Do What You Love

Is “Do what you love” Good Career Advice?

Career advice is all over the internet, TV and newspapers lately because of graduation and commencement speeches. Yet, some of the advice I find to be off base and misguided based on reality. Unfortunately some people make poor career decisions based on this advice, especially on the advice, “do what you love.”

I have two issues with “do what you love,” neither of which will address whether or not you should “love” your work in the first place. I will save that for another career tip. For the sake of this tip, please assume love and passion are synonymous.

First, if you are starting a new career, how do you know what you will love? Passion about a career grows and develops over time. I often hear junior military officers (JMOs) say they want to do work that has meaning and about which they are passionate. When I ask them what kind of work they mean, they will mention work that relates to their hobbies. I have heard things such as work in Major League Baseball, open a fitness gym, and work in alternative energy without any qualifications for the industry. Instead, a more practical and reasonable approach would be determining where to launch a career with three questions:

1) What are you good at? Or, what are your talents or abilities that make you unique? Potential answers would be things like leading teams, solving technical problems, leading change, improving processes, etc.

2) What do you enjoy doing? Instead of answers such as fitness, sports, and music, better answers would be mentoring and developing others, working around equipment, managing complex projects, etc. These answers will lead to evaluating multiple options in which you could be excited and interested.

3) What will provide you the compensation you desire? This does not mean choosing one that will pay you the most, but rather considering options that will provide you the type of living you desire. For example, I enjoy exercising and helping others with fitness, and while managing a gym or becoming a personal trainer may provide the income necessary for some, it does not for me.

I do agree that you should be excited about your work and find meaning it. However, I believe that it takes time, just like “falling in love” with a person takes time and grows over time. Roger Cameron used to say, “It is a lot easier to navigate your career to the ideal situation from inside a company than standing on the sidewalk looking in.” My recommendation is similar. Start a career where you can use your existing skill set, develop a track record of success, learn new skills, and develop new capabilities, and that you find interesting and has potential for greater responsibility. Give your new career time and the opportunity for interest and excitement to grow. When I say give it time, you should allow 3 to 4 years at a minimum to grow and develop in the role. All the while you will also develop a track record of success. If your career is truly not a right fit in 3 to 4 years, then you can explore and navigate to other options within your company or to other organizations, and you will be much more marketable with your increased skills, achievements and business knowledge.

I have a second issue with “do what you love” career advice. What happens when you fall out of love or lose some of your passion? In my 4 years in the Army and,14 years at Cameron-Brooks, I have yet to speak with a person who has not felt that stagnant feeling in their career. Every week I speak with junior officers and Cameron-Brooks Alumni considering a career change. Too often these considerations are prompted from a feeling of no longer being passionate or “loving” their work. Who said that work was always going to be exciting and fun? This is why they call it work. Unfortunately, I have not personally seen a commencement speech where someone says, “When you get into your career, you are going to have times when you are not excited or passionate about it. You will even have times where you are bored.” People need to hear this and they need to know that committed professionals work through this to achieve success.

Ever hike a long trail up a mountain? The beginning of the journey is exciting and new. The scenery is pretty at the base of the mountain. You are fresh and energetic. Two hours into the hike, you start to sweat and get a little tired, but are still excited to be on the journey. Two more hours go by, you are more fatigued, you are deeper into the woods, you cannot see the sun through the trees, nor see as much in front of or around you. You are just walking, one step at a time, and you are hungry. It is not that much fun anymore. A career is a lot like this. In the beginning, you are excited to be in a new position. Then you get going. You could be working long hours. You cannot see the promotion out in front of you. It becomes hard. Some part of the work becomes monotonous. The people who make it to the top of that mountain are the ones who stay on the path, taking one step at a time, moving forward. Over time, a hiker will get to the part of the trail that opens up, has a great view – perhaps a stream or a meadow. They get their second wind. They also stop and rest at various periods to reenergize themselves. A business leader will find the same after coming to work each day, utilizing a disciplined approach to grow and develop and add value to his or her organization. Eventually, like when the hiker suddenly breaks out of the woods, hits the open path, and sees that great view, the business leader will reach some milestone, some success, and even that next promotion. The day-to-day accomplishments, working through the challenges, giving it time, and taking time to rest and recharge allows the business leader to get to these places.

I want everyone to find fulfillment in their work, to be excited and to use their talents. I believe that starts early in a career that utilizes your strengths and allows you to build a track record of success. I also believe that passion develops over time, and it takes fortitude and wisdom to not confuse being on the wrong path with being at a point where you are just putting one foot in front of the other. That beautiful clearing is just up ahead.

Joel Junker

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