We can’t always afford to be passionate about our jobs – and that’s okay.

We can’t always afford to be passionate about our jobs – and that’s okay.

I am not always passionate about my job. 

Now, I am very good at my job as a communications professional. I even get excited about my job and often find meaning in it. But the job that pays me is not the thing that reflects a deep sense of calling within; writing and telling stories does that.

Our society has created a myth around passion and the workplace. This myth says that when you’re 18, you need to find something you’re passionate about and figure out a way to get paid for it. If you’re not paid adequately, that’s okay; your passion should be enough to fuel you until you can.

I used to think I was alone in this sometimes passionless feeling – that every person in a white-collar job felt called to what they were doing. But the more I talk to working professionals, the more I realize that many of us are not eternally passionate about our jobs. We also feel guilty or lacking that we don’t always feel passion towards our jobs, something we admit in hushed tones as we bashfully look over our shoulders. 

That’s because our society has created a myth around passion and the workplace. This myth says that when you’re 18, you need to find something you’re passionate about and figure out a way to get paid for it. If you’re not paid adequately, that’s okay; your passion should be enough to fuel you until you can.

Living up to this myth is daunting, if not impossible. When we graduate high school, few of us can predict with accuracy how we want to spend the next forty to fifty years of our lives. Yet, we place ourselves on paths that determine these years, sometimes taking on student loans that require us to stay on the path even longer.

People in countries with shorter average hours and workweeks have greater overall satisfaction and happiness levels, perhaps because their jobs allow them to rest and to pursue outside interests and activities – passions, if you will.

The closest many of us can get to a passion-filled paycheck is finding a job with decent pay that allows us to use our talents and skills. If we’re lucky, we find a job with flexible work hours or we can afford to work a less-than-full time schedule so we can pursue our desires outside of work. But these types of jobs seem to be a rarity. Those of us who aren’t cobbling together multiple jobs to survive often need to work a full-time schedule if we want healthcare, retirement, and some semblance of financial security. 

Interestingly, this isn’t the case everywhere. Compared to many other developed countries, the U.S. has a longer average work week, and has a greater percentage of people working more than 50 hours a week. Additionally, the lack of universal healthcare and affordable childcare makes longer working weeks even more necessary in the U.S., leaving less time for leisure. This has a cost. People in countries with shorter average hours and workweeks have greater overall satisfaction and happiness levels, perhaps because their jobs allow them to rest and to pursue outside interests and activities – passions, if you will.

And so, it irks me when job interviewers ask about passion. What is sometimes implied is that you have to love what you do to be good at it, that your job should have your undivided attention and loyalty even when you’re off the clock, and that your passion should be enough to compensate you.

In fact, passion can be weaponized against employees to keep them in low-paying jobs or sub-par working conditions. People in jobs that have been gendered as female know this all too well. From teaching to nursing to social work, passion is often used as a way to tell people in these careers that their passion should be the thing that feeds them and that to be paid well or to be paid fairly is an insult to their calling. But passion isn’t enough to sustain you when you’re working overtime, when you’ve been assigned more people to your case load, and when you come from work exhausted and still have a meal to cook. Passion cannot do this, but better working conditions and better pay can.

Aligning work and passion is decidedly difficult, especially when the biggest predictors of your economic status are your race, the state in which you received early childhood education, your parents’ socioeconomic status, and the region of the country in which you live and work.

Besides, the thing that you’re good at does not have to be the thing you are paid for. I think this is important to remember, because we can often feel like failures or sellouts when we can’t – or don’t want to – monetize our passions.

Aligning work and passion is decidedly difficult, especially when the biggest predictors of your economic status are your race, the state in which you received early childhood education, your parents’ socioeconomic status, and the region of the country in which you live and work. This makes it challenging for people from poorer backgrounds or from marginalized communities to hold out for a passion-fueled job; sometimes, you just need to have a job that can sustain your financial needs. 

Following a passion requires time and many iterations of failure and success, and thus is much easier with an economic safety net. Turning a passion into income takes time and often money, whether it’s to pay for school, gain professional certifications, buy supplies, or just pay for the roof over your head. If you’re a parent, it means having a way to pay for childcare, food, clothes, and medical care. If you have adult family members depending on you, it means generating income quickly enough to pay for your needs and theirs. 

And not everyone can afford the time it takes to turn a passion into self-sustaining work. It can take years, or even decades, for a passion to pay a livable wage. For example, artist Amy Sherald worked as a waitress for years while she refined her craft. Her ability to sustain herself on art alone came only at age 38, and was further buoyed a few years later by the recognization that came with painting a portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama. But if you have to support a family, pay back student loans, or pay for ongoing medical treatment, you may not have a decade or two to see if you can make a living pursuing your passion. You may need to find a job that you can stand and that pays the bills. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one that you enjoy and that values you.

Observing my mother, I learned that passions don’t always require a pay stub to survive, but rather attention and consistence.

That’s what I did when I shifted from a being a yoga teacher, a job I was passionate about, to communications. Though I miss sharing yoga and having the freedom to work for myself, I don’t regret trading my passion for greater financial security, better health insurance, and the opportunity to broaden and deepen my skillset. 

This doesn’t mean I gave up on all my passions. As a child, I learned how to keep passion alive while watching my mother spend time on her artwork between her projects as a full-time freelance graphic designer. Even when she later became a teacher, she used the summer months to create art and to refuel her passion. Observing her, I learned that passions don’t always require a pay stub to survive, but rather attention and consistence.

So, I have taken to carving out time in the morning, nights, or weekends to cultivate the things and projects I’m passionate about. In some ways, having a traditional job allows me to lean into my passions because they don’t also bear the weight of sustaining me and my family. 

That’s not to say I don’t dream of hitting the lottery and sitting in my house all day typing away on the books and scripts I keep dreaming up. And I often feel frustrated at the unfairness that some people can easily pursue their passions all day long because they have the time and money to do so. In these moments, I try to count my blessings and do excellent work at the job that pays me – but I also make sure I take time to engage the passions that fuel me.

2 responses to “We can’t always afford to be passionate about our jobs – and that’s okay.”

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