It doesn’t matter if you’re fresh out of university or if you have been building your career for a while already. The questions often remain: how the heck am I going to find my passion or my true calling in life?! I certainly have struggled with this question myself in the past. But, as I discovered through repeated trial and error, there is hope! I will present you with a short guide that can help you get started to find answers.
First things first: is passion overrated?
Yes, in my opinion passion is overrated. Don’t get me wrong: if you know what your passion is, that’s great! This will certainly give you a handle on figuring out a fulfilling life. But if you don’t know what your passion is, that’s great too! Because this will prevent you from falling into the trap of ‘just following your passion’, which frankly is just bad career advice.
In my experience, not knowing your passion can actually drive curiosity and open your perspectives to include new possibilities. Being completely fixated on a passion can limit the options that you perceive at a given time in your life and career. You may think that you have to work directly with your passion to have a fulfilling life. But there are many more ways that your passion can influence your life, inside or outside of your work.
To me passion is just one of the ingredients to experiment with in planning a fulfilling career. But before you start thinking about planning a career, there is an even more important question to ask.
How plannable is a career nowadays anyways?
In this highly dynamic and complex world, is it even possible to plan a career? Personally, I think it has become inherently impossible to do this. First think of the fact that you will change over time – more than you think. Since we base most of our expectations and ‘predictions’ on past experience, we have to be aware that the career we’re trying to plan is a career that may not fit either our own future, or the future of the world around us.
Second, not only you will change: the environment around you will change too. And probably even faster than you do. Many type of jobs and careers will change unpredictably over the coming years, due to an unprecedented pace of development in technology and society.
That being said, I still think it is wise to sit down and make conscious decisions about your next career steps. But rather than betting on a 25 year career plan for your future, I believe it will serve you best to have a system in your life that helps you adapt to the way you and your environment are constantly changing. This brings us to antifragility.
Antifragile career planning
One of the most interesting critical thinkers nowadays, Nassim Taleb, coined the term ‘antifragility’. He explains that things that are antifragile gain from disorder, uncertainty and stress. Humans have been engineered by nature to be antifragile. For example, we function optimally when we are exposed to the right levels of stress: not too much, not too little.
Planning out a fixed 25 year career plan on the contrary is fragile. We simply can’t take into account all the uncertainties that lie ahead. Thinking linearly about your career is like building a house of cards: one wrong assumption can make the whole thing fall apart and disintegrate.
Therefore you want to be able to experiment and adjust along the way – much like startup companies that operate in a ‘lean’ or ‘agile’ fashion. It’s too costly to spend years developing a product that nobody wants. Similarly, it’s too costly to spend years building a career that, in the end, you didn’t want.
Startups often build a ‘dashboard’ to track how their actions and experiments are impacting their most important metrics of progress and growth. As individuals we can also systematically experiment with our career and track how the results are aligned with our most important (subjective) metrics.
The most important metric of your life
For most people it is safe to say that the most important individual metrics include:
- The experience of feeling engaged (in flow) at work,
- Finding their work meaningful,
- Having a sense of overall satisfaction with life.
The Japanese use one word that sums this up: Ikigai. This is translated as ‘a reason for being’. I think this is what most of us want out of life. And I believe that everybody can find their unique experience of Ikigai. To make this more concrete, let’s see what factors contribute to finding Ikigai.