How do you find what you love doing?
October 5, 2011 9:51 PM   Subscribe

How do I "do what I love" if I have no idea how to even figure out what the heck that is? Steve Jobs has thrown me into an existential crisis and I need the hive mind to set me on the right path.

First, if you haven't watched Steve Jobs' Stanford commencement speech, please do so now. It is 15 minutes well spent. Now then...

Watching Steve Jobs' Standford commencement has thrown me into a bit of an existential head fuck this evening with his message about finding what it is you love to do, and spending your life doing it with excellence. It makes me wonder why I'm sitting here, procrastinating responding to an RFP for my day job in digital media, procrastinating filling a big order for my own personal ecomm site, etc. And the only conclusion I can draw is that I don't love what I do.

I truly don't give a shit about any of it.

I have relationships with the people I work with and don't want to screw them, but at the end of the day, the team I manage, and the security my job offers for my standard of living are the only thing keeping me there. The only reason I'm staying in the state I'm in is because of the woman I love and her need to stay near her family so packing up and moving to say, Silicon Valley isn't an option. I'm building up my own business efforts on the side, but I realized I'm not even doing something I'm truly passionate about there either. Its just a way to break free from the concept of "a day job" that I spend too much time in to the point that it is consuming my life for not nearly enough compensation. There's got to be a better way to approach this...right?

So I guess I'm wondering, how many of you have truly found something that you love doing with your life? If you are one of the lucky few, what is it about it that you love so much? I find it hard to believe that anybody has a true love for designing banner ads, building media campaigns, creating pitch decks, etc. But seriously--has anybody here truly found what it is that they love to do in life, and what they want to dedicate the rest of their lives to doing?

Would love to know what it was for you, how you came across it, and how you realized you love doing it.

Thank you in advance for humoring my feeble late-night attempt to reconcile some thoughts by sharing your own experience in this area. I realize I'm not going to find The Answer(tm) from a random post on the internet, but I also realized that I've gotten to where I am in life today largely through getting pointed in the right direction by doing just that. When I completely lacked social skills and had social anxiety disorder, I was able to teach myself and pull myself out of it through the internet. I learned everything I know about digital media and internet marketing myself by reading and testing things online. I've learned about all the random things that have sparked my interest over the years largely from the internet. Here's hoping there's something that comes out of this that will at least send me down a path that gets me closer to my answer.
posted by Elminster24 to Work & Money (51 answers total) 123 users marked this as a favorite
I think it is difficult to "find what you love." I think it is more important to "love what you find." I am not living where I thought I would live, I am not working in the field I thought I would, and I am not with the person I thought I would be... but, I love every aspect of my life because I have discovered how to love my job, how to love my city and ultimately how to love my partner (who is WAY better for me than the person I thought I should be with). It's all about perspective... in my opinion.
posted by AlliKat75 at 9:57 PM on October 5, 2011 [33 favorites]

You have to try a lot of different things.

IMO, that's one of the values of a classical liberal education, where you're forced to take classes in a lot of different subjects you never heard of before. Do enough of that, and if you're lucky, you may find out about something you really love.
posted by mikeand1 at 9:58 PM on October 5, 2011

Response by poster: Not to knock your approach, but that sounds a lot like "settling" rather than truly finding the answer, no? Or is there no real distinction between the two? Talking Heads "Once in a Lifetime" is coming to mind...
posted by Elminster24 at 9:59 PM on October 5, 2011

To a certain extent, the reason they pay you to work is that work kinda sucks. If it didn't suck they wouldn't pay you.

That said, I love my job. I teach high school English and seriously get a kick out of showing up to work every day. Today, we illustrated the difference between the literal and figurative meanings of sentences like "you're an asshole."

I fell into teaching because I couldn't really do anything else well. What do you do well? If that's not job-transferable, I think the best you can do is do your job as well as you can and try hard to make a positive impact on the world. I always tell new teachers to follow their passion, not your potential. You have lots of potential, but passion is also important, and a lot harder to figure out.

Good luck. It's a worthy undertaking to eschew safety and seek out passion.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:05 PM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I do what I love. I am my own boss and make a living as a freelance writer and I have written a few novels. That being said, although I love my job, I don't love ALL aspects of it: even when you have a job you love, some of it is still a slog. Sometimes I wake up and I don't feel like writing. So even when you love your job, you are not always going to love working all the time -- I think that is important to remember. It's still work now and then. As someone said on a thread earlier today, basically, the problem with being successfully self-employed is that your boss is a BITCH.

That being said, basically, I was always a writer. Always. As a kid, I wrote little books. I wrote on my high school literary magazine, and other projects. I have ALWAYS loved reading and writing and I am SO lucky that I can do it for a living. But I would have done it even if I worked at an insurance agency -- and, in fact, when I did work at an insurance agency, I did it on the side, for little-to-no money, but I eventually built a portfolio and found enough success that I could do it as a living.

What I always tell people is, what would you do if you didn't have to make a living? Try to do that on the side and see what doors open for you. You have no idea what kind of jobs are out there that might coincide with your real passions, or who you might meet while working on a passion project that might then hire you to do something you truly love.

And even if that never happens, I think that as long as you are working on SOMETHING that fulfills you and you really like have fun doing -- building model trains, coaching little league, volunteering at the art museum, whatever -- at least you have something you are passion about in your life, which is invaluable.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 10:06 PM on October 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

I went through this crisis. I had secure employment in a growing field, but I was deeply unhappy, and knew that I was not where I was supposed to be, given my perception of my personality and abilities. I'd had plenty of experience studying and working in a variety of fields, but nothing really took. And I couldn't figure out where I belonged. It really took a toll on my mental health.

I used to try to be more self-sufficient then, so it was years before I actually reached out to others for help. In desperation, I began opening my heart to friends, family, and even work supervisors, asking them what kind of work they thought I was suited for. In quick succession, I received the same response from three different people.

It was something that for some reason hadn't occurred to me, but as soon as it was brought to my attention, my inner response was, "Of course!

I organised to do some work experience in the field in question, to get a feel for the work, and knew from the first hour that I had found my vocation. There was still a way to go before I secured full-time employment in that field, but from that first hour of work experience, my ultimate success was a foregone conclusion. I'm not even talking about retrospect. After one hour's work experience, I knew that this was the field for me. That confidence only grew as I gained education and (unpaid and then paid) experience.

Perhaps it doesn't work that way for everyone - that's just my anecdotal evidence. But my encouragement to you is to do the thing that made the difference for me: open your heart to those around you, and ask them for the perspective you lack.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 10:25 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I thought Rafe had a great alternate approach to this idea: do what you can't NOT do.
posted by mathowie at 10:26 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I don't love my job every single day. But I do, wholeheartedly, believe in the mission of the organization I work for. That's what gets me through the bad days, and that's what makes the good days even better.

I discovered that pretty quickly in my early 20s, after working a string of typical office jobs. I liked my colleagues, liked my work, liked the paycheck, but really needed to feel I was making a difference.
posted by hms71 at 10:45 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Everyone is different in this respect, but part of this equation for a lot of people is figuring out what you love and then figuring out how to survive and be able to do that. For some people, maybe for a lot of people, "doing what you love" is synonymous with having a job that you love. This seems to make a lot of sense to a lot of people in America and if this equation works for you, terrific. I'm one of those people who always has the fidgets, with anything. I've had a lot of ideas of what I wanted to be since I was a little kid but they were mostly based on what I wanted to do. And what I wanted to do was not have a job that defined me.

More importantly, I wanted to have a flexible schedule and one that allowed a decent amount of travel and I wanted to live someplace rural and get to spend a lot of time in cities. I wanted to be a part of a community where I had an important but not critical role. I wanted to not be a part of a huge capitalistic machine where I felt like I had to compromise my values to have a job. I wanted to not have to dress up, ever. I didn't want anyone to really be the boss of me and tell me when to wake up, what to wear and how to talk to people. I wanted to never, ever, have to get yelled at for a job. For a while I thought that being a librarian would let me do a lot of this stuff, but it turned out, after trying it on, that it wasn't quite right but it was close.

That said, there was still a lot of overlap between what I liked to do for fun--help people learn to use technology, complain about poverty and injustice, screw around and answer questions on the internet--and the things that would pay. Before this I concentrated a lot on spending the minimum amount of money possible to live so that I could work as little as possible. The last few years have been sort of an explosion of fortune for me and in addition to my MeFi job [which is what I was doing before I was an employee at it] I have some local technology instruction work and sub at the library. I also do some public speaking at library conferences about technology stuff and recently wrote a book about the digital divide. My only complaint now is that maybe I have a few too many things on my plate so that when one of them requires a more-than-usual amount of attention, I can feel a little stretched thin.

But I wake up when I want to, every day. And I wear what I want to, every day. And I can speak my mind at work and not worry that I'm going to get in trouble with my corporate overlords. And I live in a small town where I know my neighbors and I can walk to work at my local job (which doesn't pay much and isn't many hours, but it doesn't have to be]. And I travel maybe once a month to go talk to librarians in some other city about the digital divide and technology in rural libraries. It works out well. People don't often "get" what I do, but that's mostly okay with me.

So maybe for you, right now, it's not your job that you love, but its your wife and her love of her family, or where you live, or you two planning a life together. And your job can be a part, maybe even only a small part, of you getting to do THAT thing you love and not having the job be the thing you love. Take a look at people with wacky hobbies. Often the job is just a means to an end, and that's a totally okay way to go through life too.
posted by jessamyn at 11:00 PM on October 5, 2011 [30 favorites]

One way to get out of this existential crisis is to realise that Steve Jobs saying that is a perfect example of selection bias.

Of course he can say "do what you love - it worked for me!" because, well, it worked for him. It didn't work for the zillions of other people who tried to do what they love, and failed to make a living out of it.

It's like every winner of Idol gushing "stick with your dreams & you can achieve anything!" - that didn't work for the people with the same dreams who were eliminated before they even made it to a screen test.

My father once quipped "Work? That's just a place where they give you a pen & a stapler, isn't it?" The point being, I think, that you can make your life great outside of work, and be happy enough doing something that pays the bills & doesn't totally suck.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:16 PM on October 5, 2011 [43 favorites]

I think I should link to grumblebee's comment on finding your passion, which deals with "do what you love" & "love what you do".
posted by bjrn at 11:21 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I were to really commit myself to finding the optimum career that I would love, I guess I would go about it as follows.

I would make a list of different kinds of industry. So
- manufacturing
- agriculture
- retail
- sales
- etc etc

Then I'd pick one and go and get whatever kind of job there that I could (minimum wage if necessary). I'd keep my eyes open, learn everything I possibly could from everyone there, and watch out for things I am good at and things I might enjoy. If another interesting job appeared there I'd apply for it.

If I felt that I'd completely exhausted the possibilities there, I'd move on to another industry and do the same thing.

At the same time I'd try and learn about as many things as possible in my spare time. I'd read all the books from the Personal MBA list. I'd go to a class on handstands. I'd learn a new sport. I'd meet as many interesting people as possible and find out more about what they do. I'd read about how to do theatrical makeup and how to train a dog and how to fix plumbing and why houses are built the way they are.

I'd grab with both hands any opportunity to make money on the side by doing little jobs for people, fixing websites, gardening, wheeling and dealing, trading on ebay, and so on.

At the end of all this if I still hadn't found a career that I loved, well I'd certainly have had fun looking. I'd count up how much it had cost me in lost earnings and write that off as the cost of a degree in "life".
posted by emilyw at 1:06 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Jobs said recently that doing what you love was necessary for success, because when the going gets tough, if you don't love it, you'll quit, and never succeed.

So doing what you love may not be easy, but it is definitely satisfying.

As a note of encouragement, finding what you love is something like falling in love. When it happens, you know it. It's that simple and obvious.

Career counselors sometimes offer the following exercise: take a few minutes and describe in writing your version of the Job From Hell. Include all realistic aspects that would make you miserable. Explain how each of those aspects would make you feel, and why you would hate experiencing that in a job.

Set aside your writing for a day. The next day, sit down and read over your writing, and make any adjustments to your Job From Hell. Now go through each aspect, and write the opposite of each. This becomes a list of qualities in a job that you'd really enjoy. Often, just seeing the list of ideal qualities will remind you of a career or area of interest that would include these good qualities.

If nothing else, it will force you to be specific about what makes enjoyable work for you.

Good luck!
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 1:48 AM on October 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think it would be most freeing to realize what unadulterated, privileged bullshit that advice is. What percentage of people do you think would quit their job tomorrow if they won the lottery? I'm guessing at least half. Are those people in those jobs just because they haven't done the deep thinking to become fully self-actualized and aware of their inherently super-talented true self? Fuck no. Not everyone has the kind of marketable talent to do something that they love for a living. A large percentage of jobs are pretty boring, don't require a lot of creativity or allow for much personal growth. Aiming for a better job than that is a great thing to do, but to just pretend everyone can avoid that just by trying is a slap in the face to the millions of hard working people who would love to quit but go to work so they can pay rent and buy food for their kids. Some of them could quit and start a small business from their hobby, but the vast majority of those who try will fail. Life's tough.
posted by skewed at 2:03 AM on October 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

Skewed, perhaps the advice didn't mean to infer that one had to be successful at doing what one loves - its a cliché that means, its enough to do what you want to do and to take pride in doing it.

Its sometimes difficult to accept the thing you love doing isn't now and won't ever be financially valuable. Jobs was fortunate that his interest was in making better products for people and as someone who paid himself a dollar a year as CEO, I have a hard time believing he didn't know that he was lucky.
posted by bigZLiLk at 2:34 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 'Do what you love' is what an exasperated teacher says to a pupil who won't learn. I am a poster boy for finding my way into jobs people would literally kill for. The fact is that most jobs one would sell their soul for are very routine and not particularly exciting except when you are able to consume what you produce - which is roughly never because as soon as one item is done you're on to the next.

However, one of the surest ways of finding an ideal position is to apply for a job you absolutely never thought of doing but is within your means (means is 70% qualified) - like when I went in 2010 to run a professional basketball club while I was also in graduate school. I was reluctant at first but found it enjoyable and ultimately became successful enough to attract investors. I have since moved to the job I said I would have after I finished grad school: director at a charity helping young people to inexpensively find their ideal positions.

Feel free to message me if you need more help.
posted by parmanparman at 3:18 AM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

So I guess I'm wondering, how many of you have truly found something that you love doing with your life? If you are one of the lucky few, what is it about it that you love so much? I find it hard to believe that anybody has a true love for designing banner ads, building media campaigns, creating pitch decks, etc. But seriously--has anybody here truly found what it is that they love to do in life, and what they want to dedicate the rest of their lives to doing?

Check out "How To Be Creative. It doesn't have Jobs' all or nothing approach, which doesn't work for everyone. It also has the very reasonable view that what you're passionate about may not be what you're doing to pay the bills and that's ok.

It's ok to have day job you're not in love, especially if you're building up your personal business on the side to earn more money to do what you really want.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:23 AM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

For those that can't watch video, here is the text of Job's commencement speech.
posted by Brent Parker at 4:36 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Last night, I joked to my husband, "I wonder how many people are going to quit their jobs tomorrow and start following their dreams?"

I read the transcript of that speech and - I admit it - I cried a little. I almost felt like I'd personally disappointed Steve for not finding a calling and throwing everything I had into it. I struggle with the "Shouldn't I be doing what I love? Am I wasting my life and talent?" question constantly.

Then I recalled a few other things I've read recently: arguments against going to graduate school in the humanities, arguments against going to grad school in anything, various stories about the sad sorry state of the job market. And my reaction to those was always the opposite: "Huh, I'm kind of glad I went the steady-boring-job route instead. I really like the stability."

For me, there's merit in both approaches. I've come down on the stable but boring side by default, but the passion-following side still nags me. The debate's not going to be answered for me today, or this year. It's a work in progress.

I think the idea that you must pursue your passion as a career is a little reckless. Most of us are lucky enough to be sorta-good at something we love. Finding a way to earn a living from that thing is harder still. The notion that it's somehow necessary to do* what you love and love what you do implies that we're failures, or inept or lazy, for not finding that calling. It devalues the regular unglamorous jobs most of us have and need and work hard at.

*You see it, even, in our semantics. People don't ask "where do you work?" They ask "what do you do?" "What do you want to be when you grow up?" As if your existence is defined by whether you get a check from it. As if you won't be anything else besides your job, as if what you do outside work hours is frivolous and irrelevant.

It's okay if you value your free time more than your work. It's okay to love reading novels without ever wanting to write them. It's okay to have a job that people at parties don't really feel like hearing about.

I think the important part is to keep moving forward in whatever you do, to keep looking for ways to incrementally improve your life and those around you. It doesn't have to be professionally, and it doesn't have to be dramatic. If you're unsatisfied in one area, you might not be able to rocket to complete satisfaction, but you can usually get a little better. You can often find a job that's just a little less boring and a little more like something you love.

The meaning is often in the pursuit, more so than the passion itself. And it's certainly not in the pay.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:00 AM on October 6, 2011 [18 favorites]

How do I "do what I love" if I have no idea how to even figure out what the heck that is?

Constantly challenge yourself. If you haven't found 'it' yet, it's not too late, but you might have to go out of your comfort zone. Also, maybe get involved in your community in some way. I know a few folks who found their 'it' this way. Once they did the job they did before, but now it directly benefitted the community they lived in, the boring work they did now mattered in a much bigger way.

Also, nthing what a few have said up above, sometimes doing what you love isn't about your day job. Sometimes it's being a great person, husband, surfer, woodworker, baker, friend, underwater basket weaver, whatever.
posted by getmetoSF at 5:22 AM on October 6, 2011

There's a lot of pressure on people to "do what they love." That is, if you don't (what ever that means to you) you are losing at life and judge yourself accordingly. So what I'm saying is, worry less about that. Yes, there are better and worse things to do, but didn't Steve Jobs also say the journey is the reward?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:42 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Doing what you love" doesn't always mean "do what you love as your moneymaker".

My passions are both in the arts -- work in theater, and writing. However, those professions -- for where I am in them right now -- pay me diddley-squat. I need to be able to eat and pay rent in the meantime.

I do not "do what I love" as the thing that pays me the bills. But the thing I do that pays the bills ENABLES me to do what I love when my time is my own. That may never change. But I have accepted that - because dammit, at least I'm doing it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:44 AM on October 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

You're allowed to love something other than your job. I enjoy my job, but my primary career motivator is my family. I work hard because I love THEM, not because I love what I'm doing*.

*note: I do really like what I'm doing, though. I'm just lucky like that.
posted by yeolcoatl at 6:20 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

ONe of my major breakthroughs in therapy was when we examined my role models, and my therapist told me that who love their jobs as a passion and do it all the time are obsessive, and it's OK to not be obsessive.
posted by yeolcoatl at 6:27 AM on October 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

I'm very happy in what I do and at moments, I love what I do. This is also a much better fit for me and in the past, I could never stay at a job without hopping to the next place (and this is the first time in my life that I can). I actually did a paid project this weekend and I had the thought, "They are paying me to do this? Shouldn't I be paying them?"

Anyway, these are the steps that got me here. It was rough at points, unfortunately this was the path that I had to take.

1). Try lots of different types of jobs, settings and then create a list of what you enjoy and love that ties together some of those jobs. I also made a list of other things that I wanted (e.g. where I live, minimal salary expectation) and also things that I don't want to do anymore based on former jobs (e.g. no speaking in front of groups.).

2). Brainstorm to find jobs that match your list (like ask metfilter at a painful find me a new job moment, along with reading a book or two). Pick the best 2 or 3 jobs based on your list.

3). Then I had to do research. I wanted to make sure that the new job had the things on my list, and I also needed to make sure that I made the best choice (salary, etc), so I had to talk to people and do information interviews (this is my "how to do info interviews"). I had an option of picking different "types" of employment that did X, and I picked the thing that matched what I wanted the most by doing this research.

4). Get the job that you want, but still make plan B, if applicable. For me plan B was self-employment (so I can I pick where I live, the schedule, what I do, etc); this is how I'm wired, so it may or may not apply to you.

5) Use the workplace to get the job skills and training that you want for plan B. I used the job as a training ground to learn what I wanted and also created and made things that I was proud of because there was a step B. This was a philosophical shift because I wasn't just working for someone - I was working towards what I wanted next.

5). Tell a few close friends your goal (someone honest and who will call you on it). So I whined about the job in number 4 (not the work, but the hours required). A good friend pointed out my original plan B, which meant letting go of the paid job and trying this on my own. There had to be a voice saying try this and move forward (for me). Some people may have this inside them - I did not.

6). I now seek out things that I want to work on and learn and turn the other stuff away. This happens because I tell people upfront that I work on specialized, specialized niche X. Stop (don't mention things that you are not interested in or don't want to do) I try different projects but turn away the things that are not fun, interesting, don't learn a lot, or if the few people you work with are not great, whatever.

But my vision now is something different. I do "write" but to be honest -- who cares if I write, draw, paint on a wall, PPT, whatever-- it is a vehicle to learn the things that I want to learn about.

OP, you mentioned stuff about pitch decks and banner ads. I'm not sure if that is what you do -- but if it is: 1) what do you enjoy learning about and could you create decks for that all day (the decks are the vehicle) OR 2) is there something that you believe it? Charity X? Treating disease Y? Telling a story? Specialize in making decks about that. Now are there more things that you want to learn? Cutting edge stuff? (how to make an ipad ap or a flash animation? put something here). Use your workplace or next job to learn how to do it and add it to your job -- but you drive what you want to learn and do, but not the workplace. If your job won't give you the chance, go get the training and a new job that will let you do it.
posted by Wolfster at 6:50 AM on October 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

Not to knock your approach, but that sounds a lot like "settling" rather than truly finding the answer, no?

Really loving your job is an enormous luxury, something given to only the most fortunate. There's a lot to be said, though, for caring about your job, to the extent that you want to do it as well as you can and get better at it all the time. That's not the same, but in many ways it's better; there are lots of people in the world who love, intensely, things that are dumb, irrelevant or silly. That's where a lot of flea market art comes from. Somebody in the world, right now, is making the best sequined chihuahua pillow that has ever been made. They're might even be pretty proud of it.

Figure out what is meaningful to you; figure out what changes you want to make in the world, set goals and pursue them. You may not love the day to day parts of that job, but you'll be able to go to sleep at night with a satisfaction that is very much unlike just enjoying what you're doing in the moment and, I claim, a lot better.
posted by mhoye at 6:54 AM on October 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

Can we talk about Jobs's actual career? There were a lot of screwups. Lisa failed. After huge initial sales of Macintosh, it stagnated for a while. He was pushed out of Apple. NeXT, as awesome as it was, was not a huge success. He made most of his money during the Apple interregnum in Pixar.

The point being that he kept moving. He was doing what he loved, but he didn't always succeed at it, yet at the same time, he made sure that he could constantly support himself and he moved on to the next thing when what he was doing didn't work. And was he always "doing what he loved?" I'm not even sure about that-- he did, however, recognize that Pixar was "the future" and got involved when he saw the opportunity.

While truly "doing what you love" is kind of a luxury, you can do something that your personality is suited for.

Also, I know people who "do what they love" in the sense that their job is more than a day job-- it's something that consumes them and they are great at it. And you know what? They complain all the time about various aspects of their jobs, the people they have to deal with, etc. So even if you get there, people may well point out that you'll still have things to bitch and complain about.
posted by deanc at 8:05 AM on October 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm going to quote part of my most favorite quote. By Jenkin Lloyd Jones:

Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he's been robbed. The fact is that most putts don't drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just ordinary people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. . . .

Life is like an old-time rail journey--delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.

I think we can all strive for perfection in our lives (jobs, relationships, etc.) but reality is that no one will attain perfection and not everyone will find their passion or love their work. And that's ok. Maybe Steve Jobs is part of an elite few that actually love what they did. And maybe not. Maybe he stumbled into all of this, had a talent for it and ta-da! And that's okay! I stumbled into a paralegal job many years back and wow! I loved it. But I hadn't planned on it at all. Is that settling? Or is that realizing that you can love something that you never even considered?

So often we focus on finding the "thing" that clicks, the "thing" that we're passionate about, the "thing" that will make us say, "I've got passion! I've got a job I love! My spouse is my soulmate!" And you know what? I think for some people they find those things. But so many more do not. Do we stop trying? Do we live less than a wonderful life? Of course not! I think the thing to do is to continue on. Keep trying and keep trying new and different things. I think perhaps we think we know ourselves so well and we know what's perfect for ourselves so we shut ourselves off to other opportunities because we feel they wouldn't "fit" us. But maybe that thing we rejected would be our magnum opus.
posted by Sassyfras at 8:23 AM on October 6, 2011 [12 favorites]

To find something you love doing is without a doubt very important. But, like with anything, that really can't be the sole criterion. There are a lot of different reasons for loving something, not just enjoyment.

You wouldn't only eat the foods that taste the best because you need to consider nutrition, cost, etc. You wouldn't necessarily marry the person you're craziest about because you need to consider their willingness to share a life with you. You wouldn't watch only your favorite genre of movie because other genres may work for you in different ways.

When it comes to figuring out what you need/want to do in life, passion is only one (very important) of several ideals you can strive for. A person may love making art, but aside from channeling his/her creativity and producing something original, how else does that serve his/her purpose and progress in life? It's not just about finding your passion and getting good at it, but what else you do with it.

If the artist decides to act by sharing his/her work, then there's more to be done. Networking with buyers/sellers/galleries, self-promoting on social media sites, finding a way to make his/her art most engaging and accessible to its audience. This is an entirely different "job" that requires an entirely different skill set. Steve Jobs excelled in creating innovative and user-friendly technology, but if that were absolutely all he did, he would have just been an exceptional engineer.

The way I've always thought about finding something you truly love doing is figuring out what you're passionate about, what you're skilled at, and how you can combine those to best serve (society, an industry, a cause, etc). An English teacher who loves grammar and is talented at presenting it to students in an inspiring way serves society. Steve Jobs, who loved developing new technologies and was able to pinpoint exactly what customers needed, served the tech industry. The founder of a non-profit who loves helping others and succeeds at encouraging others to take note of those in need serves a cause.

I think it's wonderful that you're so strongly motivated to find something that inspires great passion in you. I'd just encourage you to expand your scope to include skills and talents you already have, because they might help point you toward what you're looking for and because they're the resources you'll need to really build a life around your passion.
posted by desertface at 9:13 AM on October 6, 2011

Its just a way to break free from the concept of "a day job" that I spend too much time in to the point that it is consuming my life for not nearly enough compensation.

Steve Jobs had a day job! In fact, I'm betting it was a day, night, and weekend job. Sure, if I had to guess I'd say he enjoyed a lot of it, but I bet a fair bit of it was also crappy or boring. I would lay money that he spent some nights with his head in his hands wondering if he was wasting his life, just like the rest of us.

Anyway, many years ago a friend asked me what I would do if I won the lottery. Like, what would my hobbies be? What would I do every day if absent of time and money woes? The answer for me was non-fiction writing, and inspired by that I made a career change to tech writer and consequently have been a lot more satisfied by work. It is amazing? Nah. But I'm much happier now than I was before.
posted by jess at 9:18 AM on October 6, 2011

Good on you if you've found something, anything, to be passionate about. Double down on your luck if you can make a living with that passion.

But someone has to take out the trash. Someone must clean, must cook, must lay asphalt, build roads, build websites, bury the dead, care for the sick, and repair sewage systems. Because of this basic fact of economics, I've long felt getting paid for a passion was immensely privileged. To even posit I have the right to pursue a passion for monetary gain is largely a Western, caucasian, upper/middle class claim.

Keep poking. Keep searching. Keep trying. Keeping pursuing. Find someone or something to love, but don't expect that love to put food on your table or a roof over your head.
posted by whycurious at 9:20 AM on October 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

I love what I do, and I fell into it. I'd started in journalism, moved in to TV and then when the industry changed, I changed too. But I didn't know what my actual strengths were back when I thought my real talent was with words, not pictures. I wouldn't have known that had I not stumbled into television.

Or is that realizing that you can love something that you never even considered?

You have to go with your strengths, but you have to figure out what those strengths really are. Maybe you're great at re-arranging your furniture or telling your friends how to soup up their cars or planting their garden. Your strengths/talents aren't always used at the job you do to make money. Nothing wrong with that, but it's more satisfying to figure out what you do really well and then find a way to make that pay.

I'd say Jobs didn't realize that he was good at design--he probably thought a Porsche was cool. But then, as he got more successful at the computer business, he had the time and the framework to investigate his penchant for design and how things looked.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:55 AM on October 6, 2011

Taking the Johnson-O'Connor aptitude test changed my husband's life. (But bear in mind their philosophy is not "do what you love" but "you'll love doing what you're good at.")

For me--my main job isn't something I love, but it's something I like well enough. It sure beats farming. I tend to do the things I love for free, and that works for me.
posted by hishtafel at 11:39 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

definitely go with your strengths. There will be lots of things that you are good at, but they may be not be fulfilling. Go with what uses the greatest amount of talents and abilities you have. You are on this Earth, taking up resources, make good use of your time here.

That being said, career is NOT the only source of fulfillment. It's more important to be fulfilled outside of work then at work.
posted by Neekee at 1:33 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Advice like that: "Do what you love!" "Follow your passion!" drives me bonkers. First of all, not everyone has one particular passion. The people who do tend to assume that everyone else is (or should be) the same way, but it's not so. Many people have a range of things that they sorta like, but no one particular thing that they are clearly destined to devote their life to. If you have a thing that you love doing, and you can make it your life's work, that's one way to live a great life. But it's NOT the only way, or necessarily even the best way.

It can work equally well, for instance, to love what you do. Suppose that the only job available to you in your life was mopping floors. Would that necessarily condemn you to a worthless life of misery? No: you could learn to love what you do, taking pride in being a good floor-mopper, people-watching, singing to yourself. Or hating every minute of it but loving the fact that you can sustain your life and help feed your family. And your life would have just as much value as Steve Jobs'. Your level of happiness may be much greater if you're not all wrapped up in obsessing over your "passion."

I copied this quote from a novel I once read:

"The soul can take delight in small things if one's dreams only leave it in peace long enough." (Olaf Olafson, The Journey Home, pg.41.)

So don't get so wrapped up in trying to manufacture a dream that you miss the chance to take delight in the small things. Taking delight in small things can make a fine life, too.
posted by Corvid at 1:50 PM on October 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

Being a musician and writer on the side has helped me understand something - not everyone is a genius at cool, creative things. I actually have some genius areas, but they tend to run to the more mundane. There is room in this world for non-genius, mundane stuff done well, and the more I've learned to live with that, the happier I've gotten.

Would it have been cooler if I had been a Steve Jobs, or a Mark Zuckerberg? I guess so, but unfortunately I don't appear to have been one of those one-in-a-millions, as are 99.9999% of us.

I think the thing one does assuming one isn't 1 in a million is we try to do things that make us happy, and try to keep jobs that don't make us miserable.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:31 PM on October 6, 2011

I think 'do what you love' is fantastic advice for people who are PASSIONATE about something. My brother was passionate about advertising (weird, I know). He gave up a perfectly good job to work for free at an Ad agency and temped to make ends meet. He is now doing really well in the ad world.

My DH has no great passion in his life. Instead he makes our lived possible by paying the bills while I make a go at my passion (writing).

So I guess what I am saying is -- do what you love if you cannot live without it. Otherwise find a career you can enjoy, that pays well enough to support the life you want to live, and gives you enough time left over to live the life you want.
posted by LittleMy at 3:33 PM on October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs's passion was in a field that inherently will make you buttloads of money. If your passion is in an area that never makes anyone any money, then... yeah. God knows my passions in life are not going to make me anything, and they definitely won't get me health insurance either. I hear you on this Steve Jobs thing, because I've been angsting about it for awhile now. I like what jessamyn said and kind of want to pull that off, but dear god, I can't reconcile that with having a steady paycheck and health insurance. Plus the part where I don't want to start my own business, can't have a job like that if you aren't In Charge.

But on a related note, I just found out about this website last night and it sounds like it might be a good one for folks with lots of interests who want to synthesize them into something:
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:36 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Barbara Sher wrote a whole book on this: I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was.

I read this book when I was between careers and had no idea what to do next. While I didn't figure out what I wanted just by doing the exercises in the book, it did teach several important concepts - you can have more than one dream and take them in turns or alternate, figure out why your dream appeals to you and get that element in your life asap. For those whose passion does not translate into a paid employment, this process can help you get more of what you want. In addition, her techniques for dealing with procrastination and creating your own team of allies are great stuff.

I finally found my answer by just thinking about it off and on for about two years and then spent another year researching that career path and deciding whether and how to pursue it.
posted by metahawk at 8:16 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had never heard Job's speech before yesterday, and it really resonated with me because I have, over the last two years, found work that I truly love, and I'm probably better at it than I've been at anything before in my life.

I wish I could tell you "this is how you find work you love," but honestly for me, while there has been hard work, careful thought and research, there's also been a LOT of dumb luck and being at the right place at the right time.

I actually think it's a lot like finding that other kind of love. Yes, there are things you can do to help it happen, but really, a lot of it is just about finding the right thing/person at the right time. So while I disagree with many of the people in this thread - I DO think it's a worthwhile aspiration - I also don't think it's something you can make happen by following certain steps.

Believe me, I tried. For the 5 or so years before I stumbled into this, I was going through a major career crisis - I was totally burnt out on my old career, but hadn't figured out what I wanted to do instead. I spent hours upon hours thinking about it analytically, researching all sorts of options, getting excited about things and then realizing they were wrong for me. Actually, right before I started my current job, I was getting ready to apply to PhD programs (there but for the grace of god ...).

Then there was an opening in another dept in my organization. It seemed exciting because it involved some of the aspects I still liked from my old career, but would allow me to build a skill set in a new field, one that is growing (which seemed like a good idea in this economy!). I had actually started doing some similar work as sort of a pet project on the job I had at the time and enjoyed it. And honestly, ever since I applied, things have just ... flowed.

I used to look at some of my peers and wonder why they were advancing so much faster than me, why things seemed so much easier for some people. Now I understand - sometimes it's just a matter of fit. I breezed through the interviews, and then right when I started the new job, I got put on a big project that I did really well at, and since then have just had opportunity after opportunity to work on things that just seem fun.

The thing about this job is that there's still a lot of work I don't love. Some that I find downright tedious or unpleasant. But I get to do those things in the service of projects I feel passionate about, that I really want to succeed, so I don't mind as much as I might otherwise. Also, I work longer hours at this job than I have in a long, long time. But again, that's ok because I love so much of the work.

Those were two of the biggest ways I knew this was good work for me. Another way was that I could see myself doing my boss's job and loving it.

I know this is easier said than done, but you are probably not doing yourself any favors by stressing yourself out about this. I really don't think it's one of those things you can think yourself into. Just try lots of different things, stay open to opportunities, and listen to your gut. Do the best work you can do in your current field, and try to find ways to try new and fun side projects to do and see how you like them. That way, at least you're being productive and staying fresh in the meantime.

Oh, and sort of as an afterthought - I love this work but I'm not certain I'll do it forever. However, it's been great for me identifying what I actually like doing and I will probably try to incorporate those things into any future career change.

I know you asked for details about what people do. I'd rather not share that in a public forum since my field is small, but if you're curious I'm happy to share over memail.
posted by lunasol at 11:35 PM on October 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

I've found that trying to do something I love for money is a surefire way to make me quit loving it as it becomes associated with stress and responsibility instead of enjoyment. In other words, it definitely does not work for every type of personality. I enjoy my passions much more when I have punch-the-clock, low responsibility jobs -- and I don't mind the jobs either, because I don't have them set up to be my source of fulfilment or identity. Jobs that stress out most people because they're menial or involve customer service or tedious tasks put me in a nice zen state. So don't panic that you MUST make money doing something that's meaningful to you, and instead ask yourself first if you're even the type of person who would do well not keeping passions and money separate.
posted by Nattie at 12:22 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think it is dangerous to believe that everyone has a passion which could become a career, and still more dangerous to believe that if you work hard enough at it you will succeed. Many people have passions for pursuits but lack he requisite talent. This leads to disappointment.

Still its pretty much what the America Dream, American Idol, Hollywood, Self-Actualisation books etc. run on so you will always be presented with seemingly compelling arguments for following your dream, usually presented by the 1 in a million success stories.

Did Steve Jobs believe that success was a possibility for everyone? I assume whenever he stayed in a hotel he assumed that the hotel would have staff who would curtail their dream-chasing and make his bed and clean his toilet.

Doing what you love is possible for some, impossible for some, and possible to some degree for some people. How possible it is for you is not full knowable until you try, how much you are willing to bet on your possible success is a choice for you.
posted by therubettes at 1:43 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just graduated from Top tier school with a degree that I don't even want to look at. (I'm sorry, Mom and Dad). I took the first stare-at-computer job I could get out of college, in the same town, and 1.5 years later, I dread going to work everyday. I'm newly single (ow), in a house of roommates and making living wage. This can't be all there is to life. There's no way I could support a child if I had any. Which is sad, because I want the chance to be a mom someday. If I marry, I want to be closer to being a whole person, rather than a work-in-progress.

Yet... I have a second life after 5 o' clock. I can't say exactly what my one, be-all, end-all Passion is. In the past year, I've tried: improv, stand-up, theatre, therapy, volunteering, church, languages, tutoring, planning my world travels, ballroom, drawing, movie-watching, and cooking. The only hobbies I explored as a kid were piano (yuck), spelling bees, reading, AIM, TV, and arts/crafts. As a kid, my future was pretty narrow (1. doctor). I have talents, but I'm afraid to take the leap because, I haven't found a path to stick to, I'm not confident I'll succeed, and who knows how close I am to being homeless? I LIKE going to the store and being able to pick out any food I want to eat. I like going out with friends. No risks, no sweat, no adrenaline. My Netflix is opiate for the masses. I'm the girl who would stay stuck in Truman Show town forever and hate it.

JK Rowling and Ricky Gervais didn't strike gold until they were middle-aged. When you get out of the "loser trap", you can become exponentially more successful. You can have your hand in every pot and be the Renaissance Man, the Stanford address deliverer. Or the singular, focused Bill Cunningham. Huzzah! Your fortunes can change. Here's to the lucky ones who can still alter the fabric of their lifetime!

The day-job is like a Dementor. It sucks your soul. Don't let it own you.
posted by dracomarca at 8:00 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

> And was he always "doing what he loved?" I'm not even sure about that...

Aha! This is a great point and I think the answer is both yes and no.

Steve had to deal with a personnel problem in my division at one point. I doubt he looked forward to it and he didn't seem exactly happy, but he seemed confident and serious. Rather than bitching about what had happened and what was going to happen because of it, we had our boss's boss's boss come in and just solve the shit and he seemed to know that his gravitas was going to let us move on. He didn't say much, but spent most of the time answering questions, which he seemed generally interested in doing.

So, "loving" what you're doing might not be "gee whiz cool" all the time. You have to work at it and sometimes it's kind of a grind, but then you can sit back & marvel at what you accomplished.
posted by morganw at 7:50 PM on October 9, 2011

I think most people accept it as a given that even one's "dream job" has boring elements, morganw and deanc; I think the OP is asking more something like "how can you figure out what your 'dream job' actually is" or "what do you do when your dream job is in something like the arts and won't pay a living wage".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:36 AM on October 10, 2011

I can relate to what you're going through. Every now and then I ask my self whether I am actually doing what I came here to do. However, I notice that these questions arise everytime things get difficult, either because o money or a specific situation that makes me feel anxious or desperate.

What I can tell you is that even though I ask my self these questions, when I look at the big picture, I feel happy, not necessarily because I feel I am doing exactly what I am supposed to do, but because I decided to be happy and look at the satisfactions my career gives me (which it does) and get rid of all the questions that steal my joy. Who knows? maybe when if you let go of them, the answer will come to you. Good luck!
posted by emphatic at 9:58 AM on October 12, 2011

Response by poster: Correct EmpressCallipygos. I'm confident enough in my business skills that if I found something I truly loved, I'd figure out a way to make a living off of it. My challenge is finding out what I want to sink all that time and energy in that I will find truly rewarding.

Quick update:
Had a brief unexpected chat with my boss today about this. I basically said that I am going to be spending less late nights and weekends on things and that I'm evaluating my situation and what kind of work life balance I need and that we may be having a follow-up discussion in the near future. It sounds kind of bad when I briefly recap it like that, but it was a much better discussion than that.

At the end of the day, I have to make a decision as to whether jumping blindly into nothing is the right choice. However I don't think my current situation will afford me the time to figure that out. A giant catch 22.
posted by Elminster24 at 7:28 PM on October 12, 2011

This is a great thread. Wonderful thoughts here. An observation: it's easy to fall in love with something that is successful. Jobs worked very, very hard and I bet he went in all kinds of directions and had many very dark days where he wondered if he was on the right path. He achieved a level of success that allowed him the freedom to do what he did. He ended up being very good at being Steve Jobs and was incredibly successful. If I had that level of success, I'd probably feel pretty in love with it. Who knows though, right?

Something which has given clarity to my job search and my passion search in the last two years was boiling down my desires to this: I want to work with good people. I find that I can do anything and find joy in it if my cohorts are a certain kind of people. The kind of people that translate to me as "good people." Nothing can ruin a good job more than a few bad people. (Example: my former supervisor. What a miserable sack of....)

Anyway, I spent a year pursuing something that I loved and tried to make money at it. The money wasn't there but those people were very good. Now I volunteer and participate in that field for fun and enjoyment. My day job is something that I thought I would be very passionate about and at times I am very delighted by it but there is a constant drudgery to it as well which is just how it goes. However, I am very lucky to finally be working for a very good person. Working for her is a delight and I'm committed to making this work for as long as I can and I sure do hope I can eventually look back and be very successful and then tell people breezily, "Just do what you love!"

Anyway, just something to think about. As you go along, keep a sharp eye out for the good people and think about what it would mean to work for them or alongside them. It may bring you some clarity.
posted by amanda at 1:31 PM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

> I think the OP is asking more something like "how can you figure out what your 'dream job' actually is"

I agree. I'm trying to say that what you think might be a dream job might not be. SJ spent some time in Jony's lab looking at fresh ideas, but it wasn't all fun.

Forget passion, focus on process. I used to work at a company that made electronic musical instruments. Stuff that Stevie Wonder, Frank Zappa and an Oscar-winning sound designer used. Cool, right? Nope. The day-to-day could be really tedious. I learned a hell of a lot and there was probably no way I would have been able to figure out that I wouldn't love it beforehand, but there wasn't even a chance. Career manuals tell you how big a field is, what training you need for it & how much you'll get paid, but never what the day-to-day actual work is like. I overstated on purpose. If someone wants to contribute suggestions for better career manuals, I'd love to hear them. Maybe What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question
posted by morganw at 12:36 PM on November 10, 2011

« Older What is the source movie for the "Hitler finds out...   |   Business and Friendship Situation Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.