Honestly, what’s the deal with finding your ‘thing’?

Photography by Seung Rok
Words by Rosanna Watts

Do what you love, or don’t.

Living in an age of digital nomads and social media influencers can have its setbacks. The ‘world of work’ now feels like a completely different planet to the one our parents kick-started their careers in. 

But what about how we approach work, has that changed as well? And although the lyrics to Dolly Parton’s9 To 5’ still ring true for many, isn’t it passion and purpose rather than just “makin’ a livin’” that we’re after? 

Many would say yes. And, in fact, they do. Over the past few years, think piece after think piece has popped up online, dissecting our generation’s need to have a career, not just a job. (This one on career-as-calling culture from The Cut is a particularly good read). 

To someone who’s easily overwhelmed by the idea of having a calling, such articles always provide some welcomed reassurance. So, in search of some more comforting career guidance, I queried two strong career women and one sociology expert about finding your ‘thing.’  

But before we get into it, it’s important to note that this perspective on career and identity is typically quite Western, and such an approach is by no means true of everyone or every culture

It’s also important we recognise that being overwhelmed with choice when it comes to work is a true privilege. And, for reasons beyond the scope of this piece, it’s one that’s not afforded to everyone, which is something we should always keep in mind (and be striving to change).

The role of work is changing 

In an article in the US lifestyle magazine The Atlantic, journalist Derek Thompson outlines something he’s christened the new ‘gospel of work’ or ‘workism’. In it, he suggests that, for many, our work has taken the place of religion, in that it promises identity, transcendence and community. 

Sociologist and Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne Dan Woodman echoes Derek’s statements. “Work has been part of identity for a long time, but it’s been really heightened more recently,” he says. “We want to think that our work says something about our values, what we’re good at and where we’re valuable in the world.” 

According to Derek, the increasing importance we place on values is thanks to a shift in the conception of work, from jobs, to careers, to callings

The struggle of finding your ‘thing’ 

I discussed finding one’s calling with all ’round creative genius Mirte van der Lugt, the chief branding officer of the premium chocolate brand and social enterprise Hey Tiger. She reassured me that your ‘thing’ probably won’t ever be fixed and that expecting it to be might not be the best approach. 

“I think I’m still struggling with finding my thing,” she says. “When you start your career journey, you think you know what you want, but I’d recommend staying open to the things that you’ll learn along the way.”

Just as our interests are known to evolve and change, so too does the world of work. This is why Professor Woodman advocates for a more flexible approach, and as someone who often fears becoming the archetypal jobless arts grad, I found this rather comforting. 

“There is a case for doing a general degree or following your passion,” he says. Phew. “It will give you skills that you’ll actually learn; you won’t drop out of your course and it will prepare you as best as you can be prepared.” 

Dan also notes that today’s young workers will have careers well into the unforeseen future. “One way or another, you’ll probably have to be flexible… you don’t want to get too focused on what you might be doing just six months after your course, because you’ve got a long life of work ahead of you.” 

Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life? 

Emma Do, the assistant and online editor at Frankie Magazine, has managed to turn her love, and talent, for writing into a career. In doing so, she’s spoken with a lot of artists and creatives, which has made her somewhat wary of turning passions into work.

“I know there’s this perception that if you have something you love doing, you need to monetise it or find a way to be paid for it. But sometimes that’s not as fulfilling as you think it will be,” she says. 

Emma raises a good point. It’s also one that forms the basis for one of the most pervasive counter-arguments to the follow-your-heart career advice. That is, creating enjoyment in what you do might be a better tactic for long-term satisfaction.  

Sure enough, in an investigation of 43 women for The Atlantic, journalists Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace found those who pursued their passion over financial independence were more likely to quit later on.

This raises the question: is being so hellbent on following our passions giving us unrealistic expectations about work and of ourselves?  


In an article for The New York Times, journalist Erin Griffith describes a ‘performative workaholism’ that’s gripping today’s young career enthusiasts. Think a slew of #careergoals selfies and LinkedIn creating its own equivalent of Instagram stories. 

Erin is critical of this new ‘rise and grind’ hustle culture. She suggests it really only serves those at the top, while pushing the over-zealous millennials, and now Gen Zers, closer to the burnout that plagues their generations.  

Professor Woodman also has some reservations about this ‘thank god it’s Monday’ culture. He explains that it largely stems from the idea that creative work is unstable work, meaning people often feel they have to hustle harder to secure their dream job.

“Employers can use the idea that you’re doing something you’re passionate about to not give you good job conditions, or to not create a solid career path for you,” he warns. 

So, should we just treat work as work?

For Mirte at Hey Tiger, passion is a key part of everything she does, but she recognises that’s not the case for everyone.

“I think it’s good we are looking to [do] what makes us happy,” she says. “But there’s also the judgement that some people might feel if they’re not passionate about their work, like they’re not doing something right, which I think is quite misplaced.”

According to psychology, unmet expectations and feeling like an outsider are two common causes of shame. In her New York Times article, Erin says she feels like a “traitor to her generation,” for not worshipping her work, a nod to the shame that people can feel for not living up to society’s career-as-calling culture. 

As Derek concludes his article in The Atlantic, he reminds us that, traditionally, working was simply about buying free time for the other joys of life.

And, for many, this is still the case. Work is a way of supporting other interests like travel (when it was still a thing) or spending time with family, and there doesn’t need to be any shame in that.

Like Emma says, “It’s important to have some part of your life dedicated to doing what makes you feel alive and what fulfils you, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be your job.”

Which, in the age of #careergoals, find-your-calling career advice and potentially inevitable burnout, feels like the reassuring reminder we could all use. 

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