Lesson #113: How to Lead a Passionate Life Without Being Passionate About Your Job

by Rachel on November 14, 2011

A couple months ago, Nicole contacted me about writing a guest article for Michigan State’s VIM Magazine. Considering that Nicole’s blog makes me miss college sorority like crazy — until I start to feel a little too much like Amy Poehler in Mean Girls and reel it in — I was flattered to be asked and happy to oblige! I wrote a special lesson for VIM. The issue with my article just came out, but I thought I’d share the lesson with all you non-Spartans here.

You guys know I’m all about pursuing your passions. I mean, one of my passions is the idea that doing what you’re passionate about is possible! But a lot of people get really caught up in figuring out a way to pursue their passion as a career. They worry that they shouldn’t do anything they don’t love because that basically negates the whole American dream. This is a nice idea but it gets stressful really quickly because the fact is, our current economy means it’s just not responsible to be so picky. 

But I’ve realized that you can do what you’re passionate about…but you don’t have to be passionate about everything you do, and you don’t have to be passionate about your job.

I’m lucky because I currently really love my job, but I’ve also made sure that if I, like many people, suddenly find myself without that job — like I did a year ago — I will still lead a passionate life. Here is how you can lead a passionate life without being passionate about your full-time job.

Realize that your passion might not be career-related. Some people are passionate about their families, homes, pets, and friends. You might be passionate about renovating your house, but that doesn’t mean you need to start a career in interior design. You could be passionate about your significant other or kids, but that doesn’t mean you’d be passionate about other people’s families. Some passions are specific to your situation and you won’t necessarily find yourself making a full-time job out of them. That’s OK.

Find a day job you don’t hate. We spend our whole lives thinking we have to know what we want to be when we grow up, but the fact is, most people end up in jobs they didn’t even know existed when they were a kid on career day. Sure, you might not be passionate about accounts receivables, but if you like your company and your coworkers and have the time and mental energy to pursue your passion in your free time, then you might realize that your sounds-kinda-boring day job is actually perfect for you.

Figure out how you can pursue your passion without making a dime. If you don’t know how to make a career out of your passion, figure out how you can work it into your life in a different way. If you’re passionate about animals but can’t afford to go to veterinary school, think about all the ways you could volunteer. If you’re passionate about photography but don’t think you have a shot, join a photography meetup group or start a photo blog where you can dabble without trying to earn money. It’s amazing how doing something you’re passionate about just a few hours a week can light up your whole life.

Remember that being passionate about your job can be exhausting. Good exhausting, but exhausting all the same! When you love something, you’ll work at way more than the standard 40 hours a week and that can become really consuming. If you have less time to pursue your passion, you might find you have more balance in all areas of your life.

I love that we live in a society where we’re encouraged to do what we love for work, but trying to do that can be overwhelming and, at times, unrealistic. Although it seems counterintuitive, letting go of the idea that you have to be passionate about your job can actually be a huge step toward satisfaction and happiness.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Val @ Balancing Val November 14, 2011 at 10:29 am

Couldnt agree more . . .

Passion is an amazing thing to have in your life, but to be passionate about EVERYTHING would make life exhausting and eventually the passion would burn out.

You need to live in the trenches somewhat to appreciate passion I think . . .


2 Stephanie October 14, 2012 at 7:13 pm

This was very cool to read and puts things into perspective! I know that we would all love to get paid for what we love, but that’s not attainable for every single person in this world, or even America. Thanks Rachel! It was great to come across this post!


3 Lindsay November 14, 2011 at 10:42 am

It’s cool that you just wrote about that! I have been going back and forth on whether I should change careers to something I’m more passionate about. Anything I chose would involve more school and starting at the bottom of the ladder again, and I’ve actually made a lot of progress in my current career and am pretty good at it. I may decide that it’s worth it later on to make the switch, but knowing that I can make time to enjoy my passions outside of my job helps.


4 Diane November 14, 2011 at 10:43 am

This is SUCH good advice. I was recently saying that while I love storytelling/performing, I know I probably will always need at least a part-time day job. And I am totally fine with that!

“Sure, you might not be passionate about accounts receivables, but if you like your company and your coworkers and have the time and mental energy to pursue your passion in your free time, then you might realize that your sounds-kinda-boring day job is actually perfect for you.”

YES. THIS SO MUCH. The reason I got out of journalism was because it’s so demanding that it’s nearly impossible to pursue other interests. I almost never talk about my day job because it’s just that: a day job. I forget it when I go home and I refuse to be like everyone else in DC and get my work email on my smartphone. Nope, sorry. Nothing I do is that important. What’s there gonna be, a font emergency?

There are definitely a few people I know who would benefit from this article. I’ll be sharing for sure!


5 Caity November 14, 2011 at 10:54 am

WOW. I’ve spent the last 6 years since I left college trying to reconcile these two concepts! I wanted to so badly to be passionate about my work that I was making myself depressed that I wasn’t! No, I don’t love finance, find it completely fulfilling or want to spend every waking moment until I’m 65 thinking about it. But it’s interesting, challenging and I’m surrounded by intelligent, well-educated, hard working people.

I may pursue other interests in the future, but you’re right that its ok to not be 100% fulfilled or engaged by your job. You need other interests to be well rounded anyway!


6 R November 14, 2011 at 10:58 am

I am a frequent but quiet reader and this post is one of your best. It’s so relevant and thought-provoking and it really did give me the go-ahead to not feel so guilty about working to live and not vice versa. Thanks! :)


7 Rachel November 14, 2011 at 11:25 am

Thank you! And thanks for coming out of Lurkville!


8 *Andrea* November 14, 2011 at 11:12 am

i LOVE this post. thanks so much for writing about this topic


9 Claire @ Live and Love to Eat November 14, 2011 at 11:55 am

I think I’m lucky to really like the field I work in – even if this isn’t my DREAM job… I believe it has me on the right track.


10 Suzanne November 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Thank you so much for this! I have a ton of friends right now that are unemployed, not because they don’t have marketable skill-sets, but because they’re only applying to their “dream jobs”, which are not only few and far between, but usually require someone with more experience. You aren’t selling out by taking a job you don’t love. I went into my day job thinking it would be only temporary until I could save up money for law school, and then I realized it wasn’t so bad. Kind of boring, but I have great coworkers and good benefits. I even ended up going back to school part-time because I didn’t want to give up the good deal that I had. Plus, ANY work experience is valuable, even if it’s not in the field you hope to work in some day. Companies want people who already understand how to be professional in a work environment. Plus, you’ll fair better if you already have references who can vouch for your work ethic.


11 Nicole November 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm

THANK YOU for this post!


12 Alicia from Poise in Parma November 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm

This could not have come at a better time in my life. I’m totally lost career wise – just quitting my job and not being sure if I want to go back to the field that I’ve been successful in to date. When that’s been your “passion” for so long, it’s hard to not know what to work towards instead. I really hope I can use your tips in my search to figure out the next stages.


13 Alli November 14, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Thank you so much for writing it. I’ll be printing it out and stapling it over my desk (at home, not work, of course).


14 Hannah November 14, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Thanks for the advice on following your passion, even if it’s not your job. Right now I’m in school but I’m looking for a part time job. I know that it’s not going to be my passion, but it’s a good idea to have passion somewhere in my life. I just know that I want to have passions that aren’t just necessary for a job.


15 Kia November 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm

This is a fantastic post. Thank you for sure sharing this with us and college students. It is important these things are said to them college students (I work in student affairs).


16 melissanibbles November 14, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Fabulous post Rachel. I think it’s my favorite.


17 Rachel November 14, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Thanks, Nibbles!!


18 Deva @ Deva by Definition November 14, 2011 at 11:25 pm

This is a great post, and great advice for everyone to keep in mind.


19 Megan November 15, 2011 at 9:12 am

As someone who will soon be on the job hunt, I love this! It definitely takes some pressure off for me, knowing that if I don’t get the perfect job I can still lead a full, passionate life. Work to live, don’t live to work, right?

I also had a great conversation with a friend about this recently. She, like me, considered herself to be a free spirit and took a year to volunteer and teach in a developing country, following her passion for travel. She realized after the year that she couldn’t follow or fulfill her life passions without some sort of income, and is now in school for accounting because she’s good at it and she knows the stable income and benefits will allow her to travel more. It might sound boring and practical, but she is quite the opposite! Your job most certainly does not and should not define you.


20 Jamie aka "Sometimes Healthy" Girl November 15, 2011 at 11:12 am

I was literally just turning to your blog because I’m feeling “blah” about my job and blog – two things I try to be passionate about. I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% passionate about my job but what you say makes total sense: that’s okay. I like my job and I love where I work – writing on the side is my passion – and as long as I have that, I think I’m okay. Your post really helped reinforce these feelings :-)


21 Laura @ Joyful Shimmy November 15, 2011 at 2:27 pm

I love this post! I ended up forwarding to a few friends about it. It is so true and I think its pretty radical for us to accept that our jobs are not going to complete us fully. Over the past couple of years , I decided to try out what it would be like to explore my other passions not the ones set forth because they look right. I wanted to explore what felt right, what inspires me. You know what as I do it more and more I am able to be more productive at my job but really live a fun life.


22 Heidi Nicole November 15, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Rachel…I cannot tell you how badly I needed this post!

I am seriously struggling with my life career-wise and it is definitely affecting our marriage. I want a job that I love, he wants me to make money. I don’t love my college degree that costs twice as much as his, but he is making twice the money as I am. It is a mess and we have had spats about it.

I want to chase down my passion with a career…but really, once it is my job will the fun of it go away? Probably.

Can I still have passions and follow them while working a mediocore job that pays well? Of course.

Did I think about any of that before this post? Um, no. Most likely because it would make The Husband completely right…

Anyway, thank you for this post! It really is quite simple but I as avoiding the reality of it all!


23 Rachel November 19, 2011 at 12:01 pm

This comment made me so happy! I’m sorry to make your husband right but I’m glad this will help end your spats…keep me posted on how everything goes!


24 Julia H. @ The Petite Spiel November 15, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Very interesting post! I tend to think that you should do what you love as a career, but you are right–there are SO many other things to be passionate about in life besides work! If someone is lucky enough to find a career they can enjoy in a passionate sense, that’s great..but it’s not the end-all-be-all!


25 Emilia November 16, 2011 at 8:24 am

I’ve had this saved to read in my google reader for quite sometime and only finally got around to it. But I’m so glad I did! I genuinely have no idea what I want to do and have always felt some sort of pressure to know, or at the very least figure it out quickly. I think the idea about honoring your passions, even if they aren’t the career you choose, is spot on. The things that make me happy are baking, writing and traveling. Even if that might not be my career, that doesn’t mean I stop being passionate about them. Thank you for such an awesome post! :)


26 Lizilla November 16, 2011 at 11:28 am

Thank you! I agree and tell this to my friends who are having a hard time with the passionate career concept. I went to school for environmental science and ended up being a pharmaceutical chemist right out of college. Chemistry was far from my passion but it allowed me to build my resume so that two years later I got a job as an environmental research chemist. Now I generate data that is directly involved in environmental policy making and love it, but I would have never known it was something I would enjoy without going first in a direction I wasn’t passionate about.

Also a lot of people don’t realize that doing what you are passionate about for a living does always equate happiness. It is called work not paid fun.


27 Susan November 19, 2011 at 11:58 am

I adore this post!! I was one of those people who quite my job (albeit, it was a super stressful low paying job) to pursue my passions. I found myself working 14-16 hour days, making just enough to scrape by, and missing out on some of the more finer things in life – namely, my social life. I then realized that I didn’t want my life to be my work, and that’s often what happens when you turn your passions into work. Now I have a regular 8-4, relatively low-stress, desk job. It’s not super stimulating or world changing, but I really like my coworkers and it keeps me interested 8 hours a day. Best of all, it only lasts 8 hours a day, providing ample time for me to pursue my passions on the side without the stress of having to use those passions to feed myself.


28 Elina (Healthy and Sane) December 1, 2011 at 11:28 am

Great post, Rachel! I recently quit my job because I felt like it was sucking the life out of me but it did take years of not being happy there (but saving!!). I agree that doing things that you are passionate about outside of work can definitely create a passionate life :)


29 Melissa February 8, 2012 at 3:42 pm

OMG. I am currently in a job that I hate and am looking for another job but just can’t find anything that I want, and I realized this totally applies to me! I have been feeling this for awhile, but wasn’t really even able to put it into words. It’s so nice to know that this is a thing, and that I should stop excessively worrying about the fact that I can’t figure out my career passion, which is something that my whole family and friends emphasize. Thanks, Rachel.


30 Mike February 12, 2012 at 11:12 pm


What a delightfully well-thought out and well-written piece. I enjoyed it immensely. I’ve been talking with a friend of mine; she’s graduating college in the spring and is going through the typical, existential quandary about what to do next. I googled passion, and found this blog entry. I’m going to pass it along to her in hopes that it will help.

In addition, I look forward to reading more from you in the future. I’m also going to comb through your other posts when I find myself with some free time. Keep up the great work!


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