Why Your Strengths — Not Your Passions — Are the Key to a Happy Career
Creating a life you love comes with considering some important components, like where you’ll live, who you’ll spend time with, how much money you can allocate toward happiness, and of course, what you’ll do for work. Your career can help you feel both happy and fulfilled, but choosing the right job comes down to more than just passion for a company or role. Dr. Andrea Goeglein, PhD, a career and workplace psychologist, recently clued us in on something else: the importance of tapping into your natural strengths. According to Dr. Goeglin, applying this tactic can help you feel an inspiring fire for more professional scenarios than you might’ve once thought.
Brit + Co: We’ve heard a lot of women we admire talk about the meaning of work that’s fulfilling, why it’s important, and how a person can find work they wake up feeling excited to do. What do you believe it means to have a “passionate career”?
Dr. Andrea Goeglein: You’re not alone in wondering what it means to have a career or work you get excited about; we do a lot of thinking about wanting to be passionate about our jobs, talking about not being passionate about our jobs, and even being envious of those who exhibit the electrifying fire of being passionate about their jobs. Yet, most of us rarely take the time we need to figure out what being passionate really means for us personally.
Thinking is a head game, but passion is a heart game. Being passionate requires you merge your head and your heart to move in the direction of your dreams. This sweet spot is where using your natural strengths comes into play; you can make a commitment to be passionate about your life, not just your career. People flourish when they bring their strengths to everything they do — even if what they’re doing isn’t the thing they thought they were most passionate about.
B+C: Do you think a person should make finding a job they’re passionate about the top goal?
AG: I actually advise the opposite — to stop looking for a job you can be passionate about and instead learn how to use your strengths to bring your passions into the different parts of your life. I believe it’s important that people understand there are no passionate jobs; just passionate people. These people know they have one goal in life, to live every day using their natural character strengths. You limit yourself when you set a goal to do only passionate work. Shifting your focus to creating a passionate life, on the other hand, means you won’t be derailed when one part of your life isn’t as passion-filled as you may want. It’s important to remember that people can’t live (and find happiness) with work alone.
B+C: That’s great advice! How can we figure out what our strengths are if we’re not exactly sure yet? How can we create the passion we crave?
AG: Learning your character strengths is a great place to start, and it’s easy. I recommend taking the VIA Character Survey to learn your top five and then to consciously start using them in all areas your life. Since having intention is key, you can bring your top strengths to a job search too. Here’s how to do it: Make a list of the jobs you’ve had but would never want to do again. Once you have your list, look at your natural strengths and see where you could have used one of your strengths to make the situation better. For example, gratitude might not look like a moneymaker, but it can be a game-changer when you use it to get help on a project or needed leads for a new job. When you think about how you felt when you received help or input, it’ll be more clear that gratitude had a part in fueling your passion in those moments.
Seeing what you missed and how to use your strengths to fill the void is the key; that’s how you start uncovering your passions and seeing the magic of how they work. Looking at your list should help you see how your strengths can take you through the tough times, along with what warms you up when doing a job that makes you feel accomplished. Nothing sticks in your memory quite like something that doesn’t feel right, so remember that passion is more of a feeling than a thing or a destination.
B+C: Now that we’ve got the basics down and understand the importance of using our strengths, we have to ask: When (if ever) should someone put their passions or strengths aside to take a new job that pays more?
AG: Professionally, whenever someone asks should they leave a job they are passionate about to make more money, I always answer, “Maybe.” Here’s why: Maybe you have a goal that money can solve, and your choice can be life- (instead of just career-) based. You’ll feel in control when you frame the choice from the perspective of having a goal, and your goal should always be to make the best decision you can at the moment — this will help you avoid potential regret. If you feel like you don’t have a choice or you’re backed in a corner, you might feel like you’re forced to ditch your strengths or surrender your passion. Some people say this feels like losing their soul.
Do you have a life goal that can be achieved by making more money? If so, evaluate if you’ll use your natural character strengths in the new job, and if so, take the new job. If you won’t be able to use your strengths and it’s just about money, I don’t advise taking the job — the price you pay will be too high.
Work, careers, and business are only one part of your life. If you can develop a passion for using your strengths, you’ll be able to find inspiration and excitement with any task or goal.
(Photos via Getty)