Your 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.