Being Good at Something Doesn’t Mean You Should Do It

Posted April 8, 2013 by Marcy Twete in On the Ladder

There’s a centuries old saying attributed to Confucius, “Do what you love, and never work a day in your life.” The problem with this quote in our society, though, is that we’re often raised not to do what we love, but instead what we’re good at. How many times have we heard parents say something like, “Oh, little Susie. She’s going to be a doctor. He’s so good at science.” or “That Bobby, he’s definitely going to be a teacher. He’s so good at explaining things to the other kids and being a good helper.” Suddenly, we’re telling children to do not what they love, but what they excel at. And whether we like it or not, these two things may not be one in the same.

When You’re Good at Something You Don’t Love

It’s addicting to be good at something. You’re praised often, you’re rewarded for your success, and you usually feel good about yourself after the fact for a job well done. But if you don’t love what you’re doing, you’re miserable in the process, and no amount of skill can change that.

  • Find a piece of what you’re good at that you do love. Perhaps you’re great at finances, but you hate doing the books. Perhaps the right place for you is on the trading floor or as a consultant who can advise, but without being the one who actually runs the numbers. It could be that you’re simply not in the right niche of what you’re good at.
  • Be willing to say, “I don’t like this,” and stand behind it. Your parents, your friends, and others will push you to keep moving with the thing you love, but you have to be true to yourself and be willing to leave when you know it’s not the right thing.
  • Teach others! If you’re good at something, you should definitely do your best to bestow your knowledge on others in your industry. Become a speaker, an industry writer, or find another way to distill your skills to others. You may find a renewed sense of excitement this way in the work you’re doing.

When You Love Something You’re Not Good At

We see it every year on American Idol and shows like it – people who love singing with all their hearts, and unfortunately just can’t carry a tune. The good news is, most industries aren’t “you’ve got it or you don’t,” and you can learn the skills you need to do the thing you love full time. Consider these tips:

  • Practice all the time. If you’re in finance, but you want to be in public relations, you might think you’re up a tree, but you’re not. Volunteer your time in PR for a nonprofit organization, offer a small business your services pro bono. Take all the time you can to develop your skill set outside a paying position to get the practice you need before you find a job.
  • Find a mentor in the field you love. There are many ways to find a mentor (of course, you can use Career Girl’s Mentorship Connection program). This kind of guidance in a new industry can help you turn interest into advice into practical experience to make the move.
  • Find out if you’re good at it. Eventually, you’re going to have to become good at the thing you love in order to succeed. So take the time to take courses, to learn the rules of the road in that industry, and to ask for feedback from industry connections and friends that will help you get better.

Ultimately, we all want to find what we love as much as we excel at. Take the time to seek it out, and perhaps Confucius is right, you’ll never work a day in your life!

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."