How to Reduce Job Stress and Find Meaning in Your Work
Whether you like it or not, your job has tremendous power over your well-being. You can be in peak physical health, have a vibrant social life, and feel spiritually fulfilled, but the fact remains: a third (or more) of your existence is spent at work. If you’re striving to design a happy and meaningful life, it’s vital to optimize the occupational component.
How can you ensure that your work is a source of value, not stress? Whether you’re a college graduate looking for your first job, or a career veteran looking for a change, this article will outline science-based principles to guide your next move.
If you’ve ever asked someone for career advice, there’s a good chance you’ve been told to "follow your passion.” This mantra assumes you have a predetermined calling, and you need to find, and then monetize it. This notion, while romantic in theory, is completely unsupported by evidence.
Why 'Follow Your Passion' is Bad Advice
There are a few issues with following your passion, outlined in detail by Cal Newport in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You . First, many people don’t have a predetermined passion, and others have several passions from which they would struggle to choose. Second, most people’s passions – things like dancing, or sports – aren’t easily monetized. Third, and most pernicious, research shows that if you believe passions are preformed phenomena, you’re less likely to try new things, and more likely to give up when they get hard .
Paradoxically, the more you are guided by the idyllic notion of a singular passion, the less likely you are to find one. Passion isn’t an inborn feature of your personality to which you must match your job. Passion is developed through years of wide-ranging exploration, and plenty of pivoting along the way.
In his book, Newport points to three factors which much more effectively predict job satisfaction. These factors – autonomy, self-efficacy, and relatedness – are described within by a psychological concept called Self-Determination-Theory:
To have autonomy in your work is to have freedom to do your job without someone looking over your shoulder. It requires a shift from hierarchical micromanagement to mutual trust, but once this is built, enhanced engagement and improved job satisfaction are sure to follow.
To feel self-efficacy is to feel a sense of mastery over your work. Importantly, this characteristic – which has been shown to be a key mediator of job satisfaction  - is earned, not given. Seek work where you can evolve, grow, and become a master of your craft.
Relatedness means feeling connected to our community. This aspect is self-explanatory. We are social animals, who love nothing more than feeling like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.
When seeking to reduce stress and maximize fulfillment in your job, don’t follow your passion. If you do, you might end up spinning your wheels for years.
Instead, pursue freedom, cultivate mastery, and nurture community, and more than likely, you’ll become passionate about your work.
 Feigelson, M. (2012). So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. People & Strategy, 35(4), 60-61.
 O’Keefe, P. A., Dweck, C. S., & Walton, G. M. (2018). Implicit theories of interest: Finding your passion or developing it?. Psychological science, 29(10), 1653-1664.
 Klassen, R. M., & Chiu, M. M. (2010). Effects on teachers' self-efficacy and job satisfaction: Teacher gender, years of experience, and job stress. Journal of educational Psychology, 102(3), 741.