“Look. You can’t plan out your life. What you have to do is first discover your passion—what you really care about.” Barack Obama, as quoted by David Gergen (cited in Jachimowicz et al, 2018).
This Saturday Nov 17 in Newcastle is the first of two BPS careers events – “perfect for anyone looking to discover where psychology can take them in their chosen career.” A second follows in London on Dec 4. If, like many, you are searching for your calling in life – perhaps you are still unsure whether psychology is for you, or which area of the profession aligns with what you most care about – here are five digested research findings worth taking into consideration:
There’s a difference between having a harmonious passion and an obsessive passion
If you can find a career path or occupational goal that fires you up, you are more likely to succeed and find happiness through your work – that much we know from a deep research literature. But beware – since a seminal paper published in 2003 by the Canadian psychologist Robert Vallerand and his colleagues, researchers have made an important distinction between having a harmonious passion and an obsessive one. If you feel that your passion or calling is out of control, and that your mood and self-esteem depend on it, then this is the obsessive variety, and such passions, while they are energising, are also associated with negative outcomes like burnout and anxiety. In contrast, if your passion feels in control, reflects qualities that you like about yourself, and complements other important activities in your life, then this is the harmonious version, which is associated with positive outcomes, such as vitality, better work performance, experiencing flow, and positive mood.
Having an unanswered calling in life is worse than having no calling at all
If you already have a burning ambition or purpose, do not leave it to languish. A few years ago, researchers at the University of South Florida surveyed hundreds of people and grouped them according to whether they felt like they had no calling in life, that they had a calling they’d answered, or they had a calling but had never done anything about it. In terms of their work engagement, career commitment, life satisfaction, health and stress, the stand-out finding was that the participants who had a calling they hadn’t answered scored the worst across all these measures. The researchers said this puts a different spin on the presumed benefits of having a calling in life. They concluded: “having a calling is only a benefit if it is met, but can be a detriment when it is not as compared to having no calling at all.”
Without passion, grit is “merely a grind”
All this talk of finding a passion, but you may also have heard that “grit” is vital for career success. As advanced most famously by psychologist Angela Duckworth, this is the idea that highly successful, gritty people have impressive persistence: “To be gritty,” Duckworth writes in her landmark book on the subject, “is to fall down seven times, and rise eight.” It’s certainly true (many studies show) that being more conscientious – more self-disciplined and industrious – is associated with more career success. But is that all that being gritty means? Duckwork has always emphasised that it has another vital component that brings us back to passion again – alongside persistence, she says that gritty people also have an “ultimate concern” (another way of describing having a passion or calling). According to a paper published earlier this year, however, the standard measure of grit has failed to assess passion (or more specifically, “passion attainment”) – and Jon Jachimowicz and his colleagues believe this could explain why the research on grit has been so inconsistent (leading to claims that it is an overhyped concept and simply conscientiousness repackaged). Jachimowicz’s team found that when they explicitly measured passion attainment (how much people feel they have adequate passion for their work) and combined this with a measure of perseverance (a consistency of interests and the ability to overcome setbacks), then the two together did predict superior performance among tech company employees and university students. “Our findings suggest that perseverance without passion attainment is mere drudgery, but perseverance with passion attainment propels individuals forward,” they said…