Love at first sight is nice, but it’s not a prerequisite for career happiness, according to a study recently published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. People who prioritize paychecks over passion when choosing a career can still learn to be happy in their jobs, say the study’s authors.
“[P]eople who have not found their “perfect fit” in a career can take heart — there is more than one way to attain passion for work…we can choose to change our beliefs or strategies to cultivate passion over time,” wrote Patricia Chen, a doctoral psychology student at the University of Michigan and study’s lead author.
According to Chen and her fellow researchers, philosophies about career selection tend fall into one of two broad categories. Some people are proponents of the “fit theory,” which says it’s best to choose a career that is a good fit from the outset. Others subscribe to the “develop theory,” arguing that it’s possible to cultivate passion for work over time.
While you might think that people who focus on fit are more likely to have passion for their work and be satisfied with their careers, that’s not necessarily the case, the study found. In four experiments, the researchers looked at whether a person’s general philosophy about job choice and passion affected how they chose a career and how they felt about those jobs. They discovered that people who embraced the develop theory had similar levels of job satisfaction and well-being as the fit theorists.
In other words, just because you prioritize finding a well-paying job over a career that really excites you doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a lifetime of meaningless drudgery. Instead, you can focus on gradually increasing your passion for your job over time.
That’s good news both for people who aren’t quite sure about their career passion, as well as those who feel they can’t afford to follow their heart. As the study authors note, an idealistic, passion-focused approach to selecting a career “paints a dismal picture for those who do not find the perfect fit or even know what it is. Especially when the job market is tight, not everyone has the luxury to pick and choose the ‘right’ vocation.” But if you can take a ho-hum job out of financial necessity and turn it into something you care about over time, you may end up just as happy in the end as your friend who took a chance on following his dream.
Does all that mean you should give up on your passion? Not at all. Having a job you love is still something many people aspire to (just ask the 81% of millennials working in the IT field who said they would work for less if it meant doing something they cared about deeply). But you also don’t need to beat yourself up for not feeling passionate about your career. Accepting that your passions and your career choice may not necessarily align could yield better results, said venture capitalist Ben Horowitz in his 2015 commencement speech at Columbia University. Instead, he said, you should focus less on yourself and more on the world around you.
“[M]y recommendation would be follow your contribution. Find the thing that you’re great at, put that into the world, contribute to others, help the world be better and that is the thing to follow.”
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