1. Hit Pause on Pursuing Your Passion
Yes, you heard that right. Stop pursuing your passion—at least for now. Take that energy and invest it in being amazing in your current field. Here’s why: Cal Newport, computer science professor and author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, argues that to be happy in your career, you should focus more on developing skills rather than on pursuing a passion.
Newport found that the strongest predictor of an employee seeing their work as deeply meaningful and a part of their identity was the number of years spent on the job. In other words, the more experience someone has, the more likely they’ll love their work. So if you haven’t already found your passion, why not focus on becoming exceptional in your current field?
You’re bound to derive enjoyment from your work if you’re excelling. The data show it really is that simple—the better we are at something, the more we’ll love it.
2. Become a Double or Triple Threat
Tim Ferriss’ recent book Tools of Titans:The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers teaches that you have two paths to become very successful: 1) Become the best at one specific thing. 2) Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things. He argues that the first strategy is incredibly difficult, but the second strategy is relatively easy. We all have a few areas in which we could be in the top 25% with effort.
Ferriss is actually a great example of this. He’s good at writing and entrepreneurship (he’s started or invested in many startups). The combination of the two skills has made him an incredibly successful influencer. Throw in the fact that he’s a very effective interviewer—check out his top-rated podcast—and you have a rare talent. Ferriss is a triple threat.
When I made the unconventional career change from finance to HR, I was concerned that the quantitative skills I had painstakingly honed might be wasted in a field that seemed to reward only soft skills.
But I found the exact opposite to be true. Being good at numbers has helped me bring a data-driven approach to the field, which has made me a more complete HR professional. All those years building financial models paid off, and I now possess a unique combination of skills that sets me apart from my peers.
You don’t need to have a singular passion. Develop multiple areas of strength. All experience matters, and even if you don’t love what you’re doing now, the skills you’re refining today may lead to a unique competitive advantage down the road.
3. Choose Company Over Function
When deciding on a career path, most of us initially focus on job function (for example, should I pursue marketing, accounting, or something entirely different?). But if you’re not sure which route to pursue, take the opposite approach. Focus on the type of company you’d like to work for and not necessarily the kind of work you’ll do.
Like it or not, your career success is tied to your company’s success. As venture capitalist and Stanford professor Andy Rachleff puts it, “you get more credit than you deserve for being part of a successful company, and less credit than you deserve for being part of an unsuccessful company. Everyone wants to recruit or back people from successful companies because they know people carry the lessons of success with them.”
Like it or not, there’s a halo effect that comes from working at a high-performing company. This may not be fair, but I know of several recruiters who reference a candidate’s previous company as one of the reasons they were hired. Choosing company over function may be counterintuitive, but it’s an approach worth considering.
If you’re at a successful company that’s growing but you don’t love what you’re doing, there’s a good chance you can network your way onto a different team. New opportunities will arise, and you can raise your hand when they’re looking for someone, even if you don’t have experience in that area. (And if you end up in that situation,this article explains how to approach your boss about it.)
If you have your passion, great. Go after it. But I’m guessing you’re probably struggling to pinpoint it as much as the next person. You can go on one more informational interview, or you can try something new.
Ignore trying to figure out what you’re meant to do (at least for now) in favor of investing your energy to excelling in your current field. Become a double or triple threat by being excellent in multiple areas. Prioritize the company you’d like to work for over the job function.
Following these three pieces of advice may not lead to an overnight discovery of your passion, but it will put you on the path to a career filled with both meaning and success.