Should You Be Passionate About a Career? Yes and No

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Delivering Happiness" by Tony Hsieh. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is passion the deal-breaker when you’re looking for a job? Do people need to be passionate about careers?

The general advice that most successful people give to new people in the workforce is to follow your passion. While research shows that is true most of the time, being passionate about a career isn’t necessarily important.

Read more to determine if you should strive to be passionate about your career, according to former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

Follow Your Passion

One mistake Hsieh learned from was not initially following his passion. Hsieh learned the importance of being passionate about his career shortly after graduating college and starting full-time work. As discussed above, Hsieh wanted to find happiness by directing his own life. He believed making money was the solution, so he selected a job based on salary rather than interest in the company’s mission. However, rather than making him happy, taking a job he didn’t care about left him bored and miserable.

Hsieh realized that money alone couldn’t build a fulfilling career: He had to be passionate about the way he made money as well. Thus, Hsieh quit his well-paying but unfulfilling job, focusing on finding happiness through self-direction, rather than money. This passion led him to start his first company, LinkExchange (an internet-based advertisement company), rather than finding another traditional job. While establishing LinkExchange was a demanding task, requiring long hours and hard work, Hsieh being passionate about his career helped him persevere and succeed.

Don’t Follow Your Passion

Hsieh maintains that being passionate about your career is an important consideration when choosing a profession. This is a common idea in the business world that gained momentum in the 1970s and is now almost ubiquitous. However, in So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport argues that following the idea of being passionate about careers is a terrible way to determine your job.

There are a few reasons passion isn’t necessarily an indicator for a good career:

1. Motivation is more important than striving for something to be passionate about. Careers are a long-term commitment to most people, and being motivated can help you achieve this long-term status. Motivation has a more direct connection to enjoying your job and making a fulfilling career than passion does. To encourage motivation, find a job where you have independence, the ability necessary to complete your job, and strong connections with coworkers.

2. Few people are truly passionate about their careers. Studies show most people’s passions revolve around hobbies, rather than their jobs. However, many of these people are still happy with their jobs and find them fulfilling. Thus, passion isn’t necessary for a fulfilling career.

3. Passion for a job grows over time. Studies show that passion and job satisfaction increase over time. As you grow more accustomed to your job, you become better at it, earning greater independence and competence. These factors in turn increase your motivation, as discussed above, and improve your job satisfaction. Only after this do most people begin to see their careers as passionate callings rather than mere employment. Rather than tailoring your career to your passion, Newport suggests keeping an open mind and being willing to find passion in whatever job life leads you to.

Should You Be Passionate About a Career? Yes and No

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Here's what you'll find in our full Delivering Happiness summary:

  • Former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh's guide to workplace happiness
  • The three principles that turned Zappos into a billion-dollar company in a decade
  • An exploration of the psychology behind happiness and why it leads to success

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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