Times of crisis have a way of focusing the mind and making us question whether what we’re doing (or maybe the way we’re doing it) is actually right for us.

Follow your passion?

People often talk about following your passion. This is definitely part of the picture. You want to do something which absorbs you, and where you often find yourself in a state of flow. However, what if our passion is not actually something which suits our unique strengths and character?

My first degree was in English and Drama. I had known what I was going to study at university from when I was at primary school, because I loved both those subjects, and I loved acting. My degree course was very practical and very much aimed at producing working actors. So, why didn’t I take that career path?

Mainly because although I loved acting, and I wasn’t bad at it, I lacked the personality and self-confidence to take the constant knock-backs. And I wasn’t brilliant enough that there wouldn’t have been plenty of those!

We need to think about more than what gives us pleasure, but also what gives us meaning, as well as where our strengths lie.

What is meaning?

In simple terms it’s your why- why you do what you do. For me, I’ve realised that it’s always been about helping other people to grow and develop; whether that’s students, teachers in training, or now coaching clients. Anything in my career path which has had that aspect front and centre has been meaningful for me.

So, writing student book materials can fit that definition for me, both because of the opportunity to help others learn a language, and also because I have quite a lot of control over topics, and particularly enjoy writing about personal development or how to make the world a better place. However, writing practice tests, say, I find much less fulfilling. Attention to detail is one of my strengths though, and that therefore makes those potentially less inspiring bits of writing relatively enjoyable for me.

Three questions

Ideally you want to focus most of your time and energy on work which fits into all three categories. Ask yourself these three questions:

‘What gives me meaning or a sense of purpose?’

‘What gives me pleasure and I enjoy doing?

‘What are my strengths?’

It may be that when you ask yourself these questions you realise that the career path you are currently following isn’t quite right for you. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should immediately hand in your notice. It might be that you can tweak what you’re doing, to focus more on the things that fit your meaning, pleasure and strengths. And/or it might be a question of finding more meaning in what you’re doing. For example, if you hate cleaning your house, you could decide that you are going to find a way to pay for someone else to do it. Or you could re-frame it within a new ‘why’- as an act of love for your family or yourself.

It is worth asking these questions about everything you spend time doing, not just work, as ultimately you want to spend your time in ways you have consciously chosen, not just automatically doing what you’ve always done and wondering why you feel so flat and negative about things.