Myths & Truths: Passion and Impact

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By Lisa Slayton; part two of a series. Reprinted from The Wholeness Journey.

MYTH #1: PURSUE YOUR PASSION

MYTH #1: You should pursue your passion and find your dream job. This is a big one, and has a related Myth – Myth #1.1, that you should seek a job that “makes an impact.”

There is a commonly held adage that furthers this myth: Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

Passion Is a NOT a Wise Job-Search Criterion

TRUTH #1: There is no such thing as a dream job and pursuing your passion is a poor criterion for a job search.  My colleague Missy Wallace, who runs the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work, recently wrote a great article on this topic for The Gospel Coalition’s “Thorns and Thistles” blog called “ What if My Work Isn’t My Passion?” Here are some of her thoughts:

She proposes “that both social science and also God’s Word refute passion as a major job-search criterion.” And she offers these four principles to bear in mind:

  1. “Finding your passion” assumes passion is a fixed and/or inherent quality, whereas social science research suggests it’s more of a developing and changing quality. Seeing passion as “fixed” can be limiting.

  2. Passions, when channeled into work, often don’t translate to gifting. For instance, we all know people who love to cook and might even consider themselves passionate about food and cooking. Should they open a restaurant? Do they have the skills to run this kind of time intense, low margin business?

  3. Science reveals that turning a passion into paid work can cause it to lose its inherent pleasure. “Research shows that being paid to do something can make it mean less to us,” wrote David Silverman, a senior executive at a Fortune 500 company. “By turning something enjoyable, like a jigsaw puzzle or a knitting project, into a paid activity, we turn hours of freely given effort into a commodity. It’s no longer a labor of love; it’s $10 an hour. The intangible nature of pleasure that derives from the activity is lost.”

  4. Scripture reveals that even though God created us to take dominion and create productive flourishing, all work includes toil, regardless of its alignment with our interest and giftings. In secular verbiage, “work” is called “work” because it is “work.” The only people I’ve ever met who claim they “never worked a day in their lives” are ones reflecting back on their careers—and perhaps forgetting the difficulties the way a mother forgets the pain of labor. But those in the trenches, no matter how “called” they feel or how much they adore their work, almost always admit to its challenges and brokenness.

So if passions can evolve over time, are sometimes divorced from our natural gifting, and can lose their sense of pleasure if they become paid work, what should we consider in our job selections?

Of all the books on calling and vocation, Os Guinness’s The Call is perhaps the most clarifying and encouraging. First, Guinness encourages us to think of having a “Caller” before a “calling.” So as you consider your work and your passions, are you considering what your Caller wants for you and how you can serve Him by advancing His kingdom?”

Consider these alternative truths-

·      Do you know about your wiring, gifting and strengths? Do some exploration through assessments such as DISC, Strengthsfinder, the Enneagram and others to gain insight into how you move and work at your best.

·      Vocational fulfillment and job satisfaction are pretty postmodern notions- the truth is that God calls us to be faithful and obedient in all work we undertake- how you bring yourself to your daily work (paid or unpaid)- even if it is not inherently“fulfilling” -is a key element of calling.

·      What in your current circumstances is fixed- unchangeable; and what are the things you can change?

Make an Impact

The myths of “passion” and “impact” are pervasive in our culture. Two and maybe three generations of young people have been encouraged to think this way about their work – it has to have purpose, they must be passionate about it and it must make an impact in some socially positive way.

We live in an era where many of us have what Amy Sherman calls “vocational power,” meaning we have an abundance of choices and options when it comes to our work lives. Generations before us had little of the freedom to choose our work we take for granted today. The question that we must wrestle with now is one of stewardship – the wise management of our choices not where we believe we can have the most influence or even results. We, wrongly assume that God needs us to determine how and when we will have an impact or advance His Kingdom. That is His work to do in and through us. Our assignment is to steward ourselves well in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in – whether we have some degree of power or are merely a cog in a wheel.

I would humbly contend that God cares little about your “impact” but cares a great deal about your character – that you are faithful, obedient and a good steward of that which He has put before you, today, whether in your “dream job” or working at Noodles and Co just to pay the bills.

Finally, calling often emerges out of a season of extraordinary pain or challenge. If we presume to equate calling with our current and limited understanding of passion, we place limits on what God might call us towards on a path we could could never predict or plan. Next time, we will unpack Myth #2 of Calling – clarity of calling makes life easy.

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