Detail from Another kind of Pandora's Box

I had one of those “aha!” moments yesterday where all the pieces suddenly fall into place and you really “know” something for the first time – really own it. I had been having a great conversation with someone who works in the nonprofit sector, and as I walked back to my office I had the thought, “You know what? I LOVED that conversation. LOVED it.”

Then I thought, “I need more of this in my life. More conversations about subjects I’m passionate about. More hours that fly by because I’m so engaged and excited. More work that feels like play.” In fact, if I could engineer it, I would create a job full of conversations like yesterday’s.

The crazy thing is, the last 12 months have probably been the most rewarding of my working life. I’ve had supervisors I’ve loved, who have supported and encouraged me. I’ve been involved in projects and initiatives that have really stretched my skills and knowledge. I’ve felt so passionate about my work that I happily go in to the office every morning, and spend extra non-work time developing new ideas and working on outstanding projects. I couldn’t be happier with my job.

And yet… today showed me that it can get even better. I can love my work, PLUS…

Interestingly enough, I just finished a book called So Good They Can’t Ignore You. (I first heard about it from The Minimalists.) The premise of the book is that the advice to “follow your passion” is foolish. Only by diligent acquisition and practice of skills can you build enough career capital to leverage yourself into a career that will give you the autonomy and control to truly love your work. (Or something like that.)

My biggest takeaway from So Good They Can’t Ignore You was that we can find happiness and satisfaction in any number of careers. There’s no one, perfect path that you need to choose. So I’ve been thinking a lot about passion. If it’s not as important as building career capital, why does a truism like “follow your passion” seem so compelling?

I think I discovered at least a partial answer today. When you feel passionate about your work, it doesn’t feel like work. Luckily (I believe, for most of us), there are many kinds of work that each of us can be passionate about.

(In my case, it’s conversations that tackle problems. The problems can be about anything – my passion is in finding elegant answers.)

What do you think? Passion or career capital? Or both?

Detail from the art journal spread Another kind of Pandora’s box, October 30, 2006. Collage, pencil, crayon and china marker on paper.