Wednesday, February 22, 2012

To find your calling, forget about passion! (huh?)

So this post wins for the most counter-intuitive title. I named it in honor of a fascinating little Harvard Business School blog post entitled "To Find Happiness, Forget About Passion" by Oliver Segovia. You can read it here.

When I first saw that title, I thought "oh, this is wrong!" But Segovia actually gets it absolutely right. His point (and you should read it for yourself) is that the world indoctrinates us to just follow our dreams, but then we sometimes find out that our dreams don't make us any money, or even get us a job (think of the starving artist syndrome).

Segovia argues that the key to happiness isn't prioritizing your own dreams, but rather finding a need that you can fill. Basically, he says we're getting it backwards when we put passion before service. That turns out to be a hollow passion. If, however, we put our passion INTO service... well, that's sustainable passion, and a recipe for professional happiness.

This argument is actually a page straight out of the Protestant Reformation. John Calvin taught that you find your calling in life by discovering your gifts and talents (he might have used the word "passion" if he was writing today), and then by identifying where they are needed. My favorite Calvin quote is this: “For as God bestows any ability or gift upon any of us, he binds us to such as have need of us and as we are able to help.” (Sermons of M. John Calvin upon the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Galatians, 1574; p. 307). 

I love the notion of our talents "binding" us to other people. Having a passion is actually a responsibility -- an obligation to give your best to the world. As we rush off to pursue our dreams, let's stop first and give some good hard thought to who needs them. You are much more likely to make a living if you do. 


  1. And what is ironic yet oh so true about the idea of looking outside of yourself first is that the less you focus on yourself and serve others the more (and I would say more quickly) you will learn about yourself. As Jesus taught, it is those who lose their life in His service that will be the ones to really find it. (See Matt. 16:25 among other verses) And as King Benjamin taught, to really serve the Lord, we must serve others. (See Mos. 2:17)

  2. I love this post - great summation.

  3. I finally got around to reading this Oliver. This is a very thought provoking article--especially in light of our generation and its own sense of entitlement. To be honest, I've been lost for the last while. It's weird to think that I'm almost graduated from high school for a decade and I'm asking myself the same question I was back then: What do I want to be when I grow up?

    I've been thinking about what I'm passionate about. I've also been reassessing some of the goals I had when I first graduated from college. Life has a tendency to slap you hard in the face with reality. I can relate to the girl in Segovia's article. I feel like I've left the bubble where anything is possible and now I'm in a place where real life says no. Maybe this is a new way to think about my current situation in life.