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Probably not, says one business writer. But if you stay long enough, you should be able to love the job you have

In an article for Inc.com, Jeff Haden maintains that too often we are told to “find work we are passionate about,” without stopping to consider if we have relevant passions. Haden–building on the insights of Cal Newport, Georgetown professor and author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Search for Work You Love–argues that most often our passions are better suited as hobbies, and hobbies aren’t generally the things will pay us to accomplish. So the typical advice “to follow your dreams” leads a lot of well-intentioned adventurers into one dead end after another.

Does this mean we are destined to muddle through life, hating what we do for a living? Not all. According to Haden and Newport, the best way to be passionate about what we do is to get really good at what we do.

Roughly speaking, work can be broken down into a job, a career, or a calling. A job pays the bills; a career is a path towards increasingly better work; a calling is work that is an important part of your life and a vital part of your identity. (Clearly most people want their work to be a calling.)

According to research, what is the strongest predictor of a person seeing her work as a calling?

The number of years spent on the job. The more experience you have the more likely you are to love your work.

Why? The more experience you have the better your skills and the greater your satisfaction in having those skills. The more experience you have the more you can see how your work has benefited others. And you’ve had more time to develop strong professional and even personal relationships with some of your employees, vendors, and customers.

Where business success is concerned, passion is almost always the result of time and effort. It’s not a prerequisite.

Obviously, some people are blessed to have a passion, get a job that fulfills that passion, and keep on enjoying that job for a long time (I count myself among those so blessed). But for most people, passion is something we grow into (and my passion for ministry has grown the longer I’ve been in it). Passion is, in large part, the product of positive feedback over time after longevity, hard work, and improvement. Which is why working right often trumps finding the right work.

Want to love what you do? Pick something interesting. Pick something financially viable–something people will pay you to do or provide.

Then work hard. Improve your skills, whether at managing, selling, creating, implementing–whatever skills your business requires. Use the satisfaction and fulfillment of small victories as motivation to keep working hard.

And as you build your company, stay focused on creating a business that will eventually provide you with a sense of respect, autonomy, and impact.

“Don’t focus on the value your work offers you,” Newport says. “That’s the passion mindset. Instead focus on the value you produce through your work: how your actions are important, how you’re good at what you do, and how you’re connected to other people.”

When you do, the passion will follow–and if you work hard enough, someday you’ll be so good they can’t ignore you.

Christians will want to round out this advice with biblical principles about working as unto the Lord and being God’s image bearers in the world. But as a general piece of sanctified common sense, the article is on to something. Try something, work hard, get better, make a contribution–you may just find that you’ve found your passion after all.

Thanks to Dan Lohrmann, Michigan’s Chief Security Officer and one of our elders, for passing along this article.


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12 thoughts on “Should You Look for a Job You’re Passionate About?”

  1. Sam says:

    I wouldn’t think this advice applies to vocational ministry. After all, Spurgeon warned young men not to preach “if they could help it.”

  2. ATB says:

    Great post, Kevin! Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Judd Rumley says:

    Kevin,
    Does this apply to pastors?
    If not, are we creating special categories?
    Wrestling through this in my own life and would love your insights.
    Judd Rumley

  4. Bryan says:

    I agree that there is wisdom in focusing more on what we have to offer our employer, colleagues, and customers instead of focusing on what emotional fulfillment we’re getting from our job. However, I’d like to see the social scientific research this is based on. The author is quoted as saying “what is the strongest predictor of a person seeing her work as a calling? The number of years spent on the job. The more experience you have the more likely you are to love your work.” Typically a “predictor” means is that where A is present, B is also typically present. It does NOT mean that A causes B. Correlation is not causation. IF there is a causal relationship between being in a job a long time and seeing it as a calling it is just as likely to be the reverse of that the author suggests.

  5. buddyglass says:

    “According to research, what is the strongest predictor of a person seeing her work as a calling?

    The number of years spent on the job. The more experience you have the more likely you are to love your work.

    Why? The more experience you have the better your skills and the greater your satisfaction in having those skills.”

    Not sure I entirely buy that explanation. As we know, correlation isn’t causation. It makes sense that a higher percentage of people with many years experience will view their job as a “calling” if all those for whom it wasn’t a “calling” left the field before accruing many years experience.

    In this view the years of experience don’t cause the individual to view his or her job as a calling; rather, that sense of calling causes the years of experience.

    We might refine the “do something you’re passionate about” advice as follows:

    If you can choose between two “viable” (here defined as “able to adequately support you and your family”) careers, one of which you’re passionate about and another that pays more, strongly consider going with the former over the latter.

  6. Great insight, Kevin. I think our generation (the one mentioned in Cal Newport’s book, which I have read) does tend to believe that we should be able to do what we love and generally be happy all of the time. This bleeds over into our work life and our marriages. We want things to be easy because generally they are easy. Information is easy, eating is easy (generally), and so should work and marriage – but both are hard and both require work.

    I like the idea of your “Just Do Something” book and might check that out.

  7. Lou Hunley says:

    This article was so encouraging to me. I have had recent struggles in my job of 18 years but ultimately I love my job as a children’s librarian. Here’s to perseverance!

  8. Dennis Lopez says:

    It’s very imperative for everyone to pursue their passion and do what they feel enthused to do, but that may or may not mean turning it into a business. Perhaps you like your day job, or you require the health advantages. If so, continue your job, but ensure you have some encouraging passion infused in your life as well.

  9. It’s in reality a nice and useful piece of info. I am happy
    that you simply shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us informed like this.
    Thank you for sharing.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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