Focus on lifestyle rather than passions

by Valerie M

I have been reading a lot lately about shifting focus to tailoring a preferred lifestyle; this is in contrast to the trand about following your passion and everything else will follow. Study Hacks has an excellent post about this very topic. I highly recommend it, since I believe Cal Newport describes this dilemma in a very concise way.

[Note: I am not able to access the page right now due to the website server, but I've linked to it when it does come back on again. For reference it is called: "Can I Be Happy as an Investment Banker? The Difference Between Pursuing a Lifestyle and Following Your Passion."]

The problem with following passion is two fold. The first is that passions often don’t fall in your lap from the sky – they develop as you devote more and more time into mastering them. It seems like finding your passion is about picking something that intrigues you, sticking to it, and learning the rules so well that you are able to think outside of the box with it and take it to another level beyond the mundane.

(Penelope Trunk has an excellent post about learning how to think outside the box, and this is what first got me thinking about this.)

The second is for many people, following their passions actually turns into a nightmare. They don’t take into account the amount of sacrifices they must take, the lifestyle changes that happens, and the amount of administrative work they must do in order to follow the passion. Sooner or later, then end up spending less time on the actual passion or they get pigeonholed into expressing that passion in a certain way, that it loses meaning for them and they lose passion for it.

The solution? Work on tailoring a lifestyle and not chasing a passion.

Focusing on lifestyle is a shortcut around the problems that following a passion has. It solves the first problem of not being able to find a passion, because now you can focus on creating a lifestyle that gives you time. Time needed to master an interest and become passionate in it. I suspect many people who are trapped and have trouble finding out what they like do so because they feel like they don’t have enough time.

I say “feel like,” because they probably do have time, but when you are stuck in a rut or they are worried, so it is easy to waste all of their time on mindless pursuits. This is similar to how people who are unhappy in their jobs tend to spend more on stuff they don’t really need in order to (falsely) compensate for the unhappiness they feel, as I once read. “They deserve it,” they say, after putting in hour upon hour at a miserable job they hate. In a similar way, people can waste time.

However, and I say it again, when you consciously tailor your lifestyle so you don’t feel like you are “stuck,” then you create fertile ground on which it easier for a passion to sprout from.

Focusing on lifestyle also helps removes the burn out that many people do feel when they have taken their passion up to a certain point. Not only does it serve as a guide — if you don’t want to spend time feeling overworked and being away from family, then you will limit your passion to manageable levels — but it also shows that you can express your passion in different ways, rather than limit yourself to a specific action or career path.

Hold on to that last thought; I’ll explain a little more.

Another argument about passion that I have heard is that people do not define passion correctly and that is why they have a hard time finding one or sticking to one. People will often say that they are passionate about a specific action or a narrow topic (e.g. cooking), as opposed to a mission or a goal (e.g. giving people a unique culinary experience). 

In another example, instead of saying “my passion is to help people make connections between high employee satisfaction and workplace benefits,” people will say something like “I’m passionate about organizational psychology.” 

The former passion can be expressed in multiple ways. You can be a CEO, a manager, a psychologist, or even a janinor and still be able to work towards that goal. The latter is too limiting and fails to take into account connections that may have nothing to do with working in organizational psychology at all. Employee satisfaction could be achieved through many different fields, so why limit yourself to the most obvious field (organizational psychology) to achieve that?

What if, for example, you could make the connection between employee satisfaction and the workplace by becoming a corporate interior designer? I know many people hate work in dreary cubicles; what if you played a role in that by reframing how the workplace looks? To understand that, you would need to know what being in a cubicle feels like and work in a cubicle to know what probably needs to be changed (remember: you need to understand the rules before you know how to break them).

You would need to understand how people work in groups and how the environment around them can positively and negatively impact that. You might want to understand cultural dynamics: would a casual workplace have positive results in Japan as opposed to the U.S.? What about cultural dynamics between industries? And so on.

I, for one, really like the idea of tailoring a lifestyle. The passion focus remains rather elusive for me after years of trying to follow that model because there are many things could be enjoyable but none of them stands out much more than the other. However, I am able to easily explain what sort of lifestyle I’d like to have. It now becomes a matter of finding a suitable ways (out of multiple options) to get there by making specific lifestyle choices and implementing those changes.

It’s a much more clearer, but still somewhat flexible, path – and, to be frank, is a much more appealing option than wandering around in the dark for years on an end and nothing to show for it.

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