Words by Hayley 24 QLD
On paper, I had it all.
A high paying job straight out of university with great development opportunities.
I was 23 and had achieved all that I thought I was meant to do.
So why did I feel miserable?
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Usually, the asker is looking for a simple answer.
When you add in the increasing casualisation of the workforce, advancing technology, individual social-economic circumstances, and the impending uncertainties surrounding our future due to climate change – we are left with something much more complex.
We’re told repeatedly from advisors, friends, family and the online world that all we need to do to have a meaningful career is find our ‘passion’.
I spent almost every waking moment from the time I started university up until very recently trying to figure out my passion, until one day I realised that it wasn’t the secret after all.
Passion doesn’t limit itself to one situation, one job, one cause. As humans, we are passionate about any number of things. So why are we constantly told to find and pursue just one?
As the first in my family to attend university, I was eager to achieve. Shortly into my first year studying a dual degree in international business, I realised that I had no passion for my chosen area of study and soon changed to a communication and international relations degree.
I worked incredibly hard, achieved high grades, volunteered and completed multiple internships to ensure that I landed a ‘dream job’ that I could be ‘passionate’ about once I graduated.
In my final year, I landed that dream job: a fancy government graduate program. I was going to be working in policymaking and felt that it would suit my love for helping people and writing. I was certain that I had found the ‘passion’ that everyone talked about.
Six months into the graduate program and I was a wreck. As I returned home each day, I felt meaningless and empty. So, I sought a secondment opportunity focused more on my communications skills, thinking surely this will be for me. Another six months later, my boyfriend found me crying on the kitchen floor one day after work, an anxious, lost and confused mess.
Each day I kept thinking I was being ridiculous. Why was I being so selfish? People would kill for this role. I should try harder to be happy. What would people think if I left? Am I a failure?
I tried so hard to find passion in my work, but something just wasn’t clicking and eventually, I left the program.
It wasn’t until I was procrastinating one day doing an online personality quiz (similar to the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator) that I finally understood why I had been so unhappy.
As it turns out, while studying and working so hard to find my passion and secure a so-called dream job, I never stopped to think about my needs as a person.
I discovered that I am considered an INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging) which is an incredibly contradictory personality type. Basically, we want to help change the world and help people but also get overwhelmed and easily exhausted in large groups, when we feel like we need to be ‘on’ all the time.
I like to work with others, but I thrive on making plans and organising my own deadlines. In my role, the deadlines were ever-changing, there was a large social aspect of the role (people would often ask me why I was so quiet – which led me to be even quieter), and the work that I felt I would enjoy most was often outsourced.
The important thing to note here is that this role is perfect for someone out there, it just wasn’t perfect for me.
From that day, I stopped focusing on just trying to find one key passion and instead sought work that would give me meaning and would allow me to feel as though I was contributing to something in a way that worked with my personality.
Because I am no longer blinded by the illusion that each of us has a single great passion in life, I am free to explore different options while feeling content in my current situation.
Finding a good career is about being open to new opportunities and not being afraid to make big changes. Knowing yourself and what you need and feeling connected to the work you do, even if that means going against family, society, and sometimes even your own expectations of what that ‘dream job’ should be.
Passion is important, it drives us to fight for change, to love and to pursue goals. But if it is the sole focus of our career search, we will often end up falling short and feeling disappointed.
If we instead look for joy and meaning in the little things, finding a role that may not bring us fiery passion but perhaps provides a work environment that makes you feel comfortable and allows you to thrive is a great start to feeling fulfilled.
We are constantly on a journey of self-discovery. Sometimes it isn’t until we reach a turning point in our lives that we realise how much we have learnt, grown and come to know about who we are and what we want.
If the old trick of thinking about your skills and matching them with your interests isn’t working for you, then it may be time to step back. Give yourself a break, be patient and be kind to yourself. It is often in the moments where we let our mind be clear that we can see what we truly desire.
Illustration by Aileen, You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc