Work or Passion?
A few weeks ago, I was somewhat vague about life/career. San asked me to elaborate. Then she posted this awesome article about not being passionate about your job. It could not have been better timed.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived with the mantra “do what makes your heart sing.” And honestly, for the most part, I have/still do. But lately, with growing pains at work and the personal desire for change, I’m wondering what do I want to be when I grow up? Can I find a way to make a living doing the things I’m great at and enjoy (research, writing, organizing, public speaking, etc.)?
I’m 33 and have been doing museum work for just over a decade when you factor in undergrad internships and grad school work– almost 8 years at my current institution. Not a complete oddity, but becoming less common in this day and age of job hopping. The traditional path in the museum world leads to a museum director position, something which I’m pretty sure I don’t want– so does that mean I should pivot to something else instead?
For so long, I’ve let what I do define who I am. Even my Twitter handle had my occupation in it! When people ask what I do and I answer “museum curator,” I think that means certain things to certain people. And I think for a long time, it did for me too.
But I am not my job.
There is so much more to who I am and what I value now– losing someone you love without warning can put all that in perspective in a really different way. A night at home with Q matters more to me than extra hours in the office. Spending the weekend with family, the boys, or by myself reading a book matters more than a day-long conference. I love my freelance writing opportunities. I like the idea of maybe someday being my own boss. I still dream of writing a few books.
This whole idea of whether your passion needs to be your job made me think of a story a friend told me about a family member of theirs who loved home aquariums, exotic fish, and the like. He quit his job as a day trader to open a home aquarium supply store business. After 5 years, he sold the business, went back to the business world, and didn’t even have a fish tank in his house anymore. His passion became a business and was not fun for him any longer. I don’t want to be that guy.
And yet, I am that guy. I am burned out. I rarely visit museums any more on my own, unless I’m on vacation, conference, or something work-related. It’s clear that the daily frustrations and overall blah-ness are clouding my judgement about what should/could come next for me, what I want, and what I’m capable of doing. Don’t worry– a vacation is already planned to try to clear the fogginess.
I recognize ( and with fellow colleagues too) that the challenges I’m facing at work aren’t the gratifying kind that make me feel like I’m doing what makes my heart sing. But without this job, I wouldn’t have paid off credit card debt, have great retirement setup, and other great benefits. I have to put my practical, sensible mind aside for the dreamer. A hard thing for an overcoming perfectionist overachiever.
The other difficulty is the prospect of a career shift for a career that has left me with so much student loan debt. I know no education is lost, but I take great pride in the fact that I’ve worked hard for the career I have, especially in a field where so many people would kill for a job like mine, to use the degrees for what they actually wanted to do when they started out. There also have been moments when I loved my field and what I do. But those moments seem few and far between.
Maybe I’ve asked too much of what I do everyday, but we spend so much of our lives at work that it’s draining and soul sucking to at least not like what you do every day. Heck, they call it work for a reason. If it was meant to be always fun and enjoyable, they’d call it something else! ( not my original thought, something my Mom always says, but no clue where it comes from, even after lots of Googling).
I think the answer for me might be somewhere in between doing my passion for work and working to make a living.
I think this is such an interesting topic. I used to work in PR before realizing it wasn’t for me. And I think the main thing I look for now is a sense of purpose. Not that the job should always be fabulous and exciting but that you can reflect on the work and be proud of it. I was never proud of getting press clippings for a camera company. And I actually imagine being a therapist will be 100x harder but I think I will be prouder of the contribution that I’m making. But I have this conversation with Erik a lot, because he used to think he’d be a doctor and now he’s an environmental consultant who works a lot on construction sites. It’s a job most people don’t even know about but it’s important in its own way and needs to be done.
I love that you picked up this topic and wrote out your thoughts about it. I think it needs to be part of the conversation much more often.
Obviously, it would be absolutely IDEAL if you loved your job every minute of every day, but I don’t know if that is realistic at all… and making your passion your career can also burn you out at some point (like your friend).
I think to strive for “somewhere in the middle” is just the perfect approach.
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