Don’t Follow Your Passion?
I started thinking about the advice to follow your passions as a way to find career success and satisfaction earlier this year when I read
“So Good they Can’t Ignore You – Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work.” by educator and writer Cal Newport.
Newport argues passionately about the perils of following your Passion, and makes a strong case for building skills as the way towards job satisfaction. Skills, not passion, he says can earn you a great job with the factors that provide job satisfaction, which are:
He says that the advice to choose our career by following our passions has harmed us; leaving people endlessly searching for what their “true” calling is, or trying to scrape together a living doing what should rightly be a hobby.
Follow Your Passions?
Given his premise, I thought it was fascinating, as I continued to read, that he presented example after example of people following their passions and becoming successful and happy in their careers. Yet he was using those examples to bolster his claim that we should not follow our passions.
How could he and I look at the same evidence and see it so differently?
Passion is on a Continuum
We must listen to the whispers of interest and curiosity whether or not we hear the roar of passion.
Newport seems to conceptualize passion as an all consuming flame. And he concedes that some few people like athletes and musicians might have started their careers with this single minded desire and focus. But for the rest of us, Newport writes, we can’t use passion to guide our way. We have to find other ways into passion.
I agree that there are other ways into passion than just noticing our innate desires. However, we all do have innate desires towards activities and fields of study; it’s just that on the less intense end of the spectrum they manifest themselves as interests or curiosities. It is one of the keys to a fulfilled life to notice those interests and curiosities and follow them out even if they don’t seem logical.
Passion is not Destiny
Newport conflates passion with destiny. Embedded in his warnings about passion are warnings about believing we need to find our one true calling, our one true path.
before reading Cal Newport’s book, I don’t know if I would have been able understand the impact of what Newport was sharing.
In “The Path,” Puett writes explicitly about our Western presumption that there is a calling we must find, a destiny. Puett contrasts this belief with the teachings of Chinese philosophers. Like Newport, Puett argues that the belief in destiny has made our live less fulfilling and limited us. I found this idea incredibly intriguing and will share more about destiny in Part Four of this series about following our passions.
Unlike Newport, Puett separates the idea of passion and desire from destiny. This is important because they are two different concepts. To be fair, in the epilogue of “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” Newport explicitly talks about destiny as well.
A Side Note About Order and Chaos
In an area I won’t be covering in this series, but it’s very intriguing: Newport and Puett disagree on the idea of orderliness and chaos. Newport is arguing for making a logical choice in order to get a good result. Puett argues that the world is chaotic and you aren’t assured of a good result, so the wisest course is to follow your interests and curiosities – among many other courses of action he suggests.
My opinion? I’m not sure how the universe works. I do my best to make logical choices that will have good results. AND, in my experience, following my interests and curiosities even when they haven’t seemed logical have led to wonderful results.
How can passion help us answer the question, “What’s next?”
If we don’t start with passion, can we gain it? If so, how? Does passion plus skill lead to success? Or does skill lead to success which leads to passion?
In Part Two, we’ll look at the Passion Continuum. Later, we’ll discuss various ways into passion and how we can use passion as a guide.
The Passion Series
Part One: Follow Your Passion?
Part Two: Where Are You on The Passion Continuum?
Part Three: Six Sure Fire Ways to Get More Interested