I have one of those “pursue your passion” jobs. You know the kind – one of those warm fuzzy jobs that touch hearts and change lives. It’s the kind that people quit their high-powered careers to pursue so they can self-actualize and become their best selves. There’s a lot floating around on the internet about turning your passion into your dream job but it’s often simplistic and very one-sided.
Like so many others, I drank the “follow your dream” Kool Aid after finishing high school and took psychology in university. Since graduating, I have worked towards bettering the human condition for over a decade. The truth is I love my job. I’ve gotten a little cynical about the follow your dream thing but I do love my job.
I work in the human services sector as an Outreach Worker. Anyone that works in a helping profession (nurse, social worker, teacher) can tell you how “other focused” the job can be. It’s all about building relationships and being in service to a larger cause. It can be very meaningful and rewarding work but it can definitely change the way you relate to people. Observe:
Humour aside, there were some definite pitfalls to following my passion in this way. I wanted to be everything to everyone. I loved working with my patients and found myself taking on extra projects, putting in more hours, and just generally going above and beyond the call of duty. Nobody made me do these extra things. Nobody even asked or suggested that I do them. I just volunteered myself for them. I’m an Outreach Worker. My job description involves driving people places; finding fun stuff for people to do; and occasionally writing a report about how said people are managing while going places and doing stuff – that was all.
There’s nothing wrong with any of those projects I took on – I learned a lot, created some wonderful initiatives, and helped make patients’ lives better. My creativity and dedication were noticed and I was showered with praise and accolades. I was the go-to person for anything ranging from the challenging, at-risk patient to that impossible problem with no solutions. The issue was I that I became addicted to being needed. I felt the only way that I could feel good about myself was to be a hero to everyone. It’s more than a little cliché but all that validation became caught up in my own self-worth.
I made my career the central focus of my life. I was pouring the very best of myself into what everyone else wanted every day and had nothing left over for what I needed. Not only was I emotionally exhausted from being the support person for all my clients, I was piling on all these extra responsibilities that quickly became regular expectations in my job. There are many reasons why I struggle with setting boundaries but I know that my career choice exacerbated this problem. Something had to give.
Choosing Something More Balanced
I experienced a life changing event (LCE) sixteen months ago and it forced me to question everything. While I can’t go into the details because it’s my daughter’s story to tell, I can say my world has been forever altered. I know that unexpected things can happen and it’s up to me to make the most of my life right now. That means stepping back from beliefs and behaviours that keep me trapped in a place I no longer want to be. While I can’t afford to walk away from my job right now, I can make some changes.
The LCE made me question where I put my time and energy. Because I couldn’t quit my job, I needed to relook at the way I did things. While it’s great to help others, go above and beyond, and be the one clients confide in – there really had to be more to life. The problem was I didn’t know where to start with fixing all this stuff. These were old habits that had become almost second nature to me.
Where to Start?
I joined something called an interpersonal process group, similar to this one here, and it helped me see where I needed to improve in my personal relationships. The group showed me how to be aware of my automatic thoughts and behaviours and practice a different way of being with people. I started thinking more about the direction I wanted my life to take and how I wanted to get there. I was able to start separating my self worth from good deeds and outside praise.
Because I was more mindful about my patterns, I could concentrate more on who I loved instead of what I loved.* I’m seeing more of my friends and trying to be more open to new experiences. I’ve also started exploring other career options in case I want to try something different. I’m just starting this journey and I don’t know where I will end up but I’m looking forward to where all my choices will lead me.
As Austrian psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl once said: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
I choose that passion will play a role in all areas of my life – not just my career.
*Article that inspired this post: http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2012/03/18/reader-story-i-quit-my-passion-and-took-a-boring-job/
*Quote was from an insightful commenter, Marsha, on the article that inspired my blog post.