Finding Passion in Your Life’s Work: Do What You Love

One of the reasons that I love working with musicians is that they chose to do what they do because of a deep sense of commitment and passion to the field.  Otherwise, why would they spend some much time practicing and honing their craft in a competitive and challenging field?

It is one thing to be in love with your art.  Yet many musicians have trouble taking the next step to figuring out how to  translate that passion into a  successful and sustainable career.

Where do you start?

Do What You Love:  Your Calling

I was deeply moved by the Commencement Speech that Steve Jobs gave at Standford University in 2005.  His message was loud and clear:

Do what you love and to keep looking for it until your find it without settling for anything less.

Steve Jobs certainaly followed his own advice and it served him well, despite the many set-backs that he faced.  One part of his story fascinated me:  how he dropped out of college and started taking courses that he loved.  He particularly loved his calligraphy class.  While he did not see any “practical application” at the time he took the course, 10 years later it came back to him and inspired him to create the Mac, the first computer with beautiful typography. Just think about how that has changed our world!

People who do what they love have a calling, not a career.  The Harvard psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar in his book Happier tells us that a calling is work that is personally fulfilling and meaningful, as opposed to a job where the motivation is a paycheck or even a career where the motivation is likely to come from extrinsic factors like money, prestige and promotions.  And one big component of that calling is passion.

So how do you find what you love?

Trust Your Gut

Start by following your gut or your intuition.  This is harder than it sounds.  We are surrounded by opinions on what is the “best” type of career.  Many musicians have the belief that success in the music field means a solo career or a coveted spot in a major orchestra or a teaching job in a prominent university or conservatory.  Yet with all of the opportunities for musicians today there are so many other career paths from which to choose.  These traditional notions of success are beliefs, not truths and can often confuse budding musicians. So follow your instincts and do you love, not what do you think you should love.  In the words of Steve Jobs,

Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Listen to Your Heart

Some people just know what they love. For others, it takes a little more work to dig beneath the surface.  Maybe that means tuning out the noise of the outside world to zero in on what you love.  It might also mean looking through the swirl of activities in which you are involved and having the courage to choose the one you love best.  In my work as a career coach both at Yale and in my private practice, I have the privilege of hearing a lot of amazing stories from talented people about their hopes, their dreams and their frustrations, their victories.  What do I listen and look for? 


Ben Zander, the master teacher and conductor who writes and speaks on passion and possibility, defines success as follows:

How many shining eyes do I have around me?

That’s what I look for when I work with people.  The shine in one’s eyes translates into the joy I hear in the voice, the ease I see in someone’s body.  And then I know we are onto something. Often, all it takes is someone like me to listen carefully and reflect back to the musician what I am picking up as their passions.  So if you are a good listener–an essential skill to being a great musician–listen to yourself. 

•    What makes your eyes light up?
•    What part of your day or your week excites you? 
•    What what would keep on doing if time were not an issue?
•    What do you wish you could do if only….?

So have the courage to ask yourself these questions as you take your passion for your art and translate that into a passion for your life’s work.  Be patient and keep the faith.  It will all come together.