When it comes to your career only one thing matters: passion

Mark Brandon
Mark Brandon

By Mark Brandon, managing director, Motive Legal Consulting

I’m often asked to advise individuals and firms alike on their direction. With individuals particularly, I often sense a lassitude, either a feeling of having been ground down over time or a genuinely existential crisis; I can think of no other way to put it.

As with many things I am asked to think about, this subject has been rolling around my head continuously, because it lies at the root of many problems I see in careers, business and life in general.

The word which rises to the forefront of my thinking whenever I consider it is this one: Passion.

I also, often, ask individuals in particular whether they are passionate about what it is they do, and from those answers – usually expressed in the negative, it has to be said – has come what I think might be quite a controversial statement.

If you are not passionate about what it is you do, I have one piece of advice for you: give up. Yes. Give. Up. Stop doing whatever it is you are doing and do something else.

Before you start bombarding me with a hundred perfectly reasonable and practical reasons why you cannot just do this, I tell you this. Everything you will say to me is an excuse. Plain and simple.

There was a wonderful advertisement a few years back, I think for Mastercard, which featured lots of comfortably bored middle class professional people staring listlessly into fat glasses of Merlot at a dinner party, probably in Islington, and bemoaning their existences. They all start talking about a couple they know who have fancifully pursued their dream of opening a beach bar in Thailand – from which we get lots of lovely cut-scenes – and start talking about the risks and pitfalls, before all being forced to contemplate the truth of the matter; that the beach-bar dreamers are the happy ones, not the careful dinner-party crew.

I will add an anecdote of my own. I recall interviewing a poor lass when I was a recruiter. She was about two years’ qualified, all A* at school, 2.1 at a good uni, been through the City firm grinder and was doing well, ostensibly. Her hollow expression and wan face told a different story; nobody should have ash-grey circles around their eyes at 25. As she described her life as a well-paid finance lawyer I thought she was going to cry. She wanted to go in-house, classic escape-fantasy.

I let her drift into silence. I then said: “If you could do anything…anything at all…what would you do? Forget the mortgage, forget law, forget your parents and your boyfriend. Anything.”

Her face lit up, quite startling me. Her eyes became two wide, lustrous, watery jewels. “I love baking,” she said finally. “I would love to set up a little bakery, make cakes.”

I let that thought settle into the room like the smell of cooling chocolate muffins. “Well,” I said finally. “That’s what you should be doing then.” She looked at me as if I had gone mad, the look of someone who has been conditioned for years to believe that ‘this’ is success while ‘this’ is not.

I’m not sure if she is a baker now. I hope so.

A wiser person than I said to me when I was a recruiter: “nothing is so exhausting as trying to do something half-heartedly.” And they were right, absolutely spot-on.

Before you start with the excuses of why you can’t or couldn’t, this and that responsibility, these bills, these commitments, think about the people you really admire in your life, in your social circle. I will lay a bet that they are the people who have found their passion, whether it is cakes or Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities.

Because you only get one life. The real question is what you are going to do with it.

And don’t think you can’t get passionate about what you do, or an aspect of what you do. Passion comes in many strange forms, and it is, I speak from personal experience, perfectly possible to find passion in what it is you do.

Last time I bought a bed, I met a man in one of the stores on Tottenham Court Road who was, clearly, passionate about mattresses. He may well have collected beer-mats in his spare time, or could be found on the end of Platform 5 at St Pancras for all I know, but boy did he know his mattresses. He loved explaining to me how they were made, the intricacies of their construction, what to look for, how not to buy. It was infectious, and I bought the best mattress I have ever bought.

That is what I want to buy when I buy law. I want the train-spotter, the mattress-lover, the obsessive cake-baker. I want the person who goes the extra mile, not the person who is only in the job because they couldn’t work out what else to do, or because their dad forced them to do it. I don’t want the time-server, the person who is just waiting for their next holiday or getting out of their skull at the weekend. I want passion.

And you deserve passion in your life. One of the saddest things I hear is that people don’t know what they are passionate about. They don’t think they are passionate about anything. I don’t believe that, I often think it is because they spend absolutely no time trying to figure out what it is they might be passionate about. Sometimes they do have knowledge or even an inkling, but dismiss it out of hand. At other times they manage to surround themselves with people who, for one reason or another, don’t support their passion but seek to curb it or destroy it completely, usually because they themselves are a little passionless cage of their own, grinding out an existence and calling it a life.

If you are not passionate about what you do, you do not deserve my business, it is as simple as that. If you are not passionate about bread, why should you be my baker? If you are not passionate about leases, I don’t want you as a property lawyer.

And yet demonstrating your passion to me and getting me enthused about it – like the mattress-man – is one of the most satisfying things in the whole of human interaction.

I am not sure many lawyers would say that law is a business of great passions, but I for one believe it, like the rest of life, should be.