Don’t Follow Your Passion

As a young man I was asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I came to the conclusion that I should follow my passion of science and become a doctor. Half way through college I realized that my passion was no longer being a doctor and was actually teaching people nutrition. A crap ton of student debt later, I realize that my passion is not nutrition but rather the pursuit of knowledge. This “passion” journey illustrates a key point in the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work you Love by Cal Newport. Newport makes the point that the conventional wisdom of picking a career based on a preexisting passion is wrong. The passion hypothesis creates the false pretense that there is a perfect job out there-eventually leading to confusion and workplace unhappiness when expectations fall short of reality. 

If passion is a poor benchmark for career choice…what is? To find great work, you must first gain “career capital,” which is the acquisition of skills that increase your value to the world; the passion hypothesis reverses this view with the question “what value does the world give to me?” Developing this career capital is done through the technique of deliberate practice. We plateau in our skills and deliberate practice is the quantitative-uncomfortable means of breaking those plateaus and reaching a higher level of skill (think about the contrasting brain effort between strumming a song that you already know compared to learning a brand new song). Deliberate practice builds rare and valuable skills which then leads to rare and valuable traits that define a great career. The valuable traits of a great job include control, autonomy, and creativity; with enough career capital you can receive this magical trio of job nirvana. In addition to this trio, you must develop a sound mission that gives purpose to your career. This mission can only be understood through mastery and attempts of several small projects that give you feedback. For example, I started with a broad mission of helping people through medicine and through several different trials my mission is slightly changed to helping people through knowledge. 

How can you apply this to your own career journey? Simply put, “Working right trumps finding the right work (pg 228).” Seek out a job that has the potential for all the valuable traits aforementioned. Put your head down, work hard, and realize that mastery will get you closer to job nirvana. Don’t give up on your pursuit and don’t think that jumping to a new job will bring you happiness-more than likely it will erase most of your hard-earned career capital. Eventually, because you broke skill-level plateaus you can cash in your value for a better position. We enjoy doing things we are good at but sadly people change jobs so much they never reach a level in which they feel control, autonomy, and creativity. This advice does not work if you are in a dead end job that will never provide the valuable traits of a great career-quit and find a career that does! In the end, don’t follow your passion; passions’ change and through mastery one can gain new passions that were never once realized.