Abby is not alone. For this piece, I read dozens of messages from women of varying ages and backgrounds echoing the same sentiment. When I asked what was holding them back from pursuing their “passion” as a career, their responses were similar: Money, guilt, fear, imposter syndrome, or feeling like it was “too late” to start a different path. While the question “Is my career really my passion?” isn’t a new conundrum, the pandemic seems to have women grappling with it more than ever before.
And it makes sense. Right now, life feels immeasurably difficult, with little to no relief. It’s no surprise that women are up at night wondering, “Is all this worth it if I’m not doing what I really love?” or “Should I take a risk and quit my job to pursue my true ‘passion’?”
But passion is a loaded word. The reality is, finding your passion is one challenge, but being able to afford to make your passion your day job is another. Quitting your corporate 9-5 to pursue painting full-time or travel the world sounds great, but it also requires an enormous amount of privilege.
Robin Stern, cofounder and associate director for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, acknowledges this. She wants women to know that it’s okay if their careers aren’t their passions––or if they don’t have a passion at all.
“It’s wrong and so unhelpful to have people thinking that there’s something wrong with them if they’re not working a job they’re passionate about,” Stern says.
“It’s great if there’s something you love to do that you can get completely lost in, that brings you joy every day and elevates your mood just because you’re doing it,” she continues. “But there are so many people who don’t know what that is for them, and there are also people who know what it is, but can’t find a path to support themselves [financially] in that way.”
We spoke to Stern about the problem with getting too caught up in the word “passion,” why your passion doesn’t need to be your career, and how to look for fulfillment beyond your 9-5.