I read an interesting blog post by Oliver Segovia on the Harvard Business Review last week: “To Find Happiness, Forget About Passion.” Segovia recounts the story of a peer who was primed to pursue her passion (in this case, earning a Ph.D. in the liberal arts, which we all have been told ad nauseum is not a, shall we say, profit-making enterprise these days), but found when she got out of school that there were no jobs, and ended up teaching part-time in a small research centre. And, he says, “She suffered the anguish of an uncertain future, became socially withdrawn, and felt a sense of betrayal.”
Whether this is because Millennials insist on instant results, or because they have been proselytized to pursue their dreams, Segovia’s point is a good one. He says in his final paragraph:
Happiness comes from the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs. We’ve been told time and again to keep finding the first. Our schools helped develop the second. It’s time we put more thought on the third.
In other words (and in some contradiction to the title of his blog post), it’s not so much that we ought to “forget” our passion as that we ought to recognize that our vocation lies at the intersection of our passion, our skills, and the big problems that the world has. If we’re so focused on what everyone else wants us to do that we don’t look at what delights us, then we’ll often be boxed into a direction we hate—but if we’re so focused on ourselves that we barely look at the world around us, we’ll just be an anachronism.
I’ve certainly experienced this in my own brief but very winding career path. Furthermore, I didn’t find out what my passions were until I had done a bit of wandering around in the vocational wilderness, and even last month I was still uncovering new things I didn’t know I loved.
This is a good rubric for those seeking God’s direction for their future work. But I’d like to return to Segovia’s story to illustrate one more thing: our vocation (or, more accurately, vocations) evolves over the course of our lives. We don’t find it and then we’re set. For Segovia’s friend, earning a Ph.D. was her vocation for those seven years. But when that vocation winds down, the next may not present itself immediately. There may be a little wandering. “Happiness” in our work is not a right—it’s a gift, and sometimes it’s withheld for a time so we might mature in other ways.
This is what I tend to tell students who come to my office, nervous about what they’re going to do when they graduate. For now, I say, being a student is your vocation. Don’t think of it as merely training grounds for what comes next. Be prudent, keep your eyes open, but don’t hop past this as if it were only a place to prepare for what comes next. Seek first how you are to serve God’s kingdom now . . . and the rest will be added to you. Even if it doesn’t happen right away.