Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Follow Your Passion" is bad advice: how to think about passion in an entirely different way.

Many of us have read about success and on the valued concept of "following your passion" ; it sounds reasonable and somewhere in life - when deciding on a path for university, on some job interview, on a career assessment, on a coaching sessions or on some other occasion -  you've probably have had someone asking “What are you passionate about?”  . Passion is often considered as a prime-key for success, presumably providing the energy, resistance and determination required to pursue and accomplish goals.

Although I embrace the concept "love what you do, do what you love", pretty much along my whole life I have found the question above extremely difficult to answer! In fact, many times I have found myself in extremes; either being passionate about many things, or being passionate about very few. For sure, many years ago, both when deciding on an academic path as well as when searching for my first job, I was simply unable to define precisely what I was passionate about. And, along the years and the many people I know, I also have found a reasonable number that, just like me, also didn't had "a passion"  and never could have predicted where they are or do today. 
And, last but not the least, my experience makes me totally agree with Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert):  “It’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out (...) but when things go down the drain, the passion can drain too (...)" and closes by saying; " (..) objectively, my passion level moved with my success. Success caused passion more than passion caused success.”
Crossing these thoughts came the reading of Cal Newport's blog, where the author goes against the “Follow your Passion” principle, considered  biased from start by assuming that:
a) a person must have preexisting passion, and
b) if a person matches that passion to a job, then he /she will enjoy

Newport elaborates on more complex dynamics and debunks the Passion Hypothesis: passion is not something that you discover and then match a job to; it is, instead, something that grows (or not) over time.

Yes, Cal, I'm with you - for me and many of my close friends, preexisting passions have been rare and have had little (sometimes nothing) to do with what most of us have end up doing and/or loving about work. So, I have particularly found Newport arguments simple and refreshing (*) - on his book "So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work you Love", he definitely makes his case; it's a fantasy to expect to feel a burning passion about work and you'll be better instead if focusing on developing crucial skills, cultivating and creating high quality work. Matching your job to a preexisting passion does not matter, Newport says, because passion comes after putting in hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before.

In other words, WHAT YOU DO for a living IS MUCH LESS important than HOW YOU DO IT. 

Here is Newport's talk at Google, providing depth on his view.

And a bit more: on his new book "Deep Work", Newport states that it is deep work that makes you good and provides the sense of true fulfillment ... And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep, spending their days in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media. A step further in his approach, explaining the mind and brain dynamics, easily explained in this quick book review.

(*) Cal Newport is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science, born in 1982 and graduated in 2004.