Are you a square peg?

Have you ever felt like there’s something lurking beneath the surface each day as you go about your normal routine? As I entered my thirties the urges that whispered to me occasionally became stronger. Those bubbles of desire to reconnect with my passions and live each day with more purpose.

While I’ve always been pretty passion-driven, knowing as a young child what I wanted to study at university, as the world opened up to me I realised things had changed. Even though I’ve worked in some cracking jobs with great people, I often had this niggling feeling that I wasn’t living my full potential. And that my energy investment wasn’t generating the returns I wanted.

As I looked around me and dug a little below the surface with people, I discovered that many of them felt frustrated, trapped, resigned or totally bored with those 8-hour days at work.

That metaphor of feeling like a square peg in a round hole made sense. I was drawn to explore. “Is there a way I could make more of a difference in my little patch of the world?” I thought.

Now before I go any further, I totally pay homage to the fact that in many countries getting paid work is not easy let alone finding work that’s interesting, but this blog post is not about these broader global realities.


I’ve read and been part of many conversations arguing for and against working in a job or business that you’re passionate about. Without going into all the details here (see the reading list at the end of this post), the key sides of the argument are:

Against: That trying to monetise your passion will likely result in the complete death of that passion as well as financial hardship as, c’mon, who’s going to pay you for delivering your passion to the world? The other aspect is that just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t necessarily mean you are good at it.

Ok, fair enough, what about the other side?


For: That living and working with purpose lights you up and that energy also inspires others. You’ll be more likely to work through inevitable challenges in your job or business and succeed at your goals. Plus, according to the smart people at Deloitte in their US-focused Unlocking the passion of the Explorer report, the passionate worker will be the one to reignite the economy of the future.

So with all these pluses, I figured many people would be working in a job they loved. Apparently not. Research by Gallup shows that globally more than 80 per cent of people are disengaged in their jobs! In the USA/Canada it’s 72 per cent; Australia/New Zealand 76 per cent; Latin America 79 per cent and it keeps going up from there. Wow.


I had knee surgery just over a month ago and I am grateful that my surgeon showed a passion for his work. If I’d had a zombie-style surgeon who clearly didn’t care, I’d be running (ok shuffling with crutches) for the hills.

If you’re wondering whether you’re connected to what lights you and helps you live with purpose and are ready to start navigating this windy road, read on for the six steps I have taken:

  1. Find space to reflect

Do you know what values drive you? Are you feeling fulfilled that you are contributing your unique spark to the world day-to-day? What did you love and naturally do as a child? What are you doing when you feel in flow?

These are tough questions to answer, but if you’ve felt that niggle that you aren’t doing what you are passionate about or you’re not living the life you want, then it’s time to explore.

I recommend finding some space from the everyday. I love travelling so I use the space created through being in a new place to tap in to myself. We humans can sometimes hide our unhappiness in busy-ness. I bet the last time you took a really great holiday you picked up on some interests of yours that had been going unfulfilled.

  1. Find the people that inspire you

Start widening your awareness. Who is doing awesome stuff that you’d also like to do? It’s easy these days to find endless inspiration online, like through Instagram or Facebook. I’m not necessarily talking about celebrities here by the way, inspiration could come from anyone nearby, such as a local business person or a relative.

  1. Get clear on your strengths

Agreeing with the point in the Against argument, if you want to make some money to get by, you need to combine your passion with your strengths. You can also ask friends and family what unique attributes they see in you. Some helpful tools I’ve used are Strengthsfinder 2.0 ($15USD) and also VIA (free). I had some ‘aha’ moments realising why I liked or disliked certain roles and situations as a result of these tests.

Unfortunately, in many organisations it is still general practice to encourage everyone to work on their weaknesses, their non-talents. This can lead to further disengagement.

  1. Be responsible

Wet blanket alert! So of course, there are many benefits for those people around you when you get out of bed excited every day. You’ll likely have a spring in your step. But if you have commitments, like financially supporting a family or looking after elderly parents for hours every day, you’ll need to work carefully on fulfilling these commitments. Otherwise you will likely find yourself stressed and others around you hurt and confused.

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  1. Set some goals and communicate them

Setting (specific!) goals and communicating them is something I’m not particularly great at but it’s an important action to take. The general consensus is that people who write down their goals and have accountability partners are more likely to achieve their goals. Communicating about what you want to do – even if small steps – will probably prompt others around you to help. How many times have you said ‘I want to…’ and that’s led to someone offering ideas, contacts or information? Plus being upfront with your goals helps your loved ones adapt around you where they need to.

  1. Remember why you’re on this path

There will be challenging times with exploring and pursuing a change. It’s critical that you remind yourself of the reasons you chose this pathway as our brains have a habit of glossing over or things. Also keep in mind that you would have had challenges if you’d stayed where you were (eg. sapped energy, coworkers you don’t click with, less time with family). Whatever those challenges were – remember them clearly. Write them down. And, on the flipside, write down the reasons why you’re pursuing the new path.

For example:

I want to help… to stop them suffering…

Everyday I am getting out of bed energised to…

Enough is enough! I will no longer stand by while…

So I ask you, if you’re feeling like a square peg in a round hole, wouldn’t you feel better getting out now and seeking the square hole? Or better still, walking away from all the whatever-shaped holes around you all together?

Have I got it sorted? No way! But I’m getting closer and the process up until now has been rewarding. I feel less frustrated and more empowered to go for what I want. As a multi-passionate person, I still haven’t found exactly what I’d say is a ‘true calling’… Still playing, exploring and mashing together the good bits. Loving it.

Some recommended reading:

  • The Rise of the Lifestyle Entrepreneur by Lewis Howes
  • Don’t Do What You Love, article by Dorie Clark. She points out some of the risks associated with pursuing a work life based on passion: emotional attachment meaning you don’t take others’ advice, not having the skills to be effective, and no one actually paying you.
  • Michael Gerber’s E-Myth Revisited famously tells the story of frustrated Sarah who pursued her passion for baking pies through business and found herself burnt out. Finding a way to ‘work on your business not in your business’ is one of the most resounding principles.
  • In Why passion in business is so important Stan Gordon (CEO of Franchised Food Company) says that if you’re not passionate about what you do then you should ‘get out’.

Written by Claire Harris

Claire Harris
Claire currently inhabits Sydney, Australia but will be moving again soon. As an innate innovator and challenger of things that aren’t working she embarked on a location-independent lifestyle in 2015. With a background in environmental and agricultural science and communication/PR, she loves mixing up rationality with creativity. She has worked with Australian, European, American and Pacific Island science and government agencies on projects ranging from studying fish nurseries to sexing up soil science. She now specialises in science communication consulting and helping people recover from temporary injury. Supporting others to find their purpose and live it is also a particular passion. At regular intervals she can be found doing leg exercises (post-knee op), gazing at nature and talking far too much to her Russian Blue cat.

You can follow Claire Harris on TwitterInstagram  and Recover from Injury on Twitter



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