Work vs passion | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

illustration by ruth macapagal
Illustration by Ruth Macapagal

Giang Pham, from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, works as a social media manager, but her passion for handmade art is what colors her life. She finds joy in creation and makes wallets, drawings and keychains for her friends. But Pham chooses to keep her passions and career separate.

Pham says if she were to sell her art, business responsibilities like marketing, repeatedly creating and shipping her products remove the joy that fuels her passion in the first place. Separating work from art also allows her creative outlet to be a form of pure self expression.

“I need an outlet to let everything out and without anyone judging, without anyone at work telling me it’s good enough,” Pham says.

Instead, having a career that financially enables her hobbies allows her to find a work-life balance. Her passions are a safe space.

It hasn’t always been this way for her. Pham felt the pressure to follow her dreams growing up. She says Western media can make people think that if they work hard to follow their dreams, they’ll find success. A 2019 poll by Pew Research Center found that young people identify having a career they enjoy as their top priority, above becoming rich, helping others or having children.

Erin Cech is the author of “The Trouble With Passion,” a book that explores the downsides and inequalities behind the concept of pursuing your passion. Cech coined the term “passion principle” to explain the growing phenomenon of following your dreams. The reasoning goes, if people spend 40 hours a week working, they might as well love their job.

But not every hobby can be easily turned into a livelihood. Pham felt it would be difficult to make money as an artist and so she decided to pursue client content creation and explore her passion outside of work.

In a postpandemic world of increased job instability and work from home isolation, rethinking our approach to work can be critical to finding fulfillment in life. Sixty percent of the respondents in Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace Poll reported they feel emotionally detached at work. Research says this sense of psychological detachment may be beneficial. For people like Pham, a separation of career and passion is the way to go.

The great divide

A study by Ciara M. Kelly et al. shows that leisure activities unrelated to work can make you more productive when you clock in for the day. It found that pursuing a hobby seriously, one that isn’t related to your work, can make you more successful by engaging your resilience and ability to accomplish goals. Also, the joy from hobbies aids wellbeing by counteracting negative work experiences.

Having this diversity can be beneficial.

Cech says different aspects of our lives make us who we are. She calls these aspects anchors of identity. A place we call home, groups where we find community, our hobbies, or our work can be anchors, as long as it gives a reason for being. She says it’s important for them to be diverse.

Sketches by Giang Pham
Sketches by Giang Pham

But work is increasingly becoming the biggest part of our identities as the world becomes more isolated and work requires more time investment for people to get by, Cech says. The rise of job instability puts our identity in a shaky position.

“If all of a sudden your job ends, your company goes bankrupt or you get fired, suddenly a core part of who you are leaves or evaporates and that’s a really dangerous place to be existentially,” Cech says.

Assistant professor of Management at the University of Zurich Lauren Howe adds that having a career you are passionately invested in can take over your life.

“You can get so involved in your work that you have trouble detaching, and that’s when it can lead to burnout or exhaustion,” Howe says. “Moments of recovery are really important so that you can be reenergized.”

As a scholar, Cech feels connected to her work even when she goes home. She says her passion can create a pressure to publish research faster and expectations that are too high. It’s also harder to “turn off” from work when it can follow you into every minute of your life in an era of instant messaging.

Changing the lens

Reframing our approach to work means choosing its purpose in our lives. It also involves deciding whether the ability to monetize your passions is worth the downsides—low salary, long work hours, a hostile work environment—pursuing the career might have.

You can also love your job without being passionate about the things you’re doing.

“Being happy at your job and being passionate about your job are different things,” Cech says. “You can be passionate about the content of the work and really miserable in your job, or you can not care much about the topic or content of the work but really love the people you’re working with.”

Beyond the experience of work itself, Howe says you can find motivation by viewing your career as a key to unlocking your hobbies. For example, getting that paycheck can fund your dream vacation or let you buy new craft equipment.

Cech poses four questions to determine if separating passion from work is ideal for your lifestyle:

Am I willing to pursue this line of work even if it means I’m not getting as high pay, even if it means I have to wait weeks, months or years to get into full-time employment?

Am I willing to be underpaid because I’m doing work that I love?

Am I willing to hold that potential burden financially but also existentially?

One of Pham’s creations

One of Pham’s creations

Am I willing to invest in this as a core part of my identity with the risk that it may not always be there for me?

Creating healthy habits If you’ve decided that separation is ideal, the next step is finding a balance that gives you the space to explore passions outside of work. This is the time to find other anchors of identity and communities to be a part of.

“Elbow time in your schedule for those things, to make sure that you have a wider foundation for building and maintaining self-fulfillment and a sense of identity,” Cech says.

That’s when you turn off your work brain to be fully present in what you’re doing.

Howe, who lives in Switzerland, goes hiking to detach while Cech enjoys traveling, painting, playing the violin and spending time outdoors with her partner. These activities help them recover from work stress and build a life that isn’t reliant on the success of their career.

For Pham, finding this balance allows her to cherish work and passions as separate but equally fulfilling aspects of her life.

“If it’s too stressful to monetize a hobby, I’d rather keep it as a safe space for myself and keep living my mundane life gratefully,” Pham says. —CONTRIBUTED INQ

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