Is Following Your Passion Overrated?

follow-your-passionIn October I wrote a blog called “Do What You Love or Love What You Do” in which I talked about finding the right balance between three intersecting spheres: (1) What are you interested in? (2) What can you be the best in the world at? (3) What lifestyle is important for you?

The first two spheres, pitch skills against passion, and over the last couple of decades passion has been winning over skills. This come from assuming that if you are passionate about something you will learn to be good at it.

The problem however, is that a majority of people don’t have an inbuilt passion for something when they are at the start of their career. Kids, for example, change what they want to become rapidly, from an airline pilot or astronaut, to a footballer. When they realize that they don’t have the required skills to be the best footballer in the world, they change their minds and want to become engineers, doctors or accountants. As a result of students not being clear about their own interests, many follow the footsteps (or are influenced by the practical advice) of their parents.

Recently in an interview with Eric Barker, one of my favorite bloggers, Cal Newport (who wrote the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love) says “Long-term career satisfaction requires traits like a real sense of autonomy, a real sense of impact on the world, a sense of mastery that you’re good at what you do, and a sense of connection in relation to other people. Now, the key point is those traits are not matched to a specific piece of work and they have nothing to do with matching your job to some sort of ingrained, pre-existing passion.

He advises “to abandon the passion mindset which asks “What does this job offer me? Am I happy with this job? Is it giving me everything I want?” Shift from that mindset to […] “What am I offering the world? How valuable am I? Am I really not that valuable? If I’m not that valuable, then I shouldn’t expect things in my working life. How can I get better?“ Newport calls it the craftsman mindset.

This idea connected with me. A craftsman hones his skills, keeps at it, pushes his limits, learns from others, tries out new things and doesn’t give up. As a result, over time a craftsman becomes better and better at what he does.

It is likely that for most of us, passion follows craftsmanship. When we feel that we are good at something, that we can have an impact and that people recognize us for our craft – then we are more likely to become devoted to what we do.

Many of you will argue that in order to invest so much time and energy in honing your craft, you need to be somewhat enthusiastic about it. But think back to your own career start and that of the people around you. How many of them were passionate about what they were doing from the very beginning? My guess is only a lucky few.

– Paul Keijzer


5 thoughts on “Is Following Your Passion Overrated?

  1. Great atticle dear Paul. Most constructive activities people become genuinely passionate about seem to be creative ones. Would this apply in equal part to banking and law where rationality and desire for winning seem to be the drivers?

    • Dear Moiz, different people as we know are driven by different things. Some are driven by a specific vision, others by autonomy, by impact on society, by learning opportunities, by incentives, by having a sense of belonging. Depending on what drives you, you can find that in any job you are doing.

  2. Sometimes a person finds the right job but isn’t able to do anything productive because of the constraints, say your colleagues don’t approve of it. Boss being too short sighted, exploring new ideas/ hypotheses is considered a taboo. All this leaves a passionate person disappointed. whats more appauling is the fact that you are supposed to make sure your new idea works beforehand, which leaves you with no other choice but to keep your profile low and go with the flow.

  3. This is interesting and thought provoking. Passion helps Abrahm Licoln to rise from modesty to Presidency. However, it is easier said than done. Leaders possess passion, while Managers possess Skills. Skills can be acquired with Passion……….true passion, indeed; the journey may be tedious and difficult, though. We fail to acquire, adopt new skills due to lack of will. We believe that nothing is impossible provided we have requisite passion and strategy. Skills in themselves are no more than enabling tools for Managers. Yes, Passion keeps us pusing to new limits and heights. Thanks, Paul, for refreshing.

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