When I was twenty-five years old, I took a trip to my parent’s hometown in central Mexico to visit my cousins. I had made this trip every summer throughout my childhood, so I was ridiculously excited to reconnect with this side of my family as it had been ten years since my last visit.
Upon my arrival, I found that everything seemed to be mostly as I remembered it. My cousins were older and had kids, but for the most part everything else was the same. This experience was very similar to the feeling I received each time that I returned to my own hometown after being away for a long period of time. Though I had changed and grown because of the new places I had seen and the new situations I had experienced, nothing ever seemed to change at home. When I first moved away to college, it was weird for me to return and find everyone living in the same place, working for the same company, and doing the same thing they had always done. As my life has been in constant flux from the time I graduated high school to the present day, my perspective tends to see much of the world as standing still, and this visit was no different.
At that time, I was living a self-centered corporate lifestyle, foolishly spending a six-figure salary, and making plans for a materialistic dream life full of possessions. This was especially ironic, as my cousins resemble the general Mexican culture in that their focus is primarily on their family and not on material possessions or even themselves. Never was this philosophy more evident than the day I asked one of my cousins about their job:
“So, what are you doing nowadays?”
“I work as a security guard at the prison.”
“Oh wow. How do you like working there?”
“What do you mean ‘how do I like working there’… I have a wife and three kids. It doesn’t matter if I like where I work. I have to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Nobody cares if I like my job. As long as I get paid…”
There have been few times in my life that I felt more out of touch and selfish than I did at that moment. Though I came from humble beginnings, and my question was completely innocent, my cousin refreshed my perspective on how most people view their jobs: Solely as a means to an end.
Having grown up working in the farm fields with my family, I thoroughly understand that when times are tough, a person must be willing to do whatever it takes to survive. If that means working at a job that you don’t love, then so be it. But unlike my cousin in Mexico or myself thirty years ago, I am now at a place in my life where I have options and can choose to work or not work wherever I want. So, if I hate my job, there is only one person to blame.
Passion vs Prestige
After I quit corporate and spent two years traveling around the world, Bonnie and I returned to Florida to start our lives over again. Not willing to rejoin the corporate sector and chase financial wealth and status, I decided to enter the nonprofit world. In an effort to get my foot in the door of the industry and prove to myself and Bonnie that I was indeed willing to do whatever it takes, I accepted two part time positions. One position was as a Web Design Instructor at a technical college making $20/hour and the other was as an Administrator for a small transitional housing non-profit organization making $11.35/hour. Having come from a six-figure salary and an expense account, this was a serious pay cut, but I considered it the cost of admission and believed that everything would even out over time.
Initially, the expectation was that I would only work part time for a 90-day probationary period at the non-profit and then I would become the full-time COO (Chief Operation Officer), at which point I would quit the teaching job. Ironically, it turned out that I absolutely loved being a teacher and completely loathed being an administrator. But, against my better judgment and in service to my selfish pride, I continued to pursue the COO position as I saw it as more prestigious, even though I found the work incredibly tedious and the minutes felt like hours.
In hindsight, it was ridiculous that I ever considered pursuing the COO position when it was so blatantly obvious to everyone around me that my heart and passion was to be an educator. And yet, I continued down that path anyway.
It was supposed to be my second to last day at my part time teaching position that I was scheduled to have a meeting with the Executive Director (E.D.) of the non-profit that afternoon. In our meeting, we were supposed to finalize all the details with regards to moving me from part-time to full-time that coming Monday (as the non-profit wasn’t open on Fridays).
As such, I went to class that morning, told all of the students that Friday would be my last day, and I thanked the other teachers and the administrators for the great opportunity. While I was saying my goodbyes, one of the administrators pulled me aside and told me that if I ever wanted to come back into teaching that they would always have a place for me. Since I really had loved teaching, I thanked her greatly and went on my way.
When I left that day, I was really quite sad. I was going to miss the students and I was going to miss talking about tech all day long. I was going to miss giving advice and seeing the immediate impact that it had on the students. Even so, a full- time job was waiting for me at the non-profit, despite my not liking the position as much.
When I arrived at the non-profit for my afternoon shift, I was kind of dreading the day already. Though I believe in the mission of the organization, and I loved the services that they provided, my role as the Administrator was so boring and the E.D. was very old school. Her processes were very antiquated, and she had been resistant to most of my more modern suggestions over the previous three months. Though she was a wonderful human being, and I had great respect for her, she was a total micro-manager and expected me to be one too. Unfortunately, that’s just not me.
I’m much more of a “shoot from the hip” kind of guy. I hate clerical/administrative work and can’t stand being micromanaged. But, I knew that the E.D. was well past retirement and that if I simply stuck it out for a year or so in this Administration position that I would be next in line for the E.D. position once she left. The problem was, I didn’t know if I could make it through even the next four hours of that boring ass job, much less the next year. Regardless, these were the cards I had been dealt and I was simply playing them the best that I could.
As the time approached for our meeting, my stomach began to twist itself into knots. I was honestly dreading going full-time in this position! So, I went into the bathroom, stared into the mirror, and began to pray.
“God, if this isn’t where I’m supposed to be, just have her fire me.”
Next thing I know, I’m in our meeting.
“Over the past three months, you’ve done a good job, but I’m not positive that this is where you really want to be.” she started. “When I hear you talk about your work as a teacher, you light up like a Christmas tree! But, I’m not sure you do the same when you talk about this place, and so, I’m not sure that this is the right place for you.” she continued.
“Here’s what I’m willing to do: I’m willing to extend your part-time probationary period for another 90 days and then re- evaluate your status at that time. That is, if you’re interested in that?”
Interested in another part-time, 90-day probationary period?
Was she serious? I was only making $11.35/hour for 20 hours/week. No benefits, no vacation, no insurance… I was shocked, devastated, nervous, and ecstatic all at the same time.
We agreed that I would take the long weekend to think about her offer and that we would meet up on Monday to discuss.
I immediately sent a text to Bonnie: “Start praying. I just got fired.”
Though she didn’t explicitly fire me, she may as well have since another 90-day probationary period to get a job I hated was completely out of the question. At least, it would have been completely out of the question had I not just quit my $20/hour, 28-hour/week teaching job that morning. Regardless, this homecoming was going to be one for the record books…
“How was your day, honey?” Bonnie would ask.
“Good. Except that, remember how this morning when I left, I had two part-time jobs working 48 hours/week? Well, I quit the first one and got fired from the second one, so I pretty much hosed everything. Other than that, it was a good day.”
Which is basically how it went.
After a great dinner that Bonnie made and a couple of drinks and venting with a close friend, Bonnie and I knelt down at the ottoman in our living room and we began to pray.
We thanked God for all the blessings and provisions that He had brought into our lives, we thanked Him for each other, and we thanked Him for His son. I confessed my sins of pride and lust and anger and jealousy, and I accepted His forgiveness for everything. Finally, we confessed our faith and trust in Him, and that while we had no clue what our future held, we knew that it was all in His very capable hands and because of that, we would rest easy.
And we did.
The next morning, I woke up early, picked up some bagels for my students, as it was supposed to be my last day, and I headed to school. As soon as I arrived, I told my co-teacher the “good news.”
“Guess what? That whole deal with the non-profit doesn’t look like it’s going to work out after all. So, if you haven’t already filled my position, I would really love to stay!”
“Serious? Well, we definitely haven’t filled the position, so, if you’re available, then the position is still yours! Let’s go talk to the Administrators.” he responded.
When we got to the Administrators office, I not only told her the good news, but also let her know that I was now available to take her up on her offer of a full-time position. To which she responded, “Let’s make it happen!”
Just like that, God provided like He always does. In a matter of 24 hours, I quit one job, got fired from another, got my first job back, and was now on the fast track to become full time, even though the school was under a hiring freeze.
That next Monday, I rolled into the non-profit office and graciously declined the offer of another 90-day probationary period.
Two months later, I was made a full-time instructor at the college with a salary that was $10K higher than my full-time salary at the non-profit would have been, not to mention I absolutely, positively, loved my job!
Like my Mom always says: “If you want to make God laugh, just make plans.”
Looking back, I can clearly see that being forced out of a job I hated and into a job that I loved was one of the greatest events in my life. Not only has it provided more than enough financial stability for my family and I, but it has fulfilled me to the extent that I get home from work energized and ready to serve my wife and kids. Rather than having a job that sucks the life out of me, I have a job that empowers me.
Loving my job has been so wonderful for my marriage and home life that Bonnie has actually made it a rule that I am not allowed to work at a job unless I absolutely, positively love it. Literally, I can’t just like my job, I have to love my job. Regardless of how much it pays or how prestigious the position is, if the job doesn’t empower me, then I have to quit and go find a job that does. This rule is so strict that I regularly remind my managers and co-workers that they better not make me hate my job because they’ll have my wife to answer to. Fortunately for them, I have only held faculty positions at two different colleges over the past ten years and they have both benefited my family tremendously.
Seriously though, do I really believe that everyone can love their job?
Candidly, I do.
Whether that means you shift your perspective in such a Posifocus direction that you become genuinely grateful for your horrible job, or you do whatever it takes to quit your horrible job and find a new job that you love, yes, I believe that this is possible for everyone. Of course, it will undoubtedly be more difficult for some people to make this transition according to their life circumstances, but the fact remains that the United States is the land of opportunity. No matter how bad a U.S. citizen thinks their situation is, there are tens of thousands of immigrants who are literally willing to risk death, by crossing deserts by foot and oceans by boat, for the opportunities that we often take for granted.
Because opportunities in the U.S. are so abundant, especially when compared to developing nations, finding your passion may (luckily) be your biggest challenge.
How to Find Your Passion
Finding your passion is a journey of exploration and discovery that requires getting outside of your comfort zone and trying new things. Unfortunately, most people are either unaware of this journey or unwilling to go on this adventure. Instead, they just take whatever job most conveniently falls in their lap.
Somewhere in between kindergarten and high school, most children lose sight of their original dream job in exchange for something more realistic. When asked the cliché question of “what do you want to be when the grow up,” little kids will respond with answers like cowboy, astronaut, doctor, firefighter, police officer, veterinarian, or teacher. Though there may be the occasional professional athlete or movie star cited as a dream job, I’ve never heard a child say they wanted to be a cashier at a gas station or a corporate auditor. Not that these aren’t respectable positions, but these aren’t the typical roles that people dream of, and yet, there are many people working in these positions.
What Happened to Our Dreams?
Perhaps it was that we learned about the dangers of police work, the early morning hours of a cowboy, or the unlikely odds of becoming a professional athlete that discouraged us from chasing our original dream profession. Or, perhaps, we discovered how underpaid teachers are, and how long you had to go to school to become a doctor that motivated us to change course. Or, perhaps, we just never had the opportunity to legitimately explore these occupations, so we simply gravitated towards what we knew and saw available. Or worse yet, maybe someone told us we weren’t smart enough for our desired career, and we needed to stay in our lane.
Whether you followed in your older brother’s footsteps and started working construction because it seemed like a lot of money at the time, or you became a lawyer because you knew that it would make your parents proud and strangers would respect you, your past decisions don’t have to define your future. Because we spend more time at work than we do at home with our loved ones, it is important to ensure we are passionate about what we do for 40+ hours/week. Otherwise, we have a responsibility to ourselves and those around us to choose a different path.
This doesn’t mean that you have to quit your current job immediately and risk your family’s livelihood on an impulse. If you’re not exactly sure what direction you want to go, you could start out by taking an evening class that interests you at the local community college, or convert your garage into a workspace where you can explore new interests. Should one of these interests light your soul on fire, you can take the next step and increase your course load or start a side hustle out of your garage. From here, you will quickly find out if you’re truly passionate about your new interest as a full-time profession or if it is just a hobby, by how you perceive your time. If the hours go by like minutes and you find yourself seeing the world from a new perspective, never able to satisfy your thirst for the subject, it’s very likely you would find a career in this field extremely fulfilling.
When it comes to employment, I believe that the primary goal shouldn’t just be to have a job that pays you. While that is definitely the foundational requirement, I believe that finding your passion and then figuring out a way to get paid for that passion is a much more fruitful goal to chase after. Not only will you stay much longer in a position that is rewarding, but you will be more productive for your employer and advance further and faster. This is opposed to working solely for a paycheck where you’re constantly looking for better opportunities and not doing your best work.
I understand that the older generation of workers tends to laugh at the entitled younger generation that wants to be fulfilled by and make a difference in their work, but the fact is that the older generation raised the younger generation. Perhaps subconsciously and inadvertently through their actions, the older generation taught the younger generation the negative effects of simply working for a paycheck and yearning for retirement. Yes, a stable job could afford a comfortable life in the suburbs and a guaranteed pension, but at what cost?
If the older generation were perceived as happy and fulfilled with their lives, perhaps young folks wouldn’t be prioritizing passion as much in their desired workplace. Unfortunately, the combination of the older generation’s extremely high divorce rate and less than lavish retirements has prompted the younger generations to seek a more meaningful life in the present.
Leap of Faith
Regardless of how old you currently are, the majority of us will be working well into our seventies. This means that if you are in your mid-fifties or younger, you still have at least a solid decade (if not more) of working years left. Since most people only stay in the same job for about seven years on average, you still have time for at least one, if not two more jobs. Recognizing this, why would anyone stay in a position that they aren’t passionate about? Because of the time they’ve already invested? The past is over, and you can’t change it, but the future is for the taking.
For those who are serious about pursuing a more fulfilling career and lifestyle, there comes a point when a leap of faith is required. Though it would be ideal to shift seamlessly from your current job into your new career with no decrease in your salary, this is unlikely. Realistically, a major career switch is going to require time, additional effort, and less pay (at least initially) to get your foot in the door of a new industry. But once you get yourself established, you will likely advance rapidly and make up any financial ground you lost quickly, due to the fact that you will be excited and motivated about your work. Additionally, when you’re passionate about your day job, your home life will improve as well because of your increase in energy.
Though the process can seem daunting and change can be intimidating, the benefits of doing what you love for a living far outweigh any sacrifice that may be required.
As the old saying goes: “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Posifocus Mantra #14
Love Your Job, for Your Family’s Sake.
Do you work at your dream job? Does your job make the world a better place, or does it just pay the bills? Can you see yourself happily working in your current job for the next ten years?
Start exploring what your next career move might be and make a list of what it would take to make this dream a reality.
Join the Posifocus Group and share your thoughts and experiences with the Posifocus Community! Use the hashtag #passion.