And while many people can actually identify these passions – the things that they naturally gravitate toward and might do for fun off the clock – they often don’t act on them, in terms of creating a career.
“They would rather go work at the JP Morgans because they think it’s a safe bet,” Lechner says. “They put a stop to things that otherwise could prosper and grow and value-add, and the world could pay back in a good way.”
The art of crafting
Amy Wrzesniewski, professor of organisational behaviour at Yale University, suggests overcoming this by “job crafting”: teasing out the bits you like about your current job, and then spin off into something that’s more rewarding as a whole.
This can apply to those types of workers Schabram and Maitlis studied: the ones who landed their dream job, but it wasn’t what they expected.
“Is there some way to stay involved in music, or whatever it might be, that allows you to connect with the elements [of the job] that are most meaningful?” Wrzesniewski asks. “Instead of being backed into a role definition?”
Some of the workers in Schabram and Maitlis’s study did this by pivoting away from shelters and turning to other jobs that were still animal-centric, like grooming and training.
Wrzesniewski also points to a self-sabotaging world view that prohibits people from finding the things they like.
Some think “you sort of have to discover it – almost like it’s an objective identity that lives in the world, and you have to turn over enough rocks to find it,” Wrzesniewski says. “It can create a ton of anxiety.” Instead, the process can be more trial-and-error experimenting.
Homing in on what you love can give you the raw energy that blends career and identity; that allows your work to give you greater meaning and purpose beyond chasing promotions or paying bills.
“When you’re so immersed in what it is you do, you become one,” Lechner says. “I think Hawking had that.”
Bryan Lufkin is BBC Capital's features writer. Follow him on Twitter @bryan_lufkin
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