If you are like the majority of people, you didn’t grow up with a preexisting passion, you didn’t know from one day to the next what you wanted to do or be, you just grew up. No matter what your particular circumstances, you had opportunities to do and try many things and when someone asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” you may have answered differently depending on the particular day or what had just happened in your life, and therein lies a problem for those who grew up in the last several decades, because “Follow your passion” or “Do what you love and the money will follow” has been the accepted sage advice from those in the know. Do that, and happiness and career success will descend upon you, or so they said and many still say. Dig a little deeper, though, and the advice falls apart. To begin, how can you follow your passion if you don’t have one, and further, how well have others done who’ve tried that route? Is it possible this idea is simply bad advice, or worse, dangerous? Perhaps passion comes as a result, something occurring much further along in your career and not up front as a guide. Cal Newport, a 30 year old computer scientist, thinks the “passion mindset” is wrong and he’s done a lot of work to flesh out the idea and he’s written not only a popular blog, but a book to explain.
Do you know someone who loves their work? How about you? Take a really close look at the route they followed, was it obvious up front, following a long held passion or was it a longer, more circuitous path? Did they follow their passion or become a craftsman?
The “passion mindset” keeps people looking outside of themselves and what they do, always looking for and expecting to find some “right” job they were “meant to do” to provide them with sunshine, blue skies and bliss. Failing to find it, or always wondering if this job is the one, always comparing their current job with the one that might be out there, they’re never happy, never committed to doing what is necessary to excel at the work they have.
The “craftsman mindset” looks at the world differently. Instead of “What can the world offer me?” it asks, “What can I offer the world?” The craftsman wonders how he can get really good at what he does, creating value with his work. In the process a funny thing happens, always trying to get better, always practicing, always learning, he actually does improve, so much so that people notice. He finds he enjoys what he does and people begin to seek him out. He begins to be his own harshest critic, seeing his own imperfections and working hard to push beyond them because now it matters, now he really cares if what he does is good or bad, in fact, good isn’t enough, he wants to be the best. Over time, he has become passionate about his work. Passion didn’t lead him to it, it was a result of it.
Cal wrote on his blog:
The Career Craftsman believes this process of career crafting always begins with the mastery of something rare and valuable. The traits that define great work (autonomy, creativity, impact, recognition) are rare and valuable themselves, and you need something to offer in return. Put another way: no one owes you a fulfilling job; you have to earn it.
The title of the book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, comes from an interview with comedian Steve Martin. When people would ask him for advice, expecting some specific cut and dried formula for success, he simply said to be so good they can’t ignore you. It’s not what people want to hear, because it sounds too much like hard work, and it is, but it’s a key piece of his success and that of so many others. It takes a long time, it takes deliberate practice, but if you’re persistent, it yields amazing results.
I’ve noticed hints of this idea popping up more frequently and it’s about time. The constant preoccupation with self discovery without ever getting down to the business of learning to do something useful has been an epidemic.
The idea that work should always be fun makes it impossible to do the hard deliberate practice necessary to develop skills in the first place. A recent book by Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and her hotly debated article in the Wall Street Journal, which had an enormous response (8800 comments!), details the upbringing of her two daughters by a very demanding Chinese mother here in the USA. Her daughters had to learn either the piano or the violin and the idea that it was hard and not fun brought the response, “Nothing worthwhile is fun until you’re good at it.” Haven’t you found that to be true?
Cal points out many pitfalls along the way in following the “skills first, passion later” method to success, and he interviews many people as examples of how they became passionate in work that differs from their initial aim. He also contrasts similar people who take the opposing routes of passion or craftsman and how it turned out. Interesting and revealing.
I have so often pointed out the skills many individuals featured on The Kneeslider have mastered after much hard work and practice and this subject is so close to my heart. I’ve many times spoken to company owners and managers and heard how their new hires expect the perfect job, giving them everything they require without, in return, any responsibility on their part to actually do the work for which they were hired or even to learn to create value.
With the publication of this book, perhaps the tide will begin to turn, perhaps we’ll get past this phase of too many expectations of rewards without work. Maybe we can take the mystery away from the process followed by those who have found work they love and became passionate about while so many struggle to figure out what type of work that might be in their own lives. I certainly hope so.
I recommend you follow Cal’s blog Study Hacks, especially his older articles where he explains this idea as it developed, and read this book. Give a copy to your kids, too. So Good They Can’t Ignore You, not a bad idea, don’t you think?