Although being passionate about something isn’t in itself enough to guarantee success, without a real interest in what you do it’s very difficult to get to where you need to.
Your childhood offers insight into what really drives and engages you and what you are deeply passionate about. It’s worth exploring your early years which may remind you of interests you’ve long forgotten about and could reignite. It may also help you to understand where you’ve taken the wrong path and how you could correct that.
One of the ways of looking at your passions and interests is through the lens of motivation. There are two basic types of motivation, one that is external to us and one that is internal.
Extrinsic motivation means being driven by something from the outside, for instance working toward a goal, or avoiding failure through fear of disappointing others. What led to your choices about the classes you took at school, whether you pursued higher education, or your first job? How much were you influenced by not wanting to let your parents down or living up to family expectations rather than following your own interests? There’s nothing wrong or right about how this came about, it’s just helpful to understand what might be driving you now.
Intrinsic motivation, or being internally motivated, is about loving an activity for its own sake, finding it exciting and engaging. It relates to the things that you have the energy for and want to pursue without any external rewards (e.g., money or recognition) and also to punishments or things you feel a need to move away from because they are less pleasant.
The people I meet as a psychologist working with leaders, often have a good deal of intrinsic motivation. They have a passion for what they do and see the meaning in it. Without this it becomes very hard to keep going over a sustained period of time in a demanding role. For example, I’ve also worked with people who are more motivated by external rewards: the potential to earn a lot of money, social recognition, status. They don’t love what they do or have a burning interest in the industry itself. This makes their work really draining and can lead to burnout. Constantly being driven by extrinsic goals alone is not healthy. Ideally, you need both internal and external motivation to keep following your true passions while remaining connected to the world around you.
Who influenced your career choices?
Research shows that our parents’ expectations have a huge influence on the career path we take and what we achieve, regardless of their own upbringing or income. Studies also reveal that teenagers often set out to follow in their parents’ footsteps, whether as an entrepreneur, shop assistant, council worker, small business owner, or doctor and those whose parents are in “top jobs” are more likely find themselves in such a job. What parents think their child is interested in and capable of also strongly influences a young person’s choices and the actions they take toward pursuing a specific career. What is critical here is that parents’ best intentions can lead children astray. For example, if they think their child is passionate about numbers so encourage them toward a career in accounting, but the child actually always adored drama, then the child may miss out on pursuing their real dream. If you look over your early life and conclude that you were led mainly by your parents’ wishes rather than your own, that realization may be enough for you to take ownership and control of how you move forward.
School can also have a strong influence. For example, a highly academic, high-achieving school can put strong pressure on its pupils to continue to the best universities and pursue what society deems to be the top jobs. Conversely, a large school struggling for resources may not support children’s individual passions, meaning they never have the opportunity to explore and fulfill their potential.
Think about the following questions but don’t worry if you can’t answer them right away, come back if anything springs to mind:
- What were you really enthusiastic about as a child? Are they the same things that you get joy from now?
- How many of your own career or life choices were influenced by your parents and/or your environment? Do you think what your family wanted took you off on a certain path?
- How much of your time at work or in life is spent doing things because you have to and how much because you want to? Do you think you need to address this?
Extract adapted from my book Defining You which is available at Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK as well as amazon.co.uk. Elsewhere it’s available on amazon.com, amazon.com.au, amazon.ca and in various bookstores in Canada (e.g. Indigo) and the USA.
“You can’t fake passion.” -Barbara Corcoran
References to research in Defining You by Fiona Murden
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