Ever since I left high school I kept reading and being told that it was of great importance to look for a job that alignes with one’s passion. Brochures distributed by both high schools and universities were stressing the need to choose the right subject; and judging from newspaper articles even a new profession had appeared, namely the “carrier advisor”, who was supposed to help high school graduates find the job or course that was aligned with their talents and passions. While I can’t remember this explicitely stated, I have feeling that it was implicetly assumed that one’s passion was not subject to their conscious choice, rather it had been predetermined (by genes? environmental influences in early childhood? I don’t know), and so it was important that one correctly discovers what really interests them and what they are really talented at.

In the field of IT I kept hearing similar stuff. Namely, I witnessed quite a few times when an experienced programmer was straightly recommending someone to not continue pursuing qualifications in this field. The arguments were usually along the lines of this:

If you have to make yourself programming or learning to program, if you don’t program because you deeply love this work and wouldn't go for a higher paid job even if you had an opportunity - do yourself a favor and find a different job. If you like programming in your spare time, do yourself a favor and keep it as a hobby. Going to this profession because it is well-paid is a major misunderstanding. You will soon hate your job so much that the very thought of sitting in front of the computer again will make you want to vomit. You might even become a decent programmer, but you will never be a great one, and those are paid best – so you will not even be getting the proper money you want in exchange for your wasting of your health.

I remember university trainers also saying something similar, however, they were putting more emphasis on the need to have the proper innate talents.

So I kind of accepted the above as facts.

However, then I asked a man I know who is a psychologist and, as far as I'm aware, is highly respected in his field. To my surprise he told me something entirely contrary:

Go ask a miner if he has a deep passion for his job and if he loves it so much that he wouldn’t exchenge it for a more highly paid one even if he could. He will tell you, ‘F*** off, I do this because I have a wife and kids to feed, I hate my job!’ And yet the society needs miners. All this talk about the need to find a job aligned to one’s passions completely ignores the simple fact that the main purpose of having a job is not to fulfill one’s passions but to make a living. While it is good to have a job one also has a passion for, this is a secondary goal, only to be pursued after one has already achieved financial stability. Ironically, those who reject the opportunity to work at a stable, relatively convenient and well-paid job because they choose to pursue their dreams to be, say, musicians or athletes or any other high-risk occupation often fail and have to work in a lowly qualified, poorly paid, tiresome and inconvenient jobs that do not even give them opportunities to pursue their hobbies in spare time. I also do not believe that IT is any different – on the contrary, a passionless job in IT might provide one necessary foundations to start trying to requalify.

I must say I'm confused.

To add one last thing to the mix. In the Uni we were told that symbolic operations, commonly found in computer science, mathematics, programming, and the likes, are not what our brains evolved to and, therefore, they are painful for our brains and one has to force themselves to perform such operations; as opposed to e.g. pattern-matching our brains like to do and are good at. Thus, people usually do not like, do not want and will not perform symbolic operations unless this innate aversion is offset by necessity or rewarded by satisfaction.

I’m now left with 4 hypotheses, not sure which one (if any) is correct…

  1. It is unconditionally necessary for a job to be aligned with one’s passions, otherwise their quality of life and satisfaction will suffer greatly. (But the miner example! – on the other hand, I remember having read that many people are farmers out of deep passion rather than necessity, so maybe it also applies to lowly qualified, physical labors?)
  2. A person may work physically without deep passion – this will be suboptimal but not unsustainable. As many people work at McDonald’s. However, highly qualified, intellectual work actually requires deep passion, because otherwise the subjectively felt urge to not work in this field and rather find something else to do may become unendurable.
  3. This requirement to have a deep passion for one’s work is a trait appurtenant to intellectual work that requires symbolic opperations, like mathematics, programming or science; a person may, however, do a more humanities-related intellectual work out of pragmatism rather than passion.
  4. The need to have a passion for one’s job is being over-emphasised regardless of the scope; it is first and foremost required to find any job that allows one to make a living and it is possible to work at such a job even without passion. Then, and only then, a passion may be pursued.

I suppose this topic had to be tackled by experts? What is the correct answer?


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