Why following your passion is terrible career advice
If you don’t know what you’re passionate about, don’t worry about it.
That’s what Cal Newport is telling readers of his new book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love.
In his book, Newport writes about an, “immensely appealing piece of popular career advice,” which he calls “the passion hypothesis” in a Fast Company article. You’ve heard it before: do what you love and you’ll love what you do; find out what you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life; in summary, follow your passion and you’ll be happy and successful. Newport argues that this advice, which assumes that everyone has a passion to be discovered, breeds guilt and anxiety by instilling in us a fear that we might be missing out on our true career calling.
If you’re one of the lucky few who have a passion that paves the way to an industry or career choice, following your passion makes sense. But, asks Newport, what about the rest of us?
When I am told to “follow my passion” (a common command for a twentysomething-year-old) I start to feel unsure, uncommitted and indecisive about my career choices. I question if I am doing what I am meant to be doing. I feel anxious about the professional success I could be achieving if I knew what I was passionate about, because, as we’re so often told, successful people are passionate people.
To debunk the “follow you passion” variety of career advice, Newport (in The New York Times) cites decades of research supporting the following: “The traits that lead people to love their work are general and have little to do with a job’s specifics. These traits include a sense of autonomy and the feeling that you’re good at what you do and are having an impact on the world….These traits can be found in many jobs, but they have to be earned.”
For someone who is content with, but not passionate about, their occupation or industry, Newport’s advice could be the ticket to occupational success. Rather than dipping your toe into several pools of career potential or constantly doubting your career choices, Newport advises the unsure to ask “What am I offering this job?” rather than, “What is this job offering me?”
For the passionless, career happiness and success can come from a trio of hard work, education and experience, which eventually lead to a feeling of engagement and a sense of value (maybe even passion) about your job. The grass may indeed be greener on the other side of the fence, but watering your own lawn can distract you from looking.