I am one of those lucky people who found their passion very early on. I knew I wanted to be a software engineer since I was 13. It just seemed like such a cool job where you tell a rock with lightning in it to do maths and it’s like magic! The possibilities are endless and your imagination is your only limit (well, and the state of technology at the time but that’s details).
I pursued that career from then on (and it was a challenge as I was starting out in the early 2000s). There was so much to learn, so much to know and it was all very exciting. And the best thing? I thought it was always going to be like this.
I thought that every day of my life would be filled with learning cool stuff, working on great projects, I’d never run into insurmountable problems, and I’d make progress with ease. In other words, I imagined my life as a constant state of flow, and it sounded like the best way to be.
The “oh no” moment
Except… it’s not that simple. And I only realised it when I got a full time job. At first I thought it was just an adjustment period - I needed to learn to work on a different schedule and the flow would come back. But as time went by, it didn’t get any easier or more fun.
We all heard the saying “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”. It sounds amazing, imagine a life where you wake up in the morning excited about the day ahead, where you get to work on all these cool things!
I definitely took this at face value and thought that I must be doing something wrong, if I’m doing the thing I love and still struggle with it. It took me a long time to work out what’s wrong with me, only to find that I’m fine - just the expectations that are placed on us are unrealistic.
Don’t know about you, but I’ve heard from a young age how you must find your passion and how this will drive your life. And how your passion has to be related to your career, as if that’s the only thing worth doing.
This is probably why so many people struggle with finding purpose: they’re trying to fit into this narrative, even though what drives them might be completely unrelated to their day job. What you’re passionate about can also change and evolve throughout your life, so even if you started your career out of passion it doesn’t mean it will always be like this.
And that’s ok. We all grow, our priorities shift and you don’t have to love everything you do to be successful.
In the end, I accepted the hard truth of life: even when your passion aligns with your job, it’s not that passion that drives you forward. Sure, it helps, but at the end of the day it contributes to maybe 10% of your output.
90% of the time you feel like you’re wading through a tonne of stuff you don’t know and don’t understand, trying to make sense of it all. You’re spending days on end working on details which are uninteresting and seem unimportant, not making any real progress.
But I guess this is where the passion stuff kicks in, this is why you keep coming back, why you keep trying and learning. You get through the boring, the meaningless, the frustrating, the disheartening, because you know that there are parts which make you feel alive and it’s worth it.
And then one day, you look back at your journey, you see how far you’ve come and what you created - and you feel proud. Not because it was a constant state of flow, but because it was hard and challenging, and yet you persevered.
And then you begin another project and it starts all over again.