For college seniors across the country, the clocking is ticking down to graduation and a new career. As you make your decisions about what path to take, thousands of new graduates will be asking questions like, Where can I make the most money? What’s the quickest path to the top? What career am I expected to pursue?
But there’s another question to ask, one that’s more important than any of those: What lights me up?
For the last ten years, my focus has been helping people create careers they love. That focus has given me a front row seat on both the positive impact of loving what you do and the negative impact when your career is out of whack. It’s not just the fact that work is more enjoyable when you love what you do. There are also real benefits that directly impact your career success.
Here are several benefits of passion I have seen play out repeatedly. When you love your work…
You have more energy to put into success.
Doing work you love is energizing. It creates a virtuous circle. You do the work and that energizes you, which in turn means that you have more energy to put into doing the work. It keeps feeding itself like a perpetual motion machine. You have more energy, on a more sustainable basis, to put into success.
When work is a grind, not only does it not energize you, you also have to dig into your energy reserves to get the job done. That means you go home feeling drained and depleted. And you get up and go to work the next day feeling—you guessed it—drained and depleted. At some point in a situation like that, your work is bound to suffer.
You feel more confident.
Doing work you don’t enjoy is like trying to be who you’re not. You might be able to do it, even do it well, but it doesn’t come naturally for you. You will always feel more confident doing what comes naturally—what you’re designed for, if you will—than doing something that is more akin to putting on a costume.
It’s a little like standing on one leg. You might be able to stay upright, but there’s always a little fear that someone might come along and bump you. Doing work you love means having both feet planted solidly on the ground with a low center of gravity. You inherently feel more naturally sure and secure about what you’re doing.
You can never be anyone else half as well as you can be you. And when what you do is aligned with who you are and what lights you up, you have more potential to perform at your peak.
Persistence comes more easily.
The odds that you are going to create a great career for yourself without running into trouble along the way are slim to none. When bumps, bruises, or roadblocks come in pursuit of something you love, it’s exponentially easier to blow through them than when you are experiencing them in pursuit of something that doesn’t really energize you. Passion feeds persistence.
You have a sustainable source of energy.
You may be able to sustain your momentum in any career by adrenaline and grit, but at some point you’re likely to hit a wall. I see it all the time (that’s usually when people wind up coming to me). When that happens, you start to feel disenchanted with your career. You feel frustrated and stuck. It might even turn up as health problems because of the stress of showing up every day and doing something you dislike.
When what you do energizes you, you don’t feel the constant grind and friction that comes when your career is out of alignment.
You enjoy the rest of your life more.
When people get to the point where their career frustration is high enough that they come to me for help, that frustration spills over into the rest of their lives as well. You don’t live in a work silo and an rest-of-life silo. It’s all interconnected. So how you feel about what you do during your workday inevitably affects how you feel during the rest of your life as well.
So as you plan for your career, feel free to take things like money and opportunity for advancement into the picture. They’re important. But don’t forget to ask yourself, What lights me up? What is going to let me do and be my best? When you do, you maximize your long-term potential.
After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.