I regret that I’ve given the career advice “follow your passion” to others before. I’ve become convinced that “follow your passion” is actually terrible advice.
Entrepreneur Mark Cuban agrees with me. Mark calls “follow your passion” the “worst advice you could ever give or get”.
Along with real world experience, the turning point for me on the question of passion was Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Newport begins by detailing the findings of Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor at Yale University. Wrzesniewski researched the issue of how workers viewed their careers. She found that “the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but, instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do”.
Things become more interesting with Newport’s look at the growth of, what he calls, “the passion hypothesis”. According to Google’s Ngram 2 viewer, authors didn’t use the term “follow your passion” until the 1970 Richard Bolles book, What Color is Your Parachute? The phrase grew steadily in popularity thereafter, used more and more often throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. But, then the phrase spiked into 3X greater usage in the 1990’s than the previous decade.
The result of this trend on our overall satisfaction with our careers? We are more unhappy with our careers than ever. Today, only 45% of Americans say they are satisfied with their careers compared to 61% in 1987. 64% of young people say that they are actively unhappy with their jobs which is the worst mark in the 20 year history of this particular survey.
The fact that this rise in the “passion hypothesis” correlates with a decline in career happiness doesn’t prove that one causes the other. But, it does seem plausible when mixed with Wrzesniewski’s research and the anecdotal evidence offered in the book. Newport outlines his own view on the issue as follows:
The more I studied the issue, the more I noticed that the passion hypothesis convinces people that somewhere there’s a magic “right” job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately recognize that this is the work they were meant to do. The problem, of course, is when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow, such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt.
A little more from Newport:
…our generation-spanning experiment with passion-centric career planning has been a failure. The more we focused on loving what we do, the less we ended up loving it.
So, if I Don’t Follow My Passion, What Should I Follow?
Cuban says you should follow your effort. Newport offers a more detailed version of the same basic message: Become really good at something.
Newport encourages the reader to take a “craftsman” mindset to his or her work. A craftsman is someone who doesn’t approach his task as a simple “job”, he seeks to improve both his skills and his results for the sheer reason of achieving excellence. In short, he wants to create a masterpiece.
You must take this mindset into your own field. Seek to do your job in a much better way than anyone else is willing or able to do it. Whether it’s technical work, accounting, sales, design, engineering, or any other field, you should approach your field with the mindset of a craftsman seeking to create a truly excellent body of work.
That will require you to develop better skills than anyone else. Work at this for long enough and it will eventually open the doors to greater income, more flexibility, more security, more control, more feeling of “making an impact”, and all the other components of a “great job” that we all want.
Doing these things consistently will eventually make you “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”, as the book title suggests. And you can only reach those highest levels of career happiness and fulfillment by reaching this skill level, according to Newport.
We will get more detailed on ways to tactics of the craftsman mindset in a forthcoming post, so, be sure to subscribe through the link at the bottom of this post if you’d like to learn more.
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