By Erin A. Cech
Oct. 17, 2022
Workers have more control over their working conditions than they have since the heyday of worker collective action and unionization over half a century ago. As a result of the financial and existential uncertainty wrought by the pandemic, many workers are reconsidering what they want from their jobs and daring to ask for something more.
This brings an unprecedented opportunity to reflect on what we want from our jobs. What do we want our relationship to our paid work to be?
Summary: The disruption and uncertainty caused by the pandemic has prompted many workers to reconsider what they want from their jobs and to ask for more. What do you want your relationship to paid work to be? For a long time, the answer has been to “follow your passion,” to find work that you love and that is meaningful. But this passion principle has risks. Finding a job aligned with your passion can take months or years, sacrificing economic stability. What’s more, investing so much of our sense of identity in our paid employment incurs a more existential risk to our sense of self-worth, should layoffs or other business changes occur.
The key is to find the right balance of passion and profit in your career. You can do this by exploring ways to have a satisfying job that don’t necessarily involve being passionate about its content; shrinking the space that full-time work takes up in your life; diversify your meaning-making portfolio; and building coalitions with colleagues and other workers in asking for what you want.
THE PASSION PRINCIPLE AND ITS RISKS
Over the past three years, an answer to this question that has resonated for many is: I want to follow my passion. This ideal is what I call the “passion principle.” As I describe in my book, the passion principle is the prioritization of personally fulfilling work even at the expense of job security or a decent salary.
The increased freedom of a job seekers’ market, paired with a more existential, “life is short” mindset spurred by pandemic-related upheavals, has made following your passion seem more logical and more within reach for many workers than ever before.
But following your passion can be hazardous, incurring significant financial risks. Moreover, the ability to navigate these risks is not equally distributed. The other risk of passion-seeking is more existential. Our work may be deeply meaningful to us — a core part of who we are and who we want to be. But at the end of the day, our relationship to our employer is ultimately an economic one.
We should be mindful of the fact that by prioritizing passion in our career decision-making, we make a core part of our sense of identity vulnerable to the whims of profit maximization, structural reorganization and future public health shutdowns.
BALANCING PASSION AND PROFIT
Here are some guidelines for creating the right balance of passion and profit in shaping a career:
- CULTIVATE THE JOY — Loving everything about your job is rare, perhaps even a kind of fantasy. But there are many ways to have a satisfying job that don’t involve being passionate about its content. Finding work with colleagues you cherish, working for an organization whose mission you value or finding a balance of work tasks that provides the right combination of independent and collaborative activities are others.
- SHRINK THE FOOTPRINT — It might not be an obvious or easy option, but try to think in terms of shrinking the space that full-time work takes up in your life to open up more time and energy to do things you enjoy.
- DIVERSIFY YOUR MEANING-MAKING PORTFOLIO — Make room to invest in hobbies and activities wholly outside of work that feel meaningful and self-expressive, whether that’s sports, volunteering, music or pub trivia nights.
- MAKE THE ASK, AND HELP EACH OTHER — Use this pandemic transition time to reflect on what you want your relationship to paid employment to be. That means seizing this moment of negotiation power to ask for what you need to change your work hours or work structure, or to invest time in yourself outside of work. Build coalitions with colleagues and other workers. Find solidarity and support with others in your industry. Look out for what negotiation tactics have worked for others.
If history is any indication, this golden hour of worker empowerment may be short-lived indeed. Let’s use it to redesign the future of work for the better.
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