Should You Find Your Passion or Play to Your Strengths?

Posted on January 23, 2019.

If you’re really lucky, what you’re passionate about in life is also what you’re really good at and, more importantly, can make a living doing it.  Unfortunately, that is not most of us.

When I was looking for my first job decades ago, the mantra was, “find something with good benefits and job security”.  And that’s exactly what most of us did.  These days the mantra is, “find something you’re passionate about and you’ll never work a day in your life”.  But here’s the thing, according Burnett & Evans’ book Designing Your Life, 80% of all ages don’t really know what they’re passionate about.

Of course we all know that 1 person who fits into that 20%, but most of us don’t. So how do you find a job you’re passionate about when you don’t know what that is?

My career advice use to be, “find something you’re interested in and if you don’t like it, you can eliminate it from your future endeavors”.  Careers can often be a series of determining what you don’t want to do anymore. And for the most part that theory can work well.  

But these days, there are better ways for the passion clueless to find a fulfilling, engaging career. You’ve all heard the saying, “play to your strengths”.  I like this phrase much better than “find your passion” because everyone has strengths.  You’re probably saying to yourself, “well of course people work at jobs that play to their strengths or they’d be fired”.  But if that’s the case, why is employee engagement so low?  According to Access Perks, only 15% of workers are fully engaged and enjoying their work. This doesn’t sound like folks playing to their strengths. So how do you find your strengths?

Rule #1 is that your strengths are not what other people tell you they are.   You need to discover them on your own. Marcus Buckingham has a fantastic video series called The Trombone Player Wanted, which I encourage all of you to watch. In it he gives the example of someone saying their strength is that they’re “good with people”.  But what people? And what are you doing with these people?  So it needs to start with being specific about what gets you excited, what gives you energy, what are the tasks that make you want to go to work every day.  

So a good place to start, is to keep a detailed journal of various tasks you perform both at work and at home. What gave you energy and what drained you? What made you super focused and what had you finding excuses not to complete? If you can find your own strengths, you can then search for a job that fits those strengths and if you’re lucky, your job becomes your passion.