What to do if Your Day Job is Not Your Passion

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What to do if Your Day Job is Not Your Passion

At the start of any new year, our thoughts tend to go towards nearly-forgotten dreams, tossed-aside ideas, and a resolve towards making our lives better, more complete, and more satisfying. When your day job is not what you're passionate about, it could be the thing you focus on as top priority in need of change in the new year. To help you sort through your thoughts and manage your expectations, check out this great article from the Idealist Careers archives! 

To your success,

Idealist Careers 

Last year, I had a strange encounter at the grocery store. While reaching for my debit card to pay for my groceries, the cashier looked straight into my eyes and said, “Are you living your dream?” I was totally flustered, and stammered something like, “I’m not sure.” He laughed and pointed towards my hands. I’d forgotten that my wallet had been stolen recently and I’d been using a temporary credit card holder made out of recycled materials that had the words “LIVE YOUR DREAM” printed on it. He was just making conversation, but it was a rare moment that sparked a great deal of introspection.

What does it mean to live your dream? People often assume that those who work in the social good sector must have a passion for what they do. Perhaps it’s because working in the sector often requires some sacrifices, or because it’s still considered a non-traditional career path by many. Whatever the reason, the stereotype paints an unrealistic portrait of the sector and the people working in it. Not all of us nonprofit folks are chaining ourselves to trees, working 80-hour weeks, or the inspiration for a Hollywood film about overcoming the odds to make a difference (though some are, and more power to them!).

Ultimately, after my introspection spiral winded down, I realized that I am living a version of my dream. I work for an incredible organization that makes a difference in people’s lives, I’ve achieved that sought after work/life balance, and I find meaning in the daily interactions I have with friends, family, and co-workers.

However, everyone has a different definition of living their dream, and it takes work to figure out what’s right for you. Some people are 100% clear on their dream, and just haven’t achieved it yet. Others have never been able to settle on a single passion. Wherever you are in the process, if you’ve ever struggled to answer the question, “Are you living your dream?,” you might recognize yourself in one of the scenarios below.

Scenario 1: You have a cause, but it’s not what’s on your business card

Who you are:

You know exactly what you’re passionate about, and you can recite your elevator pitch in your sleep, but no one would know it based on your job title. Maybe you don’t yet have the necessary skills or experience to land your dream job. Maybe you’re about to make a big career change. Or maybe what you’re passionate about just isn’t a financially viable option. (After all, “Follow your passion” may make a great commencement speech theme, but it’s certainly not a career plan. Some argue it’s not even great advice.)

The good news:

You’re lucky because you know exactly what you want to do, and that’s half the battle. Even if you’re not yet where you want to be, you can at least point yourself in the right direction. In the meantime, there are plenty of ways to express your passion outside of your 9 to 5.

Take some action:

  • Consider volunteering with an organization you love during your off hours. In addition to being a great way to contribute to a cause you care about, it’s also a terrific resume builder, and sometimes leads to a job offer.
  • In some situations, it may be more realistic to give money rather than time. Network For Good can help you find and donate to an organization that’s working on an issue you care about.
  • Even if you’re not able to work directly on the issue you care most about, you can still be an advocate for the cause. Read up on organizations, events, programs and initiatives and become the go-to person amongst your friends for information and inspiration.

Scenario 2: You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling

Who you are:

You had passion, but somewhere along the way, you lost it. Maybe you got burned out on the job. Or maybe you’re getting a second wind, and you’re finding yourself pulled in a new, unexpected direction. Suddenly, what used to be an endless source of inspiration is no longer enough to keep you interested.

The good news:

You’ve already proven you’re a person with passion. You may have lost a bit of magic, but there’s no reason you can’t get it back again. You just might need to look in some surprising places.

Take some action:

Scenario 3: Rebel without a cause

Who you are:

You’re a social butterfly of social causes. You’ve never been the type of person to commit to a single issue area, and have dabbled in a range of activities, organizations, and maybe even job functions. This isn’t a fault at all, but if you feel like you’re missing out by not having a lifelong mission, you can do a little work to narrow down the field.

The good news:

While many are drawn to the sector because they are committed to a particular cause, others come for the leadership opportunities, a host of great employment benefits, or simply because they found a great job in a great organization. The bottom line is, there are plenty of reasons to be happy in the sector, aside from complete dedication to a social mission.

Take some action:

  • Recognize that passion is something that can grow. This is starting to sound a bit like relationship advice column, isn’t it? Just like in relationships, passion can grow in your career as well. Passion can be the result of focused skill development and increased expertise, rather than the cause.
  • Check out Kimberly’s article about what to do if you haven’t identified a passion at all. The article includes some good links about how to identify your passion.
  • Finally, consider thinking about happiness beyond your job. Sometimes we think we should feel a certain way about our work, but when we get real with ourselves, we realize that we’re perfectly content to have a job where we simply enjoy our day-to-day, but we get our deepest satisfaction from some other part of our lives.

By Hannah Kane

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