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Don't find your passion, follow your curiosity

Updated: 3 days ago

“Follow your curiosity into the job where you think you’ll learn most.” - Angela Duckworth on Adam Grant’s WorkLife podcast episode “The perils of following your career passion.”

“What am I going to do with my life after college graduation?” That’s a big question. Maybe, instead, the approach should be, “What do I want to learn about myself and career opportunities after college graduation?”

I first came across the “don’t find your passion” idea in this Scientific American article that states,

“Rather than seek the one job or career path that ignites our passion, we should invest meaningfully in different interests and work to cultivate a passion in one or more fields. By this view, interests are nurtured over time, not discovered overnight.”

I couldn’t agree more.

When soon-to-be college grads come by my office for career advice, they are often ridden with anxiety and fear of the future. I hear these kinds of phrases over and over:

  • “I just want to have a career that allows me to make a difference.”

  • “What if I end up doing something I’m not passionate about?”

  • "Everyone wants to know what my plans are."

  • “I feel pressure to find the right fit."

I hear you, loud and clear.

However, I believe society has given us the wrong idea of what it means to “find your passion” in the workplace, especially for today's 20-somethings that see people online finding success overnight. More often than not, my former students who have been in the field for three to five years find their ‘fit’ in roles they didn’t even know existed.

To 20-somethings applying to and interviewing for internships or jobs, consider this a time of following your curiosity. This leads to self-discovery, which is what your 20's is all about!

How to follow your curiosity into a job in your 20's:

  1. Focus on what you still need to learn | Consider your first internship or post-grad job as an opportunity to learn more about the field, and what you’re good (and not good) at.

  2. Impactful work > Job titles and roles | Search for and pursue roles not based on the job title or job description, but on the opportunities you’ll have to add impactful work to your portfolio.

  3. Consider culture fit | Instead of "finding your fit," think about culture fit instead. This means taking a careful look at how things are done around the organization where you’re interviewing. When you’re at your interview, take a look around to see how employees interact with one another. Ask those you’re interviewing with how they would describe the company culture. And, one of my favorite questions to ask in an interview, “What keeps you coming back to work here every day?”

  4. Who will mentor you? How can you invest in others? | One of the best decisions I made early on in my career was accepting a job because I knew the person I would report directly to was top-notch in the field: Smart, strategic, and confident. Before accepting a job, try to get a good sense of the management and mentorship style of your potential boss.

  5. Making a difference happens inside and outside of your job | Oftentimes, what you do day-to-day at your future place of employment does make a difference, but indirectly. While you're spending hours in spreadsheets or renaming files in your company's database for the 100th time, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Not every day will feel super rewarding, and that's ok! It’s important to take a step back and evaluate how what you’re doing at a smaller scale is helping your company to accomplish larger things, AND helping you grow and develop in the process. It’s equally as important to pursue interests outside of work, too. Remember: You are not your job! What you do at work doesn’t define you, so make room for that pickleball tournament or volunteering at your church.

Bottom line: “Following your passion” and “finding your calling” is often a romanticized view of this next stage of life, potentially limiting your opportunities to create impact. Be curious and allow for this to be a time of self-discovery and pursuit of who you are and what you have to offer the world.

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