Follow Your Passion is damn good advice

Posted on 12/02/2013 in misc

Cal Newport is a professor at Georgetown who recently wrote a book explaining why following your passion is bad advice. He also wrote a story on Huff Post recently on the same theme. In other news, Huff Post is passing off ads for books as editorial content. But that is a subject for another post, and probably not much of a surprise anyway.

Professor Newport refers back to Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame to support his thesis. However, his thesis exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of following your passion. I've watched dozens of episodes of Dirty Jobs. Every single person they ever profiled on that show was passionate. How the hell else do you get up and do some of those jobs every day? If you are going to do something every day for 20-40 years you have to be doing it for more than the paycheck. That is the very definition of passion. If you are happy your itch in life is being scratched. Every single one of those people got something big from the job, even if that something big was nothing more than financial security or a sense of accomplishment from helping others. If financial security is your passion and pig farming delivers it, you just followed your passion right through a pig farm.

Another example. I'm passionate about computers and technology. However, by the time I realized this I was seven years into a sales career with a mortgage and two kids. So I turned my passion for computers and software into a career selling technology. Yes, if I could do it all over again I would probably be a software engineer. However, a series of choices made that career difficult to pursue, but I stayed close and for 15+ years I've made a living as one of the few technology sales people that doesn't need a sales engineer within 3 feet at all times. I followed my passion, just not the obvious and direct route. I'm successful in tech sales because of my passion for technology. I'm not passionate about sales at all.

I would argue that most successful and happy people are following their passion. That passion may be money and power, and the person may be a royal asshole or Congressman, but they are in fact following their passion. That passion may be math, and the person may be an actuary. Maybe the passion is hiking and the person has a job that works a 4 X 10 day so that he can hit the trails every Friday morning. The number of passionate hikers is much larger than the number of available jobs at REI. A lot of those people will need a less direct route to fulfilling the passion. Most of us will probably end up taking the indirect route.

Newport ends with what he thinks is a more appropriate sound bite. "Don't follow your passion, let it follow you in your quest to become useful to the world."

I can't imagine a more dreadful existence than just being useful. Robots are useful. Tools are useful. People are passionate. Life is not a dress rehearsal. We get one shot on this earth. Find your passion. Follow it to wherever it leads you. And have fun doing it.

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