025: The Passion Paradox in Therapist Careers: Why Following Your Passion Might Be Bad Career Advice

July 8, 2024
The Therapist Burnout Podcast Cover Art

Ever felt that following your to become a therapist has led you to burning out and resenting your work? Or that you’re not sure that becoming a therapist was the best choice for you. In today’s episode, we’re uncovering the truth behind the passion hypothesis and why your skills might trump your passion when it comes to finding career happiness.

We delve into the controversial ideas presented in Cal Newport’s book, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” and explore why the common advice to “follow your passion” might actually be leading us astray. If you’re a therapist thinking about quitting your role or significantly changing your career, this discussion is especially for you.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Passion vs. Skills:
    • Cal Newport argues that following your passion is not the key to career satisfaction.
    • Most people do not have pre-existing passions related to work.
    • Developing skills and career capital is more important for job satisfaction.
  2. The Reality of Burnout:
    • Burnout is a significant issue in the therapy profession, often exacerbated by the pressure to follow one’s passion.
    • Therapists may find themselves paralyzed by too many ideas and directions, leading to burnout.
  3. The Passion Hypothesis:
    • The assumption that everyone has a pre-existing passion waiting to be discovered is flawed.
    • Passions are often unrelated to work or education and tend to be hobby-like interests.
  4. Steve Jobs’ Misinterpreted Advice:
    • While Steve Jobs advised to “do what you love,” his own path to founding Apple was not driven by passion but by opportunity and skill development.
  5. Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness:
    • According to Self-Determination Theory, these three factors are essential for intrinsic motivation at work.
    • Therapists need to consider these elements to find fulfillment, especially in private practice where relatedness can be challenging.
  6. Career Capital:
    • Building valuable skills and expertise in your field (career capital) is crucial.
    • Passion can develop from becoming skilled and achieving mastery in your work.
  7. The Privilege of Choice:
    • The ability to follow one’s passion is a privilege not everyone has.
    • A more practical approach is to focus on developing skills that make you valuable in your career.

Resources Mentioned:

  • Book: “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport
  • Self-Determination Theory (SDT)

Episode Quote: “Follow your passion might just be terrible advice. Focus on developing valuable skills and career capital to find true job satisfaction.”

Send me an email I’d love to connect: info@drjenblanchette.com

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Speaker A: Welcome to the Therapist Burnout podcast, episode number 25. Hello, therapist. Welcome back to the program. I’m gonna talk with you today a little bit about passion and burnout. So I read Cal Newport’s book almost completely within a week. So the book is so good that they can’t ignore you, and so good that they can’t ignore you. So I’m gonna talk with you about why I think this book is important for you if you’re thinking about quitting your role as a therapist or changing the game, at least significantly. So let’s dive into that first. I did preview on the podcast that I was going to do a series on burnout, which I plan to do. I think, number one, it had my brain go in a million different directions about what is the burnout talk that I want to provide to you? And I really, you know, have to get out of this mindset of I’m giving you this research based talk, which I want research to be part of the talk. I can think it’s important. I’m not throwing the baby out the bath water. Why do we say that saying anyway? Such a horrible saying. Anyways, I am in total squirrel brain, so you’re going to have to excuse the squirrel brain moments, however. So I was going to give this talk on burnout for you on the podcast. And so it had me going in all these directions, and I just got paralyzed, honestly. And so I am going to do it, however, I’m going to take more time to do it and really map it out and put it in a way that’s digestible for myself, for my own brain, and then for you to hear it. Because what I know about human brains is they don’t like a bunch of jarble of information. They like a clear framework and a package and get out. I know that from my years of experience of working with folks with a brain injury, and I’ve really applied those skills to working with other people and for my life. Because I find, interestingly enough, when I started working in brain injury, it was around 2010, 2011, when I got a smartphone and when human brains really had more difficulty paying attention. And so I think it really served me well to have that experience of working with folks with after brain injury, because we all need information delivered this way now, and especially for folks recovering from a brain injury. By the way, if you need some more resources for working with folks after brain injury, I did a whole podcast. I don’t do it anymore, but I did a podcast called the TBI Therapist podcast. And I I hope to bring some. I keep saying that I hope to bring more clinical topics for just education for you guys of things that you maybe don’t know about or didn’t have education in your graduate program or you’re so niche right now in what you do that you kind of have the blinders on other things. And so when those things pop up in your practice, you’re like, I don’t even know what to do with that. So it’s a topic I’m still passionate about and I still have my hands in some, in some regards. And I’m presenting at our local brain injury conference this fall. So it’s something I still want to keep my hands in as well. So I’m going to talk a little bit about passion today and the passion hypothesis. So first it had me think about this because I’m sick. You can probably hear it in my voice. I tweaked my back doing another one of my passions. So I went on a vacation with my family. We went to New York City and I always tell people I am like a dressed salad. I do not travel well. It really takes a lot out of my body to travel, especially with children. I have come to accept that that’s just the reality of my nervous system and traveling with children who are at a young age. Maybe it will be different when they hit the teenage years. We will have different battles at that time. That’s okay. I’ve just come to accept that generally I am pretty depleted after a vacation with the family. And there are highs and lows of that. Some of that now is that I have completely thrown out my back and I’m sick. So what are the things that I would do when I feel like ****? My passions. And so two of my passions are tennis and teaching group x classes. So I teach a format called warrior rhythm. And it is beautiful, by the way. So it’s yoga ish. So it has some yoga flow, it has some weight lifting, it has hIIt training. I am so committed to that class. I don’t care if it’s two people that show up or if it’s 20 people that show up. I will be there like a tank. I am coming down the road and there’s nothing stopping me, including a back injury and a cold. So I thought about that. I’m like, that is those two things. Tennis and teaching my class are probably the two things that will get me motivated to do something more than anything else. Does that mean I should have a career in group fitness or in tennis? No, because those are passions I know, many times my husband talk with me about, you know, getting all these certifications on fitness over the past. Let’s see, when I started that, probably six years ago, I started teaching fitness classes. I’ve always been passionate. It started with. Let me back up. It started with teaching Zumba. Like, I loved Zumba classes. I was obsessed with zumba. I always danced and I always wanted to teach for probably, like, I don’t know, ten years. I thought about teaching Zumba classes and I started doing it and I really loved it. And I started teaching other fitness classes and found that I love this kind of yoga ish format where I teach yoga flow and some weight training and HIIT training. And so that became more of my passion. And he asked me, would you want to do that with tennis? Would you want to teach tennis? I said, no, no, no. That’s my passion. I want to keep that as my passion and not have that be something that I teach. Because I said, I tend to teach wherever I go. That’s just something that I do. I love training and teaching and working with other people and collaborating. So I love groups. That’s something that’s part of me. And so I think there’s ways that I can do that to make money for a career, and there’s ways that I do that for my personal passions and enjoyment. Segue now into talking about the topic. Okay, so I don’t know how I stumbled upon this book. I think I stumbled upon the book because it was free on Kindle unlimited. So, hey, if you are on Kindle Unlimited, this book is part of that. And the book is so good, they can’t ignore you. Why skills trump passion in the quest for work that you love. So this is by Cal Newport. This is really a great book on career choices. And so Cal Newport in this book, and I’m reading this from the description debunks the long held belief that follow your passion is good advice. Not only is the cliche flawed, pre existing passions are rare and have little to do with how most people end up loving their work, but it can also be dangerous, leading to anxiety and chronic job hopping. And when I first started reading the first chapter, it was just hitting all of the bells in my brain that have been kind of lit up for the past couple years. I think when I first figured out that I didn’t want to do as much therapy at first, my first realization was like, I can’t do as much one to one. I am burnout on one to one. I can’t do any more one to one therapy. And I was thinking about, okay, well, what else am I passionate about? What else can I do that I can kind of tap into my passion. However, I got into this field because of passion. So my first major in college was computer science. Big departure from psychology. And I changed my major really, because I didn’t want to take calculus. Like, that’s the honest truth. Like, this is my career journey. I just said, okay, well, calculus is hard. When I was in pre cal, and I decided to change my major to psychology because I liked it. Oh, this is kind of an interesting class. And so I kind of followed my interest and my passions, and this seemed like an interesting path. I had no idea where that would take me, no idea what kind of ultimate career that might lead to. And so I started following that passion, and so I continued that, kind of re upped that kind of thing in education for many, many years, ultimately getting a psyd in clinical psychology. And I also got a master’s, a research master’s degree as well, kind of following those interests. And I think when I came to the crux of not being able to do as much one to one therapy, I had a personal reckoning with myself because I thought this was it. Like, this was my calling. This is what I’m supposed to do with my life, is to have this practice. I built this thing. I helped these people, and to have it feel like something that was draining me, that I was stuck in, that I couldn’t find any way out of. I couldnt see any other thing that I could do other than therapy. And I think part of me feels like, because im a psychologist, and theres other things that psychologists can do, like psychological testing. When I made the pivot to do more of a testing based job, I felt like I kind of got out of it easy. Like, oh, other therapists have to, like, really change their careers. They cant make this kind of sidestep pivot into doing testing, for example. But that’s not true. You know, I still had to wade in these waters of figuring out that following my passion didn’t work for me. And it got me in a place where I came to the end of myself, honestly. So when I read that, I felt so validated, honestly, that, you know, when people follow their passion and, like, you know, I’ve had many ideas, like starting a dance studio, starting a yoga studio, starting. Where are my other harebrained ideas that I was going to do? Oh, I should think of all of them. Anyway. I’m sure you have all the ideas as well, starting like a retreat center. All the things that our brains want to tell us that would be great to do, and they’re great ideas. It’s not that they are not great ideas, but they are driven from these things that we’re passionate about. You know, I love to provide tennis therapy. I don’t know if that’s going to work in real life. So from his book he talks about the passion hypothesis, he talks about the passion hypothesis. And in that he states, the key to occupational happiness is first to figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion. And this hypothesis is one of modern american society that is well worn, one of the most well worn themes. Those of us who are lucky enough to have some choice in what we do with our lives are bombarded with this message starting at an early age and really is a privilege. There are some people that don’t have as much choice in their career and really it is new. I mean, I think if I think of going back to thinking of my grandmothers, they didn’t have this question. Their job was to be a mother. They weren’t supposed to have a job. They didn’t have these questions of what am I going to be when I grow up. They knew I’m getting ready to have children. That’s my job, that’s what I do. So I think there’s inherent privilege in this question, and we have to always think about those who don’t have that privilege, who may not have access to the education we have. So I do see it as privilege. I’m paraphrasing here, but we’re told that those who have the courage to follow their passion are good and to pity those who conform to cling to the safe path. And I think that we see that in the therapy world as well, that you are building your own private practice. No one can tell you what to do anymore. And so I think we see private practice as the only way to sustain in this career when there are multiple ways that we could stay in a career as a therapist, if that’s what we want to do. But private practice isn’t the only way, like being your own boss or doing your own thing. There are many books out there with titles like career, connecting who you are with what you do, love to do, and do what you are. Discover the perfect career for you through the secrets of personality type. And I have done so many of these tests. Let me align my passions with my interests, with my education, and see where their match is and where it lines up. And I think that was part of why I wanted to do the last podcast I did because I had deep expertise in brain injury and I know that there’s a dearth of services for folks with brain injuries, but I was just truly burnt out and my hope to build some kind of coaching practice, really, I didn’t, I didn’t understand what that would take, that I didnt have enough, what he calls career capital in order to have that new venture work. And thats, I think a theme that he talks about in his book is that theres also a lot of noise, I think, in the therapy space of Launcheron coaching program that takes a long amount of time to develop enough, like to develop an audience, to have enough of, have enough skills to be able to do that right, to know how to market it, to know what to do. And so there’s, I think it’s a much easier path for a therapist to stay in private practice because it’s much easier to market. People understand the service. They know what they are getting. It’s not that doing a coaching practice or doing something else, a new program is impossible, it’s just that there isn’t a well defined path to do that. I think there’s books out there. He mentions titles like escape from cubical Nation and describes it by teaching the tricks behind finding what makes you purr. And I think his quote is follow your passion might just be terrible advice because all of these slogans make us feel like our career has to be the one. And I think for therapists, the career as a therapist or your private practice you thought was the one. You’ve spent so much time getting here, so much training to get here, that you can imagine finding the second one of your career. And so if it’s not your passion, then what is it? Cal Newport says his rule number one is dedicated to laying out his argument against passion as the insight that follow your passion is bad advice. And he talks about Steve Jobs, how Steve Jobs had this speech that he gave at the commencement at Stanford’s graduating class in 2005, and he offered the following you’ve got to find what you love. The only way to do good work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking and don’t settle. As he finished, he received a standing ovation. Though Job’s address contained several different lessons, his emphasis on doing what you love was the clear standout. This video was posted on YouTube, where it went viral, gathering over 3.5 million views. When Stanford posted an official video, it gathered an additional 3 million views. They summarized that the most valuable lesson is to find your purpose. Follow your passions. Life is too short to be doing what you think you have to do. Instead, Cal offers, do what Steve Jobs did, not what he said. And it was a really interesting story about how Steve Jobs ended up founding Apple computers. So Jobs attended Reed College, a prestigious liberal arts enclave in Oregon. He wasn’t really particularly interested in business or electronics as a student, and he dropped out of college after his first year, but remained on campus for a while, sleeping on floors and scrounging free meals at the local Hare Krishna temple. I did not know that. That was really interesting. He eventually went back home to California, and he read an article that read, have fun and make money. So he split his time between Atari and a farm. Fast forward to 1974. He returned from India after leaving his job at Atari for several months to have a spiritual journey. It was there he met Steve Wolzniak to design a terminal device he could sell to clients for accessing his central computer. Unlike jobs, he was a true electronics whiz. And however, Wozniak couldn’t stomach business, so he allowed jobs to handle the details of the arrangement. Everything was going well when jobs. Jobs left for the season to spend some time at the commune, and he failed to tell anyone he was leaving. When he returned, he had been replaced. Doesn’t really sound like someone who was super passionate about computers, right? Like, he just kind of like, wandering through life and, you know, met a couple people, was going to this commune. So it was later that he. In the same year, he stumbled onto his big break. He noticed that the local wireheads were excited by the introduction of model kit computers that people could assemble at home. And he pitched that idea to the kit to sell them to local hobbyists. And he had an initial plan to make the boards for 25 apiece and sell them for 50. And he wanted to sell 100 in total, which, removing costs for the printing boards and $1,500 fee for the initial design, would leave him with a nice thousand dollars. So neither Wozniak nor Jobs left their regular jobs. That is key. This was a strictly low risk venture meant for their free time. However, their story quickly veers into legend. So then he started Apple computers, and they got capital, and the rest is history. I think it’s important to understand the messy lessons from jobs when it comes to fulfilling work, details matter. If a young Steve Jobs had taken his own advice and decided to only pursue work he loved, he probably find himself as one of Los Altos Zen Center’s most popular teachers. That was the commune that he was in. Apple computer was decidedly not born out of passion, but instead, it was a result of a lucky break, a small time scheme that unexpectedly took off. Eventually, he grew passionate about his work. He, in this address, was someone who obviously loved what he did. And I think the question that he poses as how do we find work that we eventually love? Because many of us are not loving one to one therapy as much, and we’re figuring out, like, what is tolerable, even like, what can I make money out and not burn out? But that’s what therapists are asking. That’s what they’re saying to me when I talk with them. I think it leaves us with more questions, not as many answers, and that following our passion wasn’t particularly useful advice. And I don’t know where I had heard that information that I should follow my passion, but I feel like it was imbued into many parts of my education. I remember doing a career class in college. I think I actually did it twice. I should look at my college transcripts because I had a really hard time knowing what I should do and was very indecisive early in my life. And I feel like I wanted someone to tell me, I wanted someone to answer the question of what should I do? And that first major, computer science, I think, was at the direction of my dad, who said, well, there’s money in computers, so you should major in that. However, I don’t think I had the brain for computer science. It just didn’t really suit how I thought. And so that wasn’t. Was less about passion than about my skillset. And I think that’s something that he talks a lot about, is your skills versus your passion. And so what are you actually good at? What have you shown throughout your career? Or, you know, if we’re starting out thinking about what do you do well? And how can that be used in a job? As a result of his work, he talked about complex careers have compelling careers, excuse me, have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion. So he talks about that career passions are rare. So they did a study. In 2002, a research team led by canadian psychologist Robert J. Valorand administered an extensive questionnaire to a group of 539 canadian university students. The questionnaire’s prompts were designed to answer two important do these students have passions? And if so, what are they? At the core of the passion hypothesis is the assumption that we all have pre existing passions waiting to be discovered. And this experiment puts that assumption to the test. Here’s what they found. 84% of the students surveyed were identified as having a passion. That sounds like good news, right? It’s when we dive deeper that we see the details of their pursuits. The top five were dance, hockey. They were canadian, right? Skiing, reading and swimming. Less than 4% of the total identified passions had any relation to work or education, with the remaining 96% describing hobby style interest such as sports or arthem. So it kind of tells us that it’s a strong blow to the passion hypothesis. And then he talks about conclusion two, passion takes time. So, Amy, I’m going to really mess up this name. Rosnanskui. We’ll go with that. Professor of organizational behavior at Yale has made a career on studying how people think about work. So her breakthrough paper, published in the Journal of Research and Personality while she was still a graduate student, explores the distinction between job the distinction between a job, a career, and a calling. So first she says a job, and her formulation is a way to pay the bills. A career as a path toward increasingly better work. And a calling is work that is of importance, part of your life and a vital part of your identity. I’m just going to unpack that a little bit. So a job is a way to pay the bills. A career is a path toward increasingly better work. And a calling is work that’s important part of your life and vital part of your identity. So I think for therapists, the calling certainly would be identified for a lot of us that we see it as part of identity, as part of our identity. I wouldn’t think that we use the term career very often as this is defined, a path towards increasingly better work. Because if I think about my career, it didn’t really follow that trajectory. I didn’t necessarily get increasingly better work. I plateaued in my private practice, and it didn’t really increase from that point. Conclusion three was passion is a side effect of mastery in a popular TED talk titled on the Surprising Science of Motivation, author Daniel Pink discussed his book drive tells the audience that he spent the last couple of years studying human motivation. I’m telling you, it’s not even close, he says. If you look at the science, there is a mismatch between the science in what the science knows and what business does. So what he was talking about science is the 40 year old theoretical framework known as self determination theory, or SDT. And that is arguably the best science that we have for why some pursuits get our engines running and why some leave us cold. SDT tells us that motivation in the workplace or elsewhere requires that we fulfill three basic psychological needs, factors described as nutriments. Required to fulfill required to feel intrinsically motivated for your work. First, autonomy, the feeling that you have control over your day and that your actions are important. Second, competence, the feeling that you are good at what you do. Three, relatedness, the feeling of connection to other people. The last thing is surprising. If you feel close to people at work, you want to enjoy work more. And I think that’s a hard one for private practice therapists. We need to feel the connection to other people. Many times as therapists, especially if we’re in a solo practice, we don’t talk to anybody else some days other than our clients. So in the pandemic, I didn’t even have an office mate for a while, so it was just me and my clients. I would go home. That was it. And so that relatedness was a huge piece of what I was missing in my career. And I really didn’t understand that until I came out of it, until I started working like in a school setting and worked on a team. And I was missing that so much. And I didn’t realize how important that was to counterbalancing some of the depleting experiences that I had. So if what we need to feel intrinsic motivation for our work is autonomy, competence, and relatedness, we need to look at those three things in our current career. How are we doing with those? Do we feel connected to the other people that we work with? Do we feel good at what we do? I hear so much from therapists that they don’t feel competent. They don’t feel like they know what they’re doing in many ways. And that’s, I think, a struggle more for early career therapists, but I still hear it from other therapists as well. And while private practice therapists have autonomy and control over their day, I think that they’re scared to go back into having a job because they were burnt out of an agency, or the demands that were placed on them were so severe as a therapist in another setting that they can’t imagine not having the autonomy they have now in private practice. To kind of sum up, what I’m talking about today with, with regard to passion and burnout is if we are thinking we need to find our next passion or the next job, the one that’s going to fulfill us, it will often fall short. Just like there is not one person that can, quote unquote, complete us or be, you know, the one person that fulfills all of our needs. I think just like I like the metaphor for relationships because there’s not one person that can fulfill us. We have to basically look at the situation, look at the person and know that nothing, no situation is perfect and that there has to be some compatibility. And I think thinking of these three points of autonomy, competence and relatedness is huge. I think as I talk more about this book, I think it will illuminate what we really need from our careers. So to sum up, to have intrinsic motivation for your work, you need autonomy, competence and relatedness. Oftentimes, as therapists, we don’t have that in our roles. If we’re an agency, we don’t have autonomy. For example, if we’re early career or really burnt out, we’re struggling with our competence and then relatedness, feeling connection to other people. If we’re burnout and we’re in sessions back to back to back, I’ve said this often, no one sees our work but us and our client. So if we’re not co treating with other clinicians, or if we don’t have any other clinicians to talk to, then we don’t have that sense of relatedness to connection to other people. And I think that was highlighted really dramatically for me when I left private practice and I started working on a team again. So I really want you to think of not needing passion for your next thing, whether it be I can’t do as much one to one and I want to find whatever that thing is within my practice or outside of my practice that we’re really going to look at more of the work that seems interesting and aligns with skillset and gives you more of these three things, competence, autonomy, relatedness versus following the passion, trying to find the one, trying to find the thing that’s going to fulfill us, because we’ve done that before as therapists in our career. So I look forward to talking with you more on this topic. So I’m switching my focus for this month to talking about passion and burnout and why that’s not what we want to do. And I’m just really tickled that I found this book and found kind of a framework because it’s something I thought of for probably years. And so finding this framework has really been helpful. So reach out to me if you need help in figuring out the next steps in your practice, then I’d love to help you. I spent so many years spending thousands of dollars trying to figure it out. Jump on a consult call with me and let’s talk about ways that you can find something that you can do that’s going to not burn you out. I’d happy to jump on a consult call with you to talk more about that. Have a good one.

Speaker B: Thank you for listening to the joy after Burnout podcast. Be the first to hear new episodes by following the podcast in your podcast player. This is an informational podcast only. Any information expressed by the host or guest is not a substitute for legal, medical, or financial advice.


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