Passion is Over-Rated

f10Your passion is a pipe dream. Best focus on your abilities. So goes the advice of Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Taking a contrarian view of the popular mantra to “follow your passion,” Newport pans this advice as dangerous and cites case after case of people who followed their passions with no skill or business plan to back them up, finding quite little of their dreams.

Are you relieved to read Newport’s views? Were you starting to think it was just you who wanted to smack every person who asked you “What’s your passion”?

Competency First, Passion Follows

Newport argues that passion follows competency – once you’re good at something, you start to love it. This sounds like the mother of an arranged marriage saying to her daughter, “He’s good for you. You’ll learn to love him.”  As passionless as this sounds, sometimes those mothers are right. I wasn’t in love with finance.  I was always good at finance, but loved marketing.  I got into financial services marketing to solve the dilemma. But mostly I was good at staring into the unknown and making it rain money. Diving in and learning new industries, making clients happy, getting people who hated or feared my company to come around. The product was almost an after-thought to the challenge. Finance paid the rent and for lots of stamps on my passport….

Case in Point: Steve Jobs

As Newport tells the tale, Steve Jobs wasn’t particularly passionate about computers before he started Apple.  He majored in Western history and dance, with Eastern mysticism on the side. He teamed up with Wozniak for a while, but then disappeared for several months to hang out at a commune.  When Jobs finally saw an opportunity in technology, he got Woz to build it in his free time. Jobs just liked to sell.  His dreams were small until his products started generating cash. Then passion began to set in.

The Path to Success

Here’s Newport’s advice in a nutshell: Figure out what works for you, what you can offer the world, and put in the hours needed to develop your skills. The idea that the world will conspire to support your dreams just because you commit to them doesn’t always work. Look around at folks scraping by. Don’t they have passions?  Look around at folks succeeding wildly. Are you emulating people who are passionate or those who know what they’re doing?

Photograph courtesy of Gabriella Santander.

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4 Responses to Passion is Over-Rated

  1. Sharon Reed says:


    It’s true that the world will not always conspire to support our dreams in the way or timing we would like. It’s also true that passion alone, without the requisite skills and discipline needed to execute, will rarely produce the results we’re seeking, and that it is possible to unearth new passions simply by doing the work we’re already good at.

    Still, I would argue that passion often fuels the drive, perseverance and commitment needed to see an initiative through to completion that skills alone simply cannot. It is the fullest expression of who we are and how we wish to serve the world and is at the heart of our own personal ‘why’.

    My ideal? Finding the intersection point between passion, purpose and skill.


    • startupcafe says:

      Sharon – thank you for your insightful comments, and stay tuned for the “counter-point” argument!


  2. Prakash Rama says:

    I tend to believe that passion drives us to achieve our vision for life. To achieve we need to acquire many supportive elements . Knowlege, skills, contacts and finance. Whatever we are truely passionate about will drive us to acquire and develop all of it that is needed to achieve including the skill that is so important. Passion motivates us to translate thoughts into action for which skill is needed.

    • startupcafe says:

      Prakash – thank you for sharing your views, especially on passion at the source of motivation. Please stay tuned for my “counter-point” argument!


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