I live in the Washington, DC, area, where it’s common for people to choose their profession based on their passion for an issue or ideology. Constantly refreshed with young master’s-in-policy graduates, the city easily sustains its idealistic zeal. Still, I often see those fresh with passion wilt after the day-to-day reality of “changing the world” sets in. As federal employees, they’re quickly disenchanted with the bureaucratic culture of CYA that slows forward motion to a near standstill and the Kool-Aid that suffocates innovation. As consultants to the federal government, they quickly realize it’s more about keeping federal clients happy than delivering effective solutions. I once heard a consultant say, “I got into this because I wanted to change the world and look at me now.” As non-profit executives, they are faced with the necessity of fundraising and the realization that even in organizations focused on a common cause, egos encumber advancement.
“I’m so passionate about foreign policy, I thought I’d love working at the State Department,” a 20-something friend trying to find his bearings lamented. “But the deliberation that goes on, the pointless meetings, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything.”
“What are the functional aspects of your job that you like?” I recommended he reflect on. “If you removed the issue and just thought about your daily experience, would you stay?”
Identifying a passion is easy. Translating passion to a day-to-day practicality you can live with is the hard part.