Being Passionate About Work: What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Can you excel at your job only if you are passionate about it?

When you love your job, excelling in it will come easily.

Work can be a chore. And while we recognise this, a lot of us try to do our jobs to the best of our abilities. At the same time, people often say you need to love what you do to excel at your job. In short, they say you need to have passion.

Indeed, the Careers@Gov website calls for “people who are passionate about building our nation, whether it is teaching our children, keeping our communities safe or planning our national budgets”.

But what does being passionate really mean? What is passion anyway?

Passion Defined

Passion derives from emotions and is the motivation that makes us feel good about what we do. There is a sense of thrill and excitement, a belief that doing what we love would mean putting our every fibre into what needs to be done, according to Forbes.

Passion has to do more with your heart than your head. We need the heart element to reach our full potential because our intellectual capacity and skills can only take us so far.

But we have to remember that being passionate is a result of feelings, and our feelings change all the time. What if passion – too much and then too little – leads to burnout? We are bound to have rough days at work, days we feel unable to navigate our myriad tasks. Does this mean we are doomed to not be able to perform?

Some experts think becoming passionate and developing passion for our jobs is a better path to take. For example, some of us might “stumble” into jobs we probably have little or no interest in. But along the way we discover we are indeed good at our jobs, and start to care about the outcomes. We grow feelings for the work we do.

Purpose and Ikigai

Other experts meanwhile point to the need for purpose instead of passion. It focuses on why we do what we do and can be a pursuit of something beyond ourselves. It is also prevalent in the Japanese concept of ikigai, which refers to something that gives our life worth, meaning or purpose.

The conceptions around ikigai vary though. Some would argue that a “sweet spot” in the pursuit of ikigai should involve something we are passionate about, are good at, something those around us need, and something we would be paid for. Others point to a more personal sense of fulfilment without the need to be compensated in any way other than mental wellbeing and personal satisfaction.

These variations aside, there is general agreement that finding this motivating purpose in life, and by extension at work, will generate greater fulfilment and happiness.

Take a step back to reassess your career goals


So what happens if you hit a roadblock where you feel you no longer have either passion or purpose? What are your options? One thing you could do is to think about your priorities and what you want out of your job. Make a conscious decision to think about where you are in your career every three to five years, as suggested by Chief Human Resource Officer of the Singapore Public Service, Low Peck Kem.

The other thing you could do is to think back to a time when you were at your best and enjoyed it. Pen down the details: What were you doing? What was expected of you? Why did you enjoy it? Whom did you work with, and what sort of environment were you in (e.g. self-employed, in a team)? How did it make you feel? Paint a complete picture. 

Once you have done this, think about what you might learn from this recollection. What are your main takeaways? What can you do about your current situation that could recreate this past experience?

Help for Your Career

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Another possible method is to use mental models. Think of a situation and how you would deal with them. For example:

  • If you had one year left to live, how would you spend it?
  • If you had enough money to pursue anything you wanted, what would it be?
  • If you were a third party giving yourself career advice, what would you suggest?

Write down the answers. This exercise might not give you all the answers immediately, but it would provide some clarity.

At the end of the day though, what we make of our jobs depends on us. And of course, we do not have to limit any of our passions to the workplace: they could be pursued elsewhere. After all, there is more to life than just our job, and it is perfectly fine not to be passionate about work – as long as we remain professional.

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    Aug 25, 2021
    Keval Singh
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