I believe that happiness in life is all about finding the right fit.
And following your passion alone is not sufficient to find that right fit.
I learned this the hard way.
Baseball was my biggest passion for as long as I can remember.
One of my earliest memories — at the age of 4 — was watching my hometown Boston Red Sox take on the New York Mets in the 1986 World Series. I was so into baseball and the Red Sox that I stayed up long after my parents went to bed to watch the end of each game.
I remember religiously watching baseball on TV, even if the telecast was in French or any other language.
I learned to read from baseball cards.
I know a lot of kids love sports, but I really loved sports. I consumed and analyzed every single Red Sox game, start to finish, via TV, radio, or (if I was lucky enough) in person. I was allowed to miss school to attend every Opening Day at Fenway Park. Whenever I was at the actual ballpark, I would never let my parents leave until the last out was recorded.
I memorized all of the player and team stats and could rattle them off at will. I remember fantasizing about meeting the athletes, sitting in the dugout, and what it would be like to step out on a real Major League field.
But I never imagined I could actually work in sports.
I always thought I would be a lawyer. I loved the idea of analyzing a case, doing deep research to uncover the winning evidence or facts, and then pulling it all together for a victory in the courtroom. It all seemed so thrilling, and that was the path I intended to pursue. I was a Pre-Law Major in college and planned to attend Law School after graduation.
But then I miraculously landed a job within my #1 passion instead. I got an internship with the Boston Red Sox in 2003 — between my junior and senior years of college. Talk about a dream come true!
Since the actual sport of baseball was my true love, I wanted my position to be as close to the game as possible.
But the intern position within the Baseball Operations department (a path that could eventually lead to becoming a General Manager) was already taken. So I got placed in the Media Relations department instead.
The Media Relations department was the intermediary between the team (players, coaches, and front office) and the media (sportswriters, TV and radio media, etc.). The department coordinated all media interviews, press conferences, and disseminated team information and statistics.
This all sounded good enough to me, even if I really didn’t know anything about the media (other than reading the Boston Globe sports section every day, and watching Sox games on TV).
I still couldn’t believe I was actually going to be working for the Boston Red Sox. I literally would have taken any job with the team.
What followed — on paper — seems like a fantasy come true.
I worked for the Red Sox for five seasons, from 2003 through early 2008. During that time, the Red Sox won two World Series Championships, breaking an 86-year drought in the process, winning it all for the first time since 1918. I was rewarded with two authentic World Series rings, same as the players received.
I traveled with the team on road trips, flying on the team plane and staying in the team hotel. I interacted with all of the star athletes, from David Ortiz to Manny Ramirez to Curt Schilling. I was in the locker room before and after the games, in the dugout and on the field during batting practice, and witnessed champagne spraying in the clubhouse when the team won their titles.
As a kid, I dreamed about sitting in the Fenway Park dugout or stepping out on the field, and I was able to have that experience more times than I can even remember.
This should have been the textbook example of why you should follow your passion, and what is possible when you do so. And don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade these once-in-a-lifetime experiences (not to mention, I met my wife while working for the Red Sox).
The only problem is that I didn’t actually like the work that I was doing, or the lifestyle that I was leading.
Media Relations was okay, but I certainly didn’t love it. I loved the sport of baseball itself, but was not passionate about the media industry. The media wanted constant access, the players wanted constant privacy, and I was caught in the middle trying to serve both parties.
The media was insatiable with their requests, so it was constant reactive work, and I didn’t have the opportunity to think creatively.
I repeated the same daily process of compiling team news and statistics, and updated the records before and after every game, in a cycle that seemed never-ending. I doubt the media read or used even 5% of the information I serviced to them. After a while, my work seemed like a waste of time.
The lifestyle was brutal as well. I worked business hours and baseball hours. A typical day would start at 8 or 9am, and I wouldn’t leave the ballpark until at least 1.5 hours after the game (usually around 11:30pm). That means I would frequently clock 90+ hour work weeks. A 10-day consecutive stretch of home games would drain every last ounce of my energy. And there never seemed to be an end in sight. The baseball season is 162 games long — there is a game nearly every single day — over a span of six months. And that doesn’t even include Spring Training (February — March) or the playoffs (October).
When you factor it all in, the ‘offseason’ really was only three months. And I was still working a regular schedule (40–50 hours per week) during those offseason months, unlike the players who had that time completely off.
And unlike the players, my pay was miserable. Professional sports teams know there are thousands of people lining up for front office jobs, so they can get away with paltry compensation. Meaningful pay doesn’t come until you are a senior executive, which could be decades away.
I wound up staying in baseball for another two years after the Red Sox, moving on to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a more proactive and creative Public Relations position. But at that point, my passion for baseball had run out and I was ready to leave the sport altogether.
I left baseball in 2009, and doubt I’ll ever go back. What began as a childhood love and my biggest passion is now barely an interest. I don’t watch baseball games on TV anymore, rarely make it to the stadium, and I’m blissfully out of touch with the stats and standings. Perhaps someday that will change — especially as my kids get older — but for now baseball is more of a source of stress than pleasure.
I am grateful for all of the amazing baseball experiences I had, but this is an example of what can happen if you make your passion your profession. Sometimes passions are better off remaining hobbies.
So if following your passion is not the perfect answer, what is a better path?
I believe you are better off following the process of work, instead of blindly pursuing your passion.
If you love the process of the work you do — because it is in line with your personality and strengths — you will stay motivated to stick with it. Whereas following your passion could involve a process of work that does not match your true nature (as was my case with baseball).
When I was in college, I would have been smart to learn more about my true personality, my values, and the type of work I enjoyed.
I didn’t do enough of that thoughtful introspection (or at least wasn’t led by it), and wound up pretty far down a path that did not suit me in the end.
Fortunately, these days there are a number of tools to determine your true nature before you get so far down the line.
Here are a few assessments I recommend:
Once you fully know about yourself, you can investigate jobs and job paths that match your unique personality, values, and strengths.
Would I have been better off becoming a lawyer? I don’t know. And fortunately I have now found work that I love, as I have meandered my way through the worlds of Sports/Active Lifestyle and Brand Marketing.
But I believe the quickest path to finding work that you love is uncovering your true personality, and connecting that to the type of work that you will do.
If that can happen within your passion, then that could be the best of all worlds.
But you’re better off starting with process, not passion.
As billionaire investing icon Ray Dalio says, “The happiest people discover their own nature and match their life to it.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Andrew Merle writes about living well, including good habits for health, happiness, productivity, and success. Subscribe to his email list at andrewmerle.com.