How to find your vocation? That’s a difficult question, and one that I’ve been thinking about almost non-stop for the past few years. I’ve been reading books, listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos and talking with mentors on how to find your true passion in life. Today I want to discuss two general approaches to finding your vocation that I’ve come across so far.
The first general approach to finding one’s vocation and creating a meaningful career is what I call the passion-driven approach. According to this approach, you should first find your passion in life and then put all your effort to working on it. The basic assumption is that everyone has a passion that can be discovered and that you should make it your priority to find your passion. You can find clues about your passion in different ways. One technique that Robert Greene mentions in his book ‘Mastery’ is to go back to your childhood and reflect on what really made you excited. Whether it’s playing with Legos, drawing, or going on adventures, these early childhood memories serve as important signposts to finding what truly inspires you in life. Another method is to try out various things early in your career and see which activities, skills, and settings feel right and gets you excited, and then pursuing jobs that allow you move towards those things. Yet another method is to work on one job for an extended period, reflect on what aspects of the job you enjoy, and then try to find a new position that allows you to go deeper into those aspects.
The passion-driven feels very compelling. It resonates with a very common tendency of people to think that, “if I can just get this thing or that thing, or if I can just find x and I’ll be happy.” It also seems a very common advice to “follow your passion!” Although I think the passion-driven approach can work well for many people, there is also a great risk of falling into thinking that you need to find your passion in order to be happy in your career. Another big risk involved with the passion-driven approach is that you become too impatient, and are never able to stick to a job for extended periods. If you’re constantly assessing whether a job is making you excited or not, you might not be able to develop the patience to overcome the first months and years of learning the necessary skills that allow you to perform well in your job. As a result, you might end up switching between jobs before you truly find out if you like it or not.
However, there is another way to finding your vocation, which I call the competency-driven approach. While the passion-driven approach is founded on the assumption that passion is something intrinsic to us, and that all that we need to do is to reveal it, the competency-driven approach says that passion is forged like iron is forged at a foundry. Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work and So Good They Can’t Ignore You, argues that early in your career, you should focus on building valuable and rare skills that allow you to create value to others. As you develop these skills and increase your career capital, two things happen. Firstly, when you learn new skills and slowly approach mastery, you will derive more pleasure from learning and practicing your craft, which in turn makes you more eager to learn more. Becoming better also increases your ability to give to others, which again makes you feel good about yourself and more eager to learn. This creates a virtuous cycle of learning and giving that makes work meaningful. Secondly, with increasing career capital, more doors become open to you and you get more opportunities to steer your career to a direction that inspires you. As you become better at what you do, you will eventually find enjoyment, purpose, and dedication by focusing on mastery.
I think both approaches have merit, and using a combination of both the passion-driven approach and the competency-driven approach is probably most effective. Although the passion-driven approach emphasizes more on reflecting on what makes you excited and happy, self-reflection is also an unavoidable part of the competency-driven process as you should aim to develop those skill areas that you find enjoyable and more natural to you. However, I’ve personally found the competency-driven approach more appealing. The “follow your passion” advice is so prevalent today that I find it refreshing to think that passion can be created as opposed to seeking it like a treasure. Focusing on developing skills also appears more concrete and easier to grasp than doing seemingly endless reflection on myself.
What do you think? Please leave a comment on what approach have you used in creating a meaningful career.