Do what you like well enough
February 7, 2012 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Do you like your job? Do you like your job despite it not being related to your "passion"? (Maybe you don't have a "passion".) How did you find your way into that job?

As someone who doesn't have a driving passion, who has a lot of shallow interests that tend not to translate into marketable skills, and whose marketable skills have taken me five years into a career that promises to be stressful/unsatisfying/low-paying, I'm curious how people like me find work that they like. In a previous discussion on the green, someone linked to this Penelope Trunk post that I found quite interesting, arguing against the idea of "do what you love". But her conclusion, "just do something and have good relationships" isn't really doing it for me. Is it unreasonable to hope to do something you don't mind doing for 40+ of your waking hours per week?

How did you get there? Was it just a matter of finding things you like in the jobs you can get? Trying different jobs until something sticks (which seems impractical nigh unto impossible in the current market, and especially in the US where health insurance is a major factor)? Falling into something tolerable by chance?
posted by doift to Work & Money (32 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
I also do not have a "driving passion". I spent years working in retail, waiting to figure out what my passion was so that I could pursue that as a career. Finally I gave up and decided to just get skills in an area where there were a lot of good-paying jobs. So I went back to school to study accounting - which isn't a thrilling subject for me, but it's something that I can do well. Then I focused on getting a job in this field that had good hours and benefits. Now, I have a job that I can honestly say I love - not because it's something I'm passionate about (far from it), but because I like the people I work with, I am good at doing the work, the hours are reasonable, and the pay and benefits are great.

So, I would say you should try to just pick something that you can be good at - and then focus on finding the best job possible within that field.
posted by barney_sap at 8:23 AM on February 7, 2012 [14 favorites]

Yeah - I'm a big fan of finding something you can do well and trying to enjoy the parts that you do do well and getting into a good situation with regard to pay/benefits/coworkers/etc.

Mike Rowe had a good TED talk about work and jobs and not going after your passion but instead doing something you can do well. The thing that reminds me of it is that he points out that he knows roadkill collectors who literally whistle while they work.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:29 AM on February 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

You don't necessarily have to have "passion" for a job to like it for reasons related to the job. I find that most of my job satisfaction comes from being good at something I like to do. In my case, that's a combination of: 1.) Being the person people turn to for information, 2.) Creating new ways of doing things, and 3.) Occasionally being able to do something creative (like building a website).

I'd say don't look for an overall job or career that fits a particular passion, but find the activities you like to do enough that spending every weekday doing them will satisfy you in some way.
posted by xingcat at 8:30 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I listened to my mom's advice.

No, seriously, my mom spotted in me an aptitude for database work, and after years of brushing off her advice, I finally gave it a chance. Now, anyone who has a fiery passion for databases is capital-W Weird. But I am good at it, and it's more fun to spend time doing something you're not passionate about if you're at least good at it.
posted by richyoung at 8:31 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love my job, but it's completely unrelated to my fields of study and the things that I love to do outside of work.

Like some of the others here, I am good at what I do- this helps. I also happen to love the community of people I work with. If I was at the same job with different people, I wouldn't be as happy.

The way I see it is I enjoy my job enough to stay at it to facilitate being able to do the things I find fun, outside of work. It's rare that people actually get employed to test video games, or write about what they want, or eat food. So I found a job I ended up loving, even though it's not directly related to my passions, and the revenue from it lets me live comfortably and do what I love in my free time.
posted by rachaelfaith at 8:39 AM on February 7, 2012

I don't have any particular driving passion for any job, although, I found myself liking IT work. Computers have always seemed easy enough for me. I do like my current job, doing tech support and testing for business telephones. Mind you, I never really cared either way about phones, but hey, they aren't that complicated, whatever.

I got my job by suffering and determination. I worked at a call center for 2+ years, which was stressful and full of suck. Basically, I forced my way upwards there by learning the crap out of whatever product I dealt with, and got promoted to supervisor within 6 weeks, and fought to keep the position. I worked lots of overtime just to get an okay paycheck. Once I was there for six months, I sent my resume to anyone who would look at it. It took two years from the start of my job hunt to get my current job. My job hunt for "something else" started in early 2008; not exactly the best time to have been looking.

I wound up turning down a couple of jobs along the way that didn't look as good, and took a risk in a job that was only supposed to be a 6-month contract because the company got rave reviews. I'm now two years in and rocking a decent salary. I'm not so in love with my job that I'd never quit, but I don't have any reason to complain, either. If something comes along that is better, I'll be off. If I decide I want to move, I can probably do that, too. As long as you have something that doesn't bore you to death or a job you hate doing, life can be easy.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:43 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Read this comment.

Also, if you were reading a previous thread on finding your passion, you've probably already seen this comment (one of the most favorited ever).
posted by John Cohen at 8:46 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was/am passionate about food and cooking. I went to culinary school 6 years after I graduated from college with my liberal arts degree, worked in restaurants for a few years, and then found the entry-level job that I have today in the accounting department of a smallish company.

I'm now taking accounting classes that will qualify me to sit for the CPA exam. I am not passionate about accounting (and I'd hate to meet the person who is) but I'm good at it and it pays decently. I'm happy with my job now, and I'm happy with the idea of working in this field to make money, so that I can persue my passions in my free time.
posted by lotus-eater at 8:49 AM on February 7, 2012

It's a conundrum.

The marketable skills I have (secretarial work) have ZILCH to do with my passions (theater), but I knew that, and I'm stuck with that (doing theater alone is simply not economically viable, and will not EVER be).

Right now, I don't love my job, but I don't hate it, and I do love the fact that it is giving me the financial freedom to do my passion, which pays me nothing. Although, I could improve my lot (and plan to, in fact) by doing secretarial work in a field I care more about (I'm working at a bank now, but in a couple years -- once the economy improves, I have some savings built up, and have paid off my debts -- I plan on transitioning into a non-profit or something in the arts, where I"ll be doing the same work but in support of a cause I'm more interested in). It still won't be my passion, but it's a compromise between "liking what you do 9-5" and "being able to support myself".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:50 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh -- and "how I found my job" happened through temping as soon as I got out of college because I had to do something to support myself, and temping around different places in New York gave me 20 years experience and enough of a reputation that people hired me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:52 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like my job fine enough because 1) I'm good at it and 2) I'm surrounded by people I like who are also competent at what they do. It helps that 3) I don't have to do it every hour of every day to the detriment of the rest of my life anymore.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:03 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I haven't yet had a job that has been "me." Maybe I never will.

However, there's been one job so far that, overall, I liked pretty well. The work itself wasn't anything special, and sometimes it frustrated me and stressed me out. What I liked about it was that our team worked well together (not cliquey, just cohesive), our manager unquestionably had our backs, and I got regular positive feedback.

The people you work with, and whether the company is a good fit for you, can make or break an otherwise-unremarkable job.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:04 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Work to live! Love it.

I "trained" in my "passion" ("trained," because does a BA in English really count as training and "passion," loving reading does not necessarily line up with the publishing industry). I ended up basically doing database work.

I don't love my JOB (although I do like my job), but I love my workplace. I love the people here and the hours. I was doing almost the exact same job this time last year and I drank myself to sleep every night (better than crying myself to sleep). Now that I work someplace else I count my blessings every day. So: more important than the work is the workplace environment.

Here are some steps:
1. Find something you're mildly interested in (in my case, reading) that you could imagine learning more about. Programming? Medical technician-ing? Hell, temp as a secretary for a while.
1a. If needed, take some classes (in my case, I took a semester of a "publishing certificate")
2. Work hard, network, find a job
3. Do that job
4. Do you drink yourself to sleep every night? If yes:
4a. Find a a different job
If no:
4b. Success!
posted by AmandaA at 9:05 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Or, see Metroid Baby's comment above.
posted by AmandaA at 9:06 AM on February 7, 2012

I have always found that there are three things that make work something I want to do instead of something I have to do:

1. It pays well.
2. The people/environment are positive/pleasant.
3. The work is meaningful/helpful/valuable.

All three things don't have to be there, but some combination of them has to be. Except for the pay, it's mostly my attitude that determines how positive or meaningful the work is.

Waiting tables? Hell yes! Food/dining is one of the most important social/familial rituals we have, and if I help people have a positive dining experience, then I'm going to sleep like a baby that night after a job well done.

Clerical work for a law firm that helps the county reclaim child support from indigent noncustodial parents? Hell yes if it means a parent gets connected with a job coach and a kid gets a new pair of shoes.

Marketing for an idiot boss? Well the money's ok and the work matters (we are very community-development oriented) so while the immediate environment is far less than ideal, my contribution to the larger mission makes it worthwhile.

Etc. The saying goes that (something like) true satisfaction isn't found in doing what you love but in loving what you do. And doing what you really, truly love has its drawbacks anyway. Writing/editing all day makes it hard to pick up the New Yorker to read at bedtime. Busman's holiday and all that.
posted by headnsouth at 9:06 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm struck by how many "start your own business" type questions you've asked metafilter in the past. I know Seattle isn't the ideal job market right now (because Lord knows I'd have moved back in a heartbeat if any teaching jobs opened up!), but maybe your passion is to start a business that you believe in?

I have a job that is also my passion. But I think I'm pretty lucky, as it goes. I can't imagine doing anything other than teaching high school for the rest of my life. But I don't know many people outside my field who are 100% sold on their job and feel it's their passion too.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:09 AM on February 7, 2012

I tend to find something that interests me and pursue that until it stops being of interest to me. For instance, most recently, I have had a ten year long love affair with domain names. It started when I worked on a support line for an Internet provider in Chicago in 1999. I understood the technical aspects and could see how the naming of things went a long way toward brand identity, etc. After moving to New Mexico I picked it up again and ran with it moving from the support line of a Web Host to an EVP at a Registrar and all around in a decade.

A couple of weeks ago my employer and I parted ways and now I'm seriously considering walking away from the industry and getting into something else that interests me. We'll see.

I whole-heartedly believe in the "do something you like well enough" notion. When I've tried to do things that I'm passionate about I quickly lose the passion and that really stinks.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:10 AM on February 7, 2012

I'm doing a job I'm passionate about. Investments. Sadly, the field makes too much money. No, I'm not being sarcastic. I love the world of investments but it's filled with people who are just in it for the money and prestige whore firms that only want to hire Ivy league graduates to bolster their firm's image. As a result I'm looking for investments work in lower paying areas, like an endowment or charity. It's still competitive though.

There is always a compromise between passion and pragmatism each person must make.
posted by jjmoney at 9:30 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Even if your job doesn't have any special appeal to you, it's still likely to be fulfilling. You make money, get structure in your life, meet people, get the satisfaction of overcoming challenges. There are some jobs that are just terrible, but, for the so-so ones, the general benefits of work are there and they are substantial. (I'm not saying I don't fantasize about winning the lottery...)
posted by Paquda at 9:45 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a passion for what I do, but I never would have dreamed of it when I was first starting out. I use skills that I didn't know I possessed, much less had an actual gift. In my case, strong visual sense, when I figured I'd be a writer or maybe a bookstore clerk because I liked to read. Turns out I'm a great deal-maker, too. You might find that you've got a real zest for something you'd never heard of. Working hard and contributing to the success of something can be very rewarding, even if you're not "passionate" about the goals or the subject matter or whatever. I could probably negotiate commercial real estate deals as well as what I do now, because I like the give and take of offers, counter-offers, etc.

Trunk's advice needs to be taken with a truckload of Morton's, as she's not really got any results to prove the efficacy of her ideas.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:52 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I work in retail. There are parts of my job that I don't really like that much, but I'm lucky enough to work in a bookshop. For at least part of every day, I get paid to sit on my backside and read books. My supervisor is really into her career, and gets taken advantage of by her boss relentlessly.

I don't have a passion for a specific thing, and I think that in a way that's better. My supervisor's passion is for her store, and she obviously enjoys being praised for her hard work. The problem is that she's relying on someone else to feed that passion, and that someone doesn't really seem to like feeding very much. The work she does is obviously very rewarding to her, but the reward is very capricious in nature.

I didn't ever think I'd be lucky enough to land the job I have. Mostly it's luck, although getting experience in the sector was useful. What I don't do, though, is attach myself to this job as tightly as my supervisor does. It's a paycheck at the end of the month, and that's the bit I look forward to (as well as being paid to read, obviously). I remind myself on the bad days that the money I'm earning enables me to do the fun things I like to do.

Never attach obligation to passion. If your passion wanes, as it's wont to do from time to time, then you'll find yourself resenting it just as often.
posted by Solomon at 10:09 AM on February 7, 2012

Your passion? Lord, no, don't do that. The problem is work, even at a job you like, will probably make it so pursuing anything personal in that sort of space is the LAST thing you want to do when you get home. I love writing and enjoyed working as a writer but when I got home, the last thing I wanted to do was spend even more time staring into a word document when I'd just done that for between 8-12 hours. And, frankly, creatively I was usually spent because I was grinding out articles and such. And then I got a job doing something else that I thought was and would be a passion and it turned out I only enjoyed the fun and creative part of it, not the grinding and monotonous parts that in reality were a large portion of the job. I imagine if I had a job like petting kittens and playing with puppies, the last thing I'd want to do when I got home is spend more time around animals.

So my advice to you is find something you're good at or enjoy doing or at least won't mind doing and compartmentalize that into work, then use what you make at work to pursue your passions unencumbered by all the burdens work places on them.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:16 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think back to high school and college when we first became aware of this whole "find your passion" concept. And at that point, everything was so abstract that we picked *topics* as our passions - medicine, engineering, law, technology. For me it was journalism. Having never worked in journalism, having never been in the daily grind of a newsroom - I was passionate about the idea of journalism. People who were passionate about medicine figured that they should go to medical school and become doctors. People who were passionate about helping people thought about teaching. We equated the topic we cared about with a certain kind of job, and didn't think there were any other options - we didn't know other jobs existed.

What I slowly learned, as I worked more, is to expand the definition of passion. You can be passionate in an abstract way about a topic...but that framework only helps you so much, and may hinder you from discovering an environment, perspective, or professional aptitude that you may be great at and really find a lot of enjoyment in.

You could intead be really interested in a type of work, or a specific kind of work environment - working on projects with a lot of people, communicating a lot of information to different stakeholders, tinkering alone, designing concepts, giving presentations and getting a bunch of people excited, inventing or refining or analyzing a product, managing a team and growing their careers and seeing them blossom and learn to make smart decisions, living in a certain city or area, getting to get outside for part of the day, having madcap deadlines that give you an adrenaline rush, etc - and that these are equally legit "passions" or interests that have roles in every single field.

There are businesspeople within the health industry. There are technological experts within journalism. There are gifted wordsmiths in the engineering industry. There are accounting people in NGOs.

When I started out in my career, only a certain topical "purity" would do - I didn't think there was any other way to be in journalism and not be a journalist. I didn't know it took so many vastly different kinds of people in vastly different roles to make an industry work. I didn't consider that there were other industries with people doing very similar work that I was doing, but for different audiences / consumers / populations. I didn't know that over time, it would become more important for me as a fulfilled, satisfied, idealistic person, to be working with smart, motivated, happy people and to be led by people with vision and compassion and integrity.

Doing what I do well is great. I no longer have to carry what feels like the entire burden of living up to nebulous ideals of what a particular industry is supposed to represent - which, to be honest, you will never live up to. I love doing a good job, feel great when my efforts and successes are recognized, and look forward to accomplishing a goal that I think is important for a company I think means reasonably well. I can no longer say that I am passionate about a $topic, but I am certainly passionate about my life and the fullness and satisfaction it brings.
posted by sestaaak at 10:24 AM on February 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

I suffer for having two driving passions: good writing and good fundraising. I am "good" at both things but only recently transcended the delusion that I could not cope at the attempt to do both things at once - which is what I am now doing and actually enjoying myself even though my living is more precarious.

The reason the delusion remained present in my mind for so long was that I was told on a fairly regular basis that fundraising could not be a part-time job, although I knew that not to be true and now fully embrace that it is a complete falsehood necessitated by a group of professionals who could not ever fathom being as successful in a more limited time capacity although research proves that many hours are spent doing research that may lead nowhere in every modern job on earth.

That, essentially, is the challenge with any situation where shallow interests bubble up to present themselves alongside what are actual passions. In my case, I didn't know what I wanted to write about or what I really wanted to raise money for until just a few weeks ago. The answer, cultural and creative production is pretty shallow but it is also full of great possibilities both with the network I have built and with the people I have found to have the disposition to support this kind of work.

I looked at this shallow conceit very carefully before I moved forward and realised several things:

1. I have a lot of friends who share this shallow interest and are scrambling with funding.
2. I have the skills to help get a lot of houses in order and not lose my mind.
3. I have access to space to relax and space to work and they are not at the same location and if I need it, not in the same city.
4. I can always go back. If I go back, I will at least know I built a little of what I wanted and can always go back to it when the time is better.
5. I don't want to do anything I can't answer a question about in one sentence.
6. If it is beginning affect your health negatively, cut it out.

After that it was simple to extrapolate a plan, find an ally, find my first freelance gig (as a visiting lecturer at a university, I start next week!). It is a big jump. I'm not blogging about it. I am telling people about it. That's a big difference between being shallow and doing what you love.
posted by parmanparman at 10:30 AM on February 7, 2012

I recently ran across a book called Find your Strongest Life by Marcus Buckingham- related to it is a test that when asnwered gives suggestions about what types of careers are right for you. I found the answering insightful - may be worth a look.
posted by JXBeach at 11:29 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like my job a lot. This is because I was fortunate enough to be able to choose from three offers, and I went with the one that had the awesome boss (despite having another job offer with a much higher salary). I am a programmer/report writer in a specific industry.

This is definitely not my passion, but I'm good at it and always have been. Realistically, I think if I worked at my passion, I'd end up hating my passion. Kind of like how I've always read a lot, but procrastinated on the school assigned books nonetheless. I'd recommend finding something that you're good at and that's enough in demand so you can be in the position to get out of a crappy work/boss situation. It makes all the difference, knowing that there is other work for you if one particular job doesn't pan out.
posted by smalls at 12:18 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I work as a geologist – it’s great fun, I’m outdoors a lot and work overseas and get to hike around jungles, but I’m not in the least passionate about it. I found it quite by accident, taking one course at uni and enjoying it enough to take another, and so on. What, broadly, do you enjoy? Being outdoors? Working with people? Working with numbers? Being organised? Being creative? If you try to narrow down ‘what should I do?’ into ‘what jobs allow me to work with people in a creative industry?’ it should help you find something interesting.

Good luck!
posted by twirlypen at 1:54 PM on February 7, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, lots of good discussion happened while I was at *sigh* work. Thanks all for your thoughts.
posted by doift at 6:52 PM on February 7, 2012

I've always been passionate about my work in journalism, but there's a dark side to caring about what you do and putting it at the center of your life: When your long hours are rewarded by shrinking budgets, when "pay freeze" is the new raise (at least I didn't get laid off!), and when your industry is in turmoil, you can really start to hate your life. At least, that's been my experience.

I gave notice at my job earlier this week, and am unbelievably excited about the prospect of just doing work I'm good at in exchange for cash, rather than doing work I love in exchange for fulfillment. I'm also sad about leaving a field that's been at the core of my life for 15 years, sure. But being passionate about your work can be destructive to your soul in some situations.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:58 AM on February 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

Whether or not you love it, do something that you can become good at, so that you feel a sense of accomplishment from time to time.

If you don't love it, do something where you can leave work at work.

In any case, do something that can pay your bills.
posted by talldean at 12:09 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering, do we have a duty to do what we do well? Maybe another way of asking the question is whether we can ever feel fulfilled unless we develop our talents (whether we enjoy them or not). Perhaps its like ancient greek idea of arete-reaching your highest potential. Are we bound to do this?

Also, are we bound to enjoy what we are good at? Does it often happen that we hate things we're good at?
posted by Lee Shore at 4:15 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

My passion is for books, writing, and reading. I majored in creative writing in college and worked at what I thought was my dream job for three years, as a bookseller for an independent bookstore. (I was an idealist and never wanted to work at a chain, because my best friend's boyfriend worked at a chain and he hated to read and it bothered me that someone could be hired as a bookseller but hate to read.)

In the beginning I was gung ho about the job, but after the first year things started to sour. Given the economy and the state of bookselling right now, people were laid off and the store was in hard times, forcing those who were left to do much more work without raises, always with the threat that the store would close anyway hanging over our heads. This made us terse and snippy with each other (and some of my higher ranking co-workers were bullies BEFORE the stress hot, anyway). Except for managers, we were paid barely above minimum wage, which is really difficult to live on in my area. It was the most toxic working environment I've ever had.

Then I got a job in accounts payable/payroll, with the help of connections and the fact of having a college degree. I have always been extremely "right-brained" and struggled through my philosophy minor in college; though it was well worth it for the study of ideas, symbolic logic was a beast for me. I nearly failed every single one of my science and math-oriented courses. I interviewed for the job because I wanted the health benefits and living wage, but I was worried that I would never be able to understand the analytic language and systems of accounting.

Instead, my writer's curiosity served me well. Who'd have thought? I wasn't trained especially well -- my trainer walked me through the steps of my job without explaining why I was doing anything I was doing. But I was trained slowly at least. So once I had the steps of the job down, I took it upon myself to learn why I was doing each of them and what my goals were. If an accountant in another department had a question for me that I didn't understand, I Googled their vocabulary and read up on it until I understood it and could answer back comfortably. Once I had all of the pieces together, accounting made a lot of sense to me. I was so happy the first time I spoke fluently about a budget to an auditor, which is now rote work. I've explained paycheck deductions to a friend. I have read finance books without being bored by them.

I think the reason I like this job is because I am always doing something that was once foreign to the previously impractical, not-at-all analytic me. I have been working at it for two years now and have been promoted three times. I think that a job that is not your passion or your forte can work for you if you maintain curiosity about what you are doing and put your work into the scope of the whole of the office's aim so you can see how it has meaning. (Except filing. Filing sucks.)
posted by houndsoflove at 11:04 AM on February 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

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