Lee came to me wanting to find her passion, convinced that uncovering her passion and following it was the answer to figuring out what was next for her. After more than 30 years in senior roles healthcare management, she had been so busy working and raising a family she never had time to develop her passion. This year the youngest child has just left to go to university and she was finding work was becoming less and less fun. The Board was getting more and more demanding, funding was getting tighter and tighter and employees were getting more and more entitled. Now was the time: she was ready to write the next chapter – to give back and contribute in a different way. If only she knew how. She figured the answer was to follow her passion – but she didn’t have one.
When people have suggested to me to follow my passion, like Lee, I felt even more discouraged as I didn’t know what my passion was and despite trying to figure it out, I felt I had been unsuccessful at uncovering it. If identifying the next step meant I had to follow my passion – then I felt a long way from a place where I could take action. Now, it turns out that I am not the only one who thinks following your passion is a bad idea.
Researchers from the Stanford University (including Carol Dweck one of my favourites who wrote about Growth Mindset) found the research agreed with me although for different reasons. They found that people that followed their passion tended to focus too narrowly on one area of interest and would give up easily if things got difficult.
Instead, they suggest people use their strengths or what they are best at, and follow a number of areas of interest across sectors. This approach works better as people who are using their strengths are more likely to be good at what they are doing. And being good at something increases the likelihood you will keep doing it and make a significant contribution in that area. Furthermore, most of the complex problems that need to be solved today require an understanding of multiple dimensions – for example, engineering and IT and communications. So people that have a broad skill set are more likely to be able to draw connections across these seemingly disparate sectors and contribute to the complex problem solving we need.
When writing the next chapter of your life, work and legacy, start with your strengths. If you haven’t ever completed a strengths survey before, you can get a free one here: https://www.viacharacter.org/survey/account/register.
Secondly, think of writing your next chapter as a road trip where you will hone your internal GPS and discover hidden gems and off the beaten track sights on your journey. Each stop and sight seen along the way will provide you with feedback to help you discern the next step.
Writing the next chapter is not about following your passion – that is a lie! Writing the next chapter is about building on your strengths, exploring a wide range of interests and honing your internal GPS. The end result is a feeling of being fulfilled and feeling on fire again!
Laura Macdougall is a leading advisor to senior women leaders in the health and non-profit sectors intent on writing the next chapter of their life, work and legacy. Message her for more information on her Feeling On Fire Coaching Program or opportunities to have her speak at your organization.