Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Jobhunter's Dilemma: Passion vs. Pragmatism

"Follow your passion."

This is the siren song of career coaches, career authors, and even my state's unemployment office. Everybody wants me to choose work that makes me happy, work that fulfills my aspirations.

The first step, they say, is to examine the characteristics inherent in certain types of jobs and determine how comfortable/content/enthused you would be about those traits. For instance, do you seek recognition for your work?

To this end, my state government encourages displaced workers to answer lists of questions in an effort to match passion with skills, and then directs the unemployed toward the appropriate career path.

Eager to follow my bliss, I answered all the questions and waited for my results.


What?!? Heck, back in the Dark Ages when I was fresh from college, I knew the unemployment rate for actors: 95% unemployed. (I can't imagine what it is now.) And though my father didn't know this exact statistic, he had a hunch that the footlights wouldn't put food on my table and persuaded me to get a degree in something outside the performing arts.

And now here's the unemployment office—which, in the best interest of taxpayers, prefers to shoo people off the dole sooner rather than later—pushing me toward a potential life of poverty.

What's more, my skills don't necessarily prepare me to compete in the arenas that I would find fulfilling (in addition to the performing arts: animal welfare, museum studies, anthropology, archaeology, the fine arts). Following my bliss could mean queuing up at the food pantry. And I would guess that I'm not alone in this.

Still, it's worthwhile to at least consider the spectrum of career choices—from pragmatism to passion—so we can gauge what we're willing and able to sacrifice.

I've spent a number of months trying to find a job that lies on the outskirts of my passions yet requires the very skill sets I already have.


Now I'm headed for the other end of the spectrum. So long, Sarah Bernhardt.

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