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Hate Your Job? Don’t Quit Yet, Research Shows You Could Learn to Love It

PETER DOCKRILL
31 AUG 2015

While a lot of us may jump to conclusions about our jobs and careers and perhaps feel a bit defeated if our current role isn’t exactly a dream gig, don’t worry – there’s reason to have hope.

 

A new study by researchers at the University of Michigan in the US gives support to the view that jobs aren’t simply a love-at-first-sight deal. Rather, they say that achieving passion for your work is something you can develop over time.

In contrast to the dominant mindset that you’ll only achieve passion for your work through finding the right fit with a line of work – what the researchers call “fit theory”, aka ‘following one’s passion’ – the researchers say you can learn to love your job and find meaning in it progressively (aka “develop theory”).

We probably hear and think a lot more about fit theory than develop theory because we’ve internalised it. It’s a more romantic and idealistic notion – and one that’s espoused by some of the greats of the business world.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work,” said Steve Jobs in his famous Stanford commencement speech. “And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

But that’s not the only way, according to Patricia Chen, a psychology researcher and lead author of a new study published this month in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“The good news is that we can choose to change our beliefs or strategies to cultivate passion gradually or seek compatibility from the outset, and be just as effective in the long run at achieving this coveted experience,” said Chen in a statement to the press.

Chen and colleagues conducted four separate studies where they surveyed adult participants and workers on their attitudes to work, examining their career attitudes and expectations with regard to fit theory and develop theory.

What the researchers found was that, regardless of which theory the respondents’ work choices embodied, their level of passion ended up being the same.

“[P]eople can achieve similar levels of well-being at work by endorsing either the fit or develop theory,” they write. “The key difference lies in how these outcomes are attained: fit theorists tend to self-select into lines of work that fit them from the start, whereas develop theorists grow into that fit over time.” (Original emphasis.)

What’s interesting is that both positions come with trade-offs. Fit theorists tend to prioritise enjoyment at the expense of good pay, whereas develop theorists are willing to let enjoyment take a back seat to other goals, safe in the knowledge that they’ll grow into the role and find enjoyment over time.

It’s interesting research, although the researchers concede a lot more work needs to be done in this area. In the meantime, their findings may offer a little encouragement to people who aren’t loving their day jobs right now. Everyone has moments like that, but it’s important to keep your thoughts focused on the bigger picture, your long-term goals, and why you took the role in the first place.

Not that we entirely disagree with Steve Jobs either, by the way. His brilliantly inspirational Stanford address is possibly the closest any business mogul has ever come to capturing motivational lightning in a bottle. Check it out below – but just remember there’s more than one way of looking at this issue.