I was sitting in my office one rainy Wednesday afternoon talking to a student new to my practice. Joe was enthusiastically answering my questions because both he and I were hoping to uncover the answer to the age-old question: “What do you want to do when you grow up.” I oftentimes imagine myself a detective asking question after question with the hope of guiding the student toward the career of their dreams. “What are you passionate about?” used to be one of my ‘go-to’ questions but no longer. Now I ask questions to help the student explore and uncover careers that will give them a sense of purpose.
“Follow your passion” is one of the most frequently repeated bits of advice not only for high school juniors beginning the college process; but also, for the many adults unsatisfied with their careers. I recently read a sad statistic that only 31.5 percent of working adults today report a sense of satisfaction and happiness with their current career. Many career experts suggest that hard work is one of the factors that increases passion for a career rather than the other way around. We develop passion for what we do over time, rather than starting out with a clear, defined passion for a particular career goal. So, if students don’t follow their passion, then how do they choose a career?
Harvard Business School professor Jon Jachimowicz offers a simple, research-backed reply. Forget passion; instead, focus on finding your purpose. If you’re looking to what makes you happy to determine your career goal, whether it be paintball in the backyard; scoring lacrosse goals, or volunteering to cuddle puppies (my personal favorite), you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Happiness is a lousy career guide. In one study of more than 200 employees, Jachimowicz noted, ‘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.”
In other words, chasing your passion, tends to lead to more dissatisfaction in a career. Jachimowicz advocates that finding a ‘purpose in life’ rather than ‘a passion in life’ will lead to a more fulfilling career and higher job satisfaction. The question to reflect on is, “What do I care deeply about?” By focusing on finding your purpose, you align your career goals with your deepest values.
Of course, most teenagers have a difficult time being self-reflective at all, which is why this beginning step in the college admissions process can be so troublesome and laborious. So, what are some steps that parent and students can do to begin to find a career that will give them purpose? Listed below are some that I think might help.
- Reflect on high school courses that you have enjoyed? Why? List those courses. Do you see a pattern? Are they all primarily in one academic area? List all of the answers to these questions in a journal, notebook?
- What careers do you think you are interested in? What do you care most deeply about? What changes in this world do you want to be a part of? What do those careers have in common with the academic subjects you enjoy? Do you primarily like working with your hands or learning about subjects in books? Again, list all of these answers in your journal or notebook?
- Is there someone in your family, friends, or acquaintances who has a career that you are interested in? A career that you might like to explore further? List those answers also.
- Now it’s time to check out careers. Visit the ONET database (http://www.onetonline.org). This is a free government website, where you can learn all sorts of up-to-date information about careers, including education, responsibilities, job outlook five to 10 years from now, and average annual salary.
- Once you have narrowed done your list of careers, check with your high school guidance counselor about internship opportunities, where you will be able to try on the career either for a few weeks or a semester.
- If internships aren’t available, see if you can create one for yourself for the summer, even if it is only for a few weeks. Contact companies that offer these careers, and ask if you can shadow or possibly intern for a few weeks. They might say “Yes”.
- Career assessments are great in that they can help narrow down your interests. I offer two career assessments in my practice, The Strong Career Interest Inventory and the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory. After I share the results from both of these assessments, I offer the families another report, where the results of both tests are combined to offer the student a more concise predictor of career choices. Oftentimes, my students share that taking these assessments helps them to learn about careers they hadn’t considered or validate their career choices.
Remember it is a process, with each step you take leading to more possible questions and hopefully a few answers. Because college costs continue to increase, I believe you should begin to explore these questions sooner rather than later. It could easily save you and your family money on tuition. Right now, about 50 percent of students enter college as undecided, with the knowledge that they have two more years to explore career options before declaring their major. This plan has its faults, however and can easily lead to more time and money spent in college.
Determining what you want to do when you grow up is not easy. Following your purpose, rather than your passion, though, will lead you to more happiness and fulfillment in your life. And we all want that.
Do you need support with finding your purpose? I can help. Contact me at: 240-285-1920 or