Merging your career and passion when the time is right

by 1vet2another

This post is tough for me. I don’t even know if I’m qualified to write about it.  It is a topic that has consumed my thinking for a while now.  Do I find and pursue my passion or continue down the path of reality and enjoy an interesting career?  Finding the right answer to this question is incredibly frustrating and difficult to achieve.

I’ll say this from the start.  Stop reading and do something else if you meet the following criteria:  You know what you’re passionate about, good at it, and can make money doing it.  If this is you, stop reading and focus all your remaining time and effort on pursuing that passion.   Thanks for stopping by.

For the rest of us, identifying and pursuing your passion isn’t easy.  This should be something that you love doing.  You often find yourself talking or thinking about it. It is what you obsess over in the shower or lying awake in bed.  It may take some time to develop your passion, it isn’t always obvious.  It might take years of searching and testing a variety of areas to identify something you’re passionate about.  Ask yourself these questions first:  1. Do you truly know yourself?  Take a deep dive into who are you and what you enjoy. 2.  Can I make money pursuing this passion?  Is there a need in the market for this?  Am I willing to do this for free?  3. Am I good at it?  Do I have the skills needed? Does the work fit my natural strengths?

For me, it hasn’t been easy trying to identify a passion.  I have found a lot of things that interest me, but nothing that stands out as a passion.  I joined the Marines because they interested me and offered the challenge I was looking for. I obtained my degree in economics because it interested me.  I worked in Logistics at Caterpillar because it interested me (and was a good job coming out of school).  I work for Northrop Grumman because it interests me (plus they are located where I want to live).  I even started to accept the possibility that I would never truly be passionate about anything (sounds sad).  With all that said, I have thoroughly enjoyed my career so far.  I continue to be challenged and offered roles that keep my interest.  I enjoy the benefits and opportunities for career advancement.  So why change…? This is where I get frustrated. Something seems to be missing.

I read and watch content that insists on pursuing your passion, no matter the cost.  This is a bit out of touch with reality.  When I was leaving college and searching for a job, I could have spent more time finding something that I loved vs. only being interested in.  I sometimes have regrets that I didn’t spend more time finding my passion from the beginning, since it is so much harder the older you get.  At the same time, I didn’t have any work experience.  I was a 25 year old vet with a bachelor’s degree, looking for an opportunity to work hard and find a solid career.  To be honest, I didn’t know enough about what was out there.  How are you supposed to know what career you’re passionate about if you don’t even know it exists?

I jumped on a great opportunity that Caterpillar offered right after college.  I turned down some great opportunities with John Deere, State Farm and others, because Caterpillar seemed the most interesting.  I didn’t wait to find something else that I loved. I knew it was important for me to start building my resume and getting some experience in the business world. If I were to wait, there would be a gap in my resume difficult to explain.  In addition, the experiences and skills gained from my interesting career roles would undoubtedly be relevant and transferrable in other careers.

While working at Caterpillar, I was asked to attend a “Veterans Bridge to Employment” conference at Western Illinois University.  For the first hour I was part of a panel discussion on veteran employment.  The second hour was a career fair for veterans where I talked to many about their career aspirations.  A year later, they asked me to be the moderator for the same event.  I didn’t hesitate because I thoroughly enjoyed it the first time.  I realized something along the way; helping veterans in their transition might have been a passion all along.  It was right in my face for years without me recognizing it. After leaving the service, I spent tons of personal time helping vets transition in the WIU Vets Club.   I didn’t have to, I wanted to.  I enjoyed it and didn’t see it as work.

For the last few years, I have been striking a balance that isn’t discussed much in the professional world. I am enjoying a solid, interesting career while pursuing one of my passions on the side.  You can do both.  For me, I don’t expect to make a lot of money pursuing this passion. Maybe if my information becomes relevant and valuable to more than just veterans, but for now, it is just something I enjoy doing.  Am I any good at it?  I will let you decide, but if you read this far it can’t be terrible.  I am still searching for other passions along the way. I have a strong suspicion that I would love the golf and coffee industries, but those careers are scarce in the Midwest (location is important for me).

Here is where it continues to be frustrating.  Deep down, I know my ultimate goal is to figure out a way for my passion and career to merge. In fact, if I want to become an expert and be the best in the industry, they need to become one.   In addition, my free time is becoming more and more limited the older I get.  I’m a proud husband/father now, which obviously requires a big chunk of my time (no complaints, my family is awesome).  Another problem is my own drive for success within my current career path.  I am incredibly motivated to succeed in just about anything I am part of, which means promotions and greater responsibilities are inevitable.  This requires time, and a lot of it.

Take a look at the leaders, directors and vice-presidents in your industry.  The good ones rarely have time off.  They practically live at work.  The job consumes their life.  They need a deep knowledge of their industry and the product or service being provided.   The limited amount of free time available should be with family (in my opinion).   The bonus free time that I enjoy right now may not be there in the future. My ability to have a good career and pursue a “side passion” will become more difficult.

At the same time, I’m not sure I even want to reach that level of success in an industry that I am only interested in.  The great ones in every industry are passionate about what they do and know it better than anyone.  They are willing to work late hours and become consumed by it. If I am required to work this hard, I better love it.  If not, I won’t keep up with the pace required to succeed at the next level.

If you still haven’t found your passion, don’t obsess over it.  Find a career you are interested in and build up your work experience.  You can search on the side.  Jumping into an interesting position might help you identify something you are passionate about.  Walking through one door can open up many that didn’t exist before. Stay active in various organizations outside of work.  The more you put yourself out there, the more likely you will identify a passion.

Figure out who you are. This seems easy, but it isn’t. You may have to talk to those who know you best.  What are your strengths?  What do you enjoy doing at work and after work?  Once you have a few leads, start to dig.  Find careers that are related to these things you enjoy.  Do they have the benefits you’re looking for?  Does it match your strengths in order to be highly successful in it?

Do you fit one of the three scenarios below…?

You’re trying to identify your passion, unemployed, with limited professional work: Assuming it isn’t jumping out at you, don’t spend too much time searching for it at this point.  Identify some areas you are interested in and try it out.  One of them could open up a new door and lead you to your passion.  Use this critical time to gain experience, build skills, and put some meat on the resume.

You’re trying to identify your passion, employed, with professional work experience: Go for it.  Think about all your experiences and remember those that made you excited. Don’t wait too long.  Use your limited amount of free time to identify and attack this field.

You hate your current job: If you aren’t even interested in your job, you don’t have a chance.  You need to spend serious time searching for available positions that at least interest you.

For many of us, finding a passion isn’t easy.   It often comes with time and experience.  We all have unique definitions of our passion.  It all depends on our DNA. You might find a passion in roles related to marketing, accounting, or supply chain management.  You might love a specific industry, like aviation, golf, construction, or pet products.  You might even want to start your own business.  Whatever it is, you should work like hell to find it. In the end, if you want to be the best at what you do and stay sane at the same time, you eventually want your passion and career to merge.  Be patient.  Be persistent.  Enjoy the journey.

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