I ran across an interesting tweet via Brian Clark of Copyblogger that took me to Cal Newport’s Study Hacks blog. Newport is a 30 year old computer scientist whose latest book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, debunks the popular advice that by simply “following your passion” you can achieve job satisfaction and a rewarding career.
As a tarot consultant, the large majority of issues I examine with my clients center on either love or work. I remember when I first started reading for others, I was telling one of my mentors (an ex-professional astrologist) how surprised I was at how redundant the questions seemed. I told her, “People only really ever seem to ask about two things: love or work.” As this mentor of mine is nearly 30 years older than me and has a great deal more life experience, her amused reply was, “Well yeah, Shell–what else is there?” And from then on I got it. Truly folks, a lot of the daily turmoil that we face and indecision that we seek to resolve in our lives all boils down to either love or work in some form or another.
So, I’ll admit it: I, too, have fallen hook, line, and sinker for the “follow your passion” phenomenon. Truly, doesn’t it seem enviable? Who among us hasn’t ever run across a quote similar to the one at the beginning of this post? We read inspiring stories of people like Brigit and Jessica who quit their corporate jobs and became real-life examples who followed their passions (Brigit by founding Biddy Tarot as a wide-reaching online tarot hub, and Jessica with her unique 1:1 kitchen garden coaching business Indie Farms), and we think: “If only I too could do that.” Which then starts us down the spiral of despair in which we convince ourselves that we’ll never find the work we love.
And here I’ve been, all the time thinking: follow your passion? Why, yes, of course! Empowerment most certainly = follow your passion. We all want to be happy in love and work, don’t we?
And yet, life just isn’t that simple, as appealing as it may seem.
In this video Newport examines the question: “Why do some people end up loving what they do, while other people do not?”
I found this discussion thought-provoking from a tarot perspective, especially given the overwhelming desire that many clients do have of wanting to find that ever-elusive satisfaction and fulfillment in their work, and to ultimately achieve the career holy grail of being able to love what they do for a living.
Newport makes some points in the discussion that we can connect back to our cards in terms of career advice:
1) Being able to do what you love in life generally requires that you first build up a “rare and valuable” skill set, and the field in which you do so doesn’t necessarily have to be your ultimate “life’s work.”
Corresponding cards: 8 of Pentacles, Knight of Pentacles
“Follow your passion” is certainly a lot more glamorous than the diligent 8 of Pentacles, dedicated and concentrated on what might be a rather monotonous task, or the super-dependable but not very exciting and quite possibly downright boring Knight of Pentacles. But it makes sense that before you can have the freedom to do what you’d really like to do in your life, you first have to cultivate and hone your skills or expertise by doing something that might not be exactly what you’d necessarily define as a passion. This leads us to the second point:
2) Use your acquired valuable skills and worth as leverage to allow you to go and do what it is that you want to do, to focus on, or what you’re truly passionate about, without falling prey to the temptation to then stay “stuck” in what you’ve become good at, but aren’t especially passionate about, per se.
Corresponding cards: 8 of Swords, The Devil, 7 of Cups
Typically, the idea of “follow your passion” becomes most appealing when we’ve reached a stage in which we feel totally trapped and chained to our job for reasons that feel beyond our control. Maybe now there’s a promotion in sight, so we can’t let go of the job just now, just when we’re finally getting paid what we think we’re worth. The entrapment shown in the 8 of Swords, however, always seems rather self-imposed in a way, and with a bit of outside perspective, the restraints could be released. The chains shown in The Devil can be so oppressive that nothing is worth staying, even if leaving seems like more of a risk. I include the 7 of Cups because daydreams of escapism can become so powerful when we feel trapped. The 7 of Cups shows cups with various treasures, floating mysteriously on puffy clouds. There’s no reality to the choices, there’s no clear path ahead. We grasp for anything other than what we already have, not settling on anything of particular substance.
Instead here the advice would be to leverage the skills that you acquired while putting your nose to the grindstone through the hard work of the 8 of Pentacles and Knight of Pentacles, and use this acquired value to negotiate your way into something that is more fulfilling, or, use capital you’ve earned in the “sensible” job to then invest in transitioning to something entirely new that you are passionate about. Frankly, this isn’t really rocket science. According to Newman’s research, it appears consistently in people who are passionate about their lives.
So that being said, when we look at passion and fulfillment in the “big two” of love and work, what we’re really hoping for is satisfaction in a very important piece of the overall puzzle of our life. Since nothing exists in a vacuum, my “take away” from the premise that ‘follow your passion’ is too simplistic and misguided is this: living a life that fulfills you is a holistic enterprise. What Newport argues is that what’s ultimately more important is not necessarily exactly what it is you do, but rather how what you do can then give you the freedom to live a life that matters to you.
When you feel despair about your work, or your prospects for finding a loving partner in life, don’t pressure yourself with the unrealistic thought that there’s only one “perfect job” for you or one “perfect soulmate.” Despite what pop culture and society would have us believe, the reality is as individual as each of us.
Life is an art, and as such, many paths can provide what might be argued as the proper goal: a fulfilling journey along the way.