The Problem with Pursuing Your Passion

Christine was a 24 year old university student graduating with a liberal arts degree from a nearby university. She was in a state of anxiety over the need to urgently make decisions regarding her future career. At times her anxiety was so pronounced she felt quite panicky, with frequent insomnia, digestive upsets and continuous worry. Although she had been successful academically, she was uncertain about how her education would translate into the “real world”.

Christine had been given the advice to “follow her passion”, which she was told, would lead her to a great job and ultimate success. This confused her because although she did enjoy travelling, cooking and rock climbing, she wasn’t sure if these “passions” could translate into a meaningful career. She also was unsure of what “success” looked like. Although she wanted to be able to provide for herself, having a large bank account or enviable lifestyle were not goals she envisioned for her life.

Where should she start?

The many changes that have occurred over the last number of decades in North American society have resulted in greater job and career possibilities than ever before. With the multitude of options available to young adults, career choice advice has often been to “Follow Your Passion”. This advice is limiting in that it focuses on the individual, instead of looking at the world around, seeing what is needed and how meaningful contributions might be made. Christine’s first step is to consider a larger perspective of the world around her, understanding where there are needs to fill, and see how she might use her skills to meet those needs.  With Christine’s travels, friendships and education, she has already begun this process, however she needs to refocus her perspective to see possibilities for contribution to an existing need.

Christine also needs to identify her transferable skills.  Sometimes referred to as ‘soft skills’, these are the skills that are adaptable to multiple situations. These include problem solving, effective oral and written communication, time management, attention to detail, technological proficiency, amount others*. Her skills can be legitimized through references from professors, coaches and work supervisors. She can also reference any recognition she has received through her past volunteer and extra-curricular activities. Although Christine’s degree reflects academic proficiency, it is her skill set  that will make her a meaningful contributor.

Thirdly, Christine needs meaningful purpose.

Martin Seligman*, a well-known psychologist, suggests there are two ingredients of happiness. The first is achievement or mastery – becoming excellent in what you do. Mastery, according to Anders Ericsson of Florida State University, takes 10,000 hours honing their skills to excellence in their profession – whether it be a concert pianist, a surgeon, a teacher or chess player. World class performers in any field have become so due to the sheer amount of “time on task” they have had. If one’s goal is to be a “master” in one’s field, perseverance pays off! Seligman’s states the second ingredient of happiness is  being engaged in a meaningful work that impacts other for good.

If Christine strives to do something more than just make herself happy, she will be looking for meaningful ways to contribute to her world. When she looks for ways to resolve unmet needs or solve existing problems, she has the potential of creating the passion she so desires for herself. She may even have the side benefit of others wanting her to succeed because her focus is altruistic. Benjamin Todd* echoes these thoughts in a recent TEDX lecture. He states that by addressing a pressing problem in the world one is contributing something “valuable”. Doing what’s valuable will motivate  Christine, creating a passion that leads to the success of having a meaningful fulfilling career. This is what Seligman refers to as “Flourishing”: Being wholeheartedly engaged in our world and committed to the betterment of others.

                          A man’s true wealth is the good he does in the world (Kahlil Gibran).

*For further reading and viewing, check out:

Benjamin Todd at TEDx @ Tallin. (2016); also website at http://80000hoursorg/ Fivesoft skills that will get you hired. (2017)

Seligman, Flourish (2011)


The Problem with Pursuing Your Passion
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Joan has provided counselling for marriage, family and individual concerns for over 25 years.  She provides guidance and support for relationship difficulties, reconstructing marriage after an affair, conflict resolution, problem-solving and parent-child relationships.  Joan works with individuals who are dealing with depression, anxiety, loss, trauma recovery and/or experience with assault and abuse.

Joan’s approach depends upon the situation presented, and includes a variety of therapeutic approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, Family Therapy, EMDR and Emotionally Focused Therapy.  Client strengths are emphasized with personal insight and responsibility for growth is encouraged.

Joan’s doctoral dissertation research focused on resilience factors in adversity. She received her master’s degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Saskatchewan, followed by two years of specialized clinical training in Chicago.  She is a member of the B.C. College of Psychologists and the B.C. Psychological Association.

Joan enjoys teaching in community, retreat and university settings on topics related to her areas of practice and experience.  Having been married for over thirty years, with four adult children, her approach to relationships and life problems is both realistic and practical.

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