I remember being a young, hopeful college student gearing up for the workforce. Out of all the career advice I got, probably the most popular was: “Follow your passion! Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!”
But is it really that simple? Or is “follow your dreams” just an easy and convenient thing to say?
According So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport, it is possible to have a fulfilling career, but it doesn’t necessarily come from following your passion or doing what you love. Instead, it comes from something else entirely.
What is your passion?
When I was 10 years old, I wanted to be a professional soccer player. The only problem was that I totally SUCKED at soccer and knew absolutely NOTHING about it. To be honest, I didn’t care about soccer – I just liked getting Capri Suns after a game.
Then, at 17, I wanted to be a creative writer. That is, until someone told me that writers don’t make any money. I ended up choosing the next closest relative to writing: civil engineering. Although I was never passionate about engineering (we never got Capri Suns), I think it worked out better for me than writing or soccer.
The truth is that our interests change over time, and the danger in following our passion is that most of us don’t even know our true passion.
Sure, we may like doing a creative hobby like painting, writing, or playing guitar, but is that really passion, or just enjoyment? And painting for fun is much different than painting to pay your bills; would our hobbies still be so enjoyable if they became obligations?
(Of course, it’s possible to make a good living doing any of these things, but the key is in having the right strategy for getting established in these highly competitive fields. More on this in an upcoming post.)
If we constantly flit between various interests or jobs hoping to stumble upon one we love 100% of the time and that we’d do for free (a common definition for “passion”), we may be chasing an unrealistic standard.
The hope of finding immediate passion can cause us to discard opportunities too quickly and miss out on discovering new interests (or passions) that we never knew were there.
For example, if Steve Jobs had simply followed his passion for Eastern spirituality, he’d probably be living in a Zen temple under the name Pana-Kamanana and teaching Chocolate Yoga. Instead, he diverged from his “passion” and found a new (and more lucrative) passion in developing technology.
Sometimes it’s better to follow a bulletproof strategy than it is to follow the first available interest we think we’re passionate about.
How to feel motivated.
The theory of motivation says motivation comes from meeting three psychological needs:
- Autonomy: having control over your day; feeling your actions are important
- Competence: being good at what you do
- Relatedness: having a good relationship with your coworkers
But wait a minute, Curtis! You forgot to mention a salary, pension, or having the word “manager” in your title!
That’s because although salary and benefits do matter, they are not linked to passion or fulfillment.
If we start feeling unmotivated at work, instead of quitting or moaning that we never “followed our passion,” we should ask ourselves which of our three needs is not being met:
- Do we feel incompetent and stupid and thus dread going to work?
- Are too many hours at the office wearing us down?
- Do we feel isolated or excluded from our coworkers?
Finding a way to meet all three needs may be a lot easier than quitting and finding a new job. Besides, if the cause of our struggle is our own perspective or attitude, then no matter how many jobs we try, we’ll still run into the same problems.
People don’t leave jobs; they leave managers.
When it’s time to leave.
It may be time to leave your current job if:
- There is no opportunity to advance or distinguish yourself
- The work is meaningless or destructive
- You cannot get along with your coworkers or manager
However, before you channel your inner George Costanza and call your boss a laughingstock to his face, it’s important to have a plan. You can:
- Have another job already lined up
- Start your own business
- Quit and then show up to work Monday morning and act like nothing ever happened
If you choose the first option and search for a new job, then ensure you have built up your “career capital,” or your value as an employee.
This means that you possess relevant and specialized skills that your employer wants and needs. In the eyes of a potential employer, if you can solve their problems, THEY WILL LOVE YOU (to the extent that HR will allow).
If you choose the second option and start a business, then it’s important that your business has been rigorously tested and proven to be viable.
If you’ve ever watched ABC’s Shark Tank, you’ve seen the wide variety of business ideas pitched by passionate entrepreneurs who quit their day jobs and put everything from their life savings to their child’s college tuition fund into getting their business off the ground.
But no matter the person, product, or passion, the most important question any of the Sharks ask: “What are your sales?”
Sure, passion and originality are important, but without sales, nothing else matters. Unless their business makes money, it’s bogus!
It’s fun to daydream about quitting, but it’s not so fun to go broke and have to move back in with your parents. So have a plan.
Why I hate basketball.
In seventh grade, I made a fool of myself trying out for the basketball team. I was the short, scrawny kid that couldn’t even make a layup let alone score a touchdown. To be honest, I didn’t care about basketball – I just wanted the team jacket with my last name on the back.
Since then, I’ve always had an irrational hatred for basketball. Why? Because I suck at it.
Well, we all like doing things that we’re good at doing, and we tend to dislike things we suck at. After all, being good at something makes us feel capable, important, and proud.
But what’s interesting is that passion is not always found in the activities or hobbies we presently enjoy doing; instead, passion is found in the depths of mastery.
Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote that mastery requires at least 10,000 hours of purposeful practice (also see my article on the myth of talent).
Purposeful practice isn’t just ordinary practice. Purposeful practice is strategic and challenging, and is typically the opposite of enjoyable. To practice with purpose, we should target specific skills relevant to the goals we want to reach, rather than just doing random activities or what we’re already good at.
The progress we make toward mastery is what gives us passion.
Live for the conclusion!
So if passion comes from progress, maybe the reason people “live for the weekend” is that they lack the feeling of improving and working towards an inspiring goal. If that’s true then it is up to us to change. Once we stop chasing the illusion of passion and instead choose to develop our skills at something meaningful and constructive, we may discover that rather than us having to find our passion, our passion instead finds us.
***To learn more about how to feel passion for your work, check out So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport.***
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