what do hardworking lawyers think of all this?
"Passion is nice if you can get it, but it’s not a requirement," explains a New York-based  technology partner at a major firm. "But dislike for you job is a deal-killer." That said, some lawyers have a high tolerance for misery, he adds. "Some people put up with jobs that they do not like for longer; they certainly require less passion/enjoyment from their job."
What's satisfying evolves over time, says another New York-based partner, echoing a point about passion in the HBR article. She adds: "I derive satisfaction from being in a client service industry. That part doesn’t drain out of you during the first years of practice. It gets stronger as you have more client contact and as the clients eventually come to you directly and you develop your own clients."
Both lawyers say they like their work, though they wince at the idea of passion. 

“Finding one’s passion is a fool’s errand," sums up the male lawyer. "If you keep searching for your passion, you might find that it doesn’t exist, or you stink at it. And by then it’s too late to course correct. I’m sure millennials would disagree."

The other lawyer puts it more bluntly: "Passion at work is millennial bullshit."

Yes, let's blame the millennials!

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Twitter: @lawcareerist


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Go read some Brene Braun - sounds like shame is involved for feeling passion. Because that would make someone happy or possibly be fun - and therefore we couldn't possibly be working hard enough. Hmmm...no wonder we lack creativity.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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