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Do You Have to Make a Living at Your Passion to Be Happy?

Holley Hyler is an IT consultant and published freelance writer living in New York.


A Paralyzing Belief

Over the course of my working life so far, I have only had two jobs. I have had a number of "side-hustles" and things I did outside work with the hope of making enough money to switch careers eventually - webdesign, tarot reading, Reiki healing, freelance writing. I ran a metaphysical shop with a friend for a couple of summers. In terms of the income from these, I could never hope to pay bills on that. I did make a bit of fun money that I could invest to further my business or put toward a vacation, but in the end, I gave up on nearly all of it (except writing, of course). The question of whether one can be happy not working at one's passion is one I have explored for most of my twenties.

I think many of us have a belief that our "day job" has to be something wholesome that we absolutely love in order to feel happy and successful. It is a belief that I still notice within myself. It can be a bit paralyzing, especially as I look over and see my fiancé's fingers zooming over the keyboard for an awesome article he is writing for fun while I compare Excel spreadsheets and test a billing system. I love him and I'm glad he's happy; I would be lying if I said I am not slightly jealous.

When I describe what I do for a living to people, I can see their eyes start to glaze over. One afternoon, at the orthodontist, one of the ladies working at the office asked me what I do for my job. She paused after my explanation and said, "...so, it pays the bills! Got it." I had to laugh. No doubt she was picking up how I feel about the work in my words and body language.

Would life hurt any less, if I had the freedom to write whatever, whenever, and got paid enough to live on from it? Probably so, yes. Here's the thing, though: when we hinge our happiness on any one thing or a certain condition being met - be it money, a loving relationship, a job - we tend to set ourselves up for unhappiness and increase the chances of that thing evading us.

What is Passion?

What does it mean to be passionate, anyway?

You might argue that the CEO of your company has passion. You see them taking phone calls and meetings at all hours of the day or stressing when employees are not ready for a client meeting. You might think your coworker has passion when they spend time after-hours learning about a new system or answering e-mails. After all, in many cases, they choose to do these voluntarily. In the case of the CEO, I do not want that kind of passion. I need a work-life balance to be functional and content. As an introvert, I could not imagine opening myself up to meetings and phone calls at any time of the day (or night).

As I have grown older, I have come to associate passion with unhealthy emotional dynamics. Passion can become an addiction. For instance, some do not enjoy being in committed relationships because things eventually settle and become more routine. One can even block him or herself off from real love due to constantly seeking that adrenaline rush, that feeling of "getting" someone's love when it is not freely given.

This is what gives me pause when I consider the question of feeling passionate about my living. Do I want to be mentally stimulated and enjoy my work? Of course. I don't buy into the idea that we need to be excited to jump out of bed to go to work. Work is still work, whether you're a writer or IT customer support. Maybe some of us are built to be entrepreneurs, but you have to honestly consider your personality type to understand if that is a fit for you. If you enjoy having a steady, predictable income and feel anxious putting yourself out there, it may be a harder road for you to follow. That does not mean, however, that you must resign yourself to discontent and boredom or downright misery. Self-employment is not the only way to happiness and should never be undertaken as a means of escape.


What to Do If You Dislike Your Job

The best advice I have ever gotten about my job-related woe was, "Don't think about your job any more than you have to."

It might sound overly simple or even like a bad idea, but hear me out.

When we spend our time off the clock in dread or anticipating tomorrow, that is unpaid time at the office. You may only be at the office in your mind, and that sucks too. I have had nights where I dreamed about work and felt like I was never off. This used to be a more regular occurrence, whereas now it only happens once in a blue moon. I don't know why since I don't talk about or focus on my job during my off-hours.

When I first started at my current company, I was ashamed to admit that I needed every single minute of my off-hours. I did not mind the occasional call after 5, but if it became a regular thing, I felt unbalanced. Most of my coworkers seemed not to mind working after-hours or did not speak up if they were displeased by it. I worried my boss would think I was less dedicated than the rest of the team if I told him, "Hey, after 5, I really need that time to myself."

When I finally did say this to him, he understood and was encouraging about it. This is the mark of a good employer.

If your job is a good fit for your skills despite you feeling less than stellar about it, look for the aspects of it that encompass what interests you. In mine, I get to help people. I actually write a lot in e-mails and instruction documents. I enjoy problem-solving. There has to be at least one thing, otherwise you would not be there.

Give Up the Belief

When we give up the belief that we need any specific condition to be met in order to be happy, we become happier.

I used to spend a lot of time stressing about what I could do to escape the 9-5 life. The truth is, I like the steady paycheck. Like, I like it a lot. I like knowing that after a certain time of day, I am "safe" from having to answer e-mails or talk about work. It is hard when I see others effortlessly doing what I truly want to do with those hours that I usually spend working. I remind myself, "I can do that too. I am a good writer. I can be patient and get to that point."

I am not giving up on what I want to do, but I am giving up on the idea that happiness only comes from that.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Holley Hyler


greg cain from Moscow, Idaho, USA on May 17, 2020:

@holleyhyler There is great insight and wisdom here. Such a worldview was not in my grasp when I was younger. Indeed, 25-30 years ago I could not/would not have been able to see this or think of it on my own. Work was all consuming to the detriment of nearly everything else in my life. I loved my work, mind you, but there was no balance and I didn't recognize that everything else was pretty well out of whack because of that. You have sought, and seem to have somewhat found, the work-life balance -- talking to your employer, discovering that he was understanding about this is something a lot of other people would not do. Indeed, no matter your happiness level otherwise, if an employer had said anything less than what yours said, one should probably look elsewhere for work. I think the punchline here is clearly in the final two sentences of this article: you can be happy in the meantime while you keep chipping away steadily at pursuit of your passion. Your writing is strong and accessible; there is good possibility that someday it may serve you as both passion and paycheck.

Holley Hyler (author) from Upstate New York on April 08, 2020:

Thanks all! @ Umesh, yours is an interesting take as well and I can identify with being a writer in other disguises. Identifying your interest early on is important.

Mitara N from South Africa on April 08, 2020:

Interesting take on tackling with different approaches

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on April 08, 2020:

Interesting points. Well presented. Incidentally have you read my poem - You have to follow your passion. Thanks in advance.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 08, 2020:

Very interesting. Notions that are so important. I learned along time ago that passion was not "about" but within. I can bring passion to weeding ;-)

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