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  • Writer's pictureKelly Adams

Is Passion Everything For a Career?

Updated: Sep 22, 2021

Two people looking at sheet of paper and working together

If you search for "how to find a career" on Google, most advice out there says to "follow your passion". I have never found this advice particularly helpful. I understand where it's coming from, if you're going to spend 40+ hours a week on a job you should at least enjoy it. But the problem was trying to find a passion that I could turn into a career. I'm passionate about a lot of things like reading, exercising and learning, but those aren't necessarily careers. If I worked at it I might be able to become a personal trainer or a productivity Youtuber but then it would feel like my hobbies would become part of my work. I wanted to avoid the trap of monetizing my hobbies (like I mentioned in my article, Avoiding the Trap of Monetizing your Hobbies). It felt like a catch-22 with trying to find work I enjoyed.

Another problem with finding a career you love is: most people don't know what they want to do for their career. While there's those who've always known their path in life, it's rare. And it's feels like young people are forced to choose a career path early on. In college, students choose their major, their "career" at a young age (typically at 18 or 19 years old). And I don't know about you but I am definitely a different person than when I was 18. That's why many people who graduate from college with a bachelor's degree don't even end up in the field they studied, like me.

People change and so do their interests. Traditional career paths expect workers to work their way up from an associate all the way to an executive, usually at one company for 20-30 years. That's not the reality anymore, most careers are not linear anymore. Even with that information, how does one find a compelling career they love?

Become So Good They Can't Ignore You

The book, So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport addresses this problem (see my book notes/summary here). Newport breaks up his journey towards finding work that you love into 4 rules. Which are summarized below:

  1. Rule #1: The passion hypothesis is the idea that the key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you're passionate about then find a job that matches your passion. But this is flawed because of a few reasons: (1) career passions are rare, most "passions" don't have any relation to work or education; (2) passion takes time; and (3) passion is a side effect of mastery. And this hypothesis is not only wrong but dangerous, it can lead a person to a career riddled with "confusion and doubt".

  2. Rule #2: What defines great work is that it has rare and valuable traits: creativity, impact, and control. If you want these in your own life, you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return, or career capital. In order to obtain this career capital you should adopt the craftsman mindset, focuses on what you can offer the world rather than what the world can offer you in the passion mindset. And the craftsman mindset focuses on deliberate practice to hone in your skills.

  3. Rule #3: Once you have this career capital you can invest in it by gaining control over the work you do and how you do it. There are two traps that people fall into when they are in pursuit of this control: (1) it's dangerous to try to gain more control without enough capital to back it up and (2) once you have the capital to back it up you are valuable enough to your employer that they will likely fight against you to gain more control. To test if you have enough career capital to succeed use the law of financial viability, if you are deciding to pursue a path that introduces more control in your work life, seek evidence of whether people are willing to pay for it, if yes then continue, if no then move on.

  4. Rule #4: Having a mission is one of the traits that define compelling careers, this can only be sought out for once you have enough career capital to back you up. The best ideas for these missions are found in the "adjacent possible", the region just beyond the cutting edge. And if you want to see if a project will work then make little bets, or small steps that generate concrete feedback, then use this feedback to figure out what to try next. You should also adopt a marketer's mindset and use the law of remarkability to figure out if this mission will succeed, it states in order to be remarkable you must (1) compel people to remark about it; and (2) it must be launched in a venue conductive to such remarking.

The author ends with: "working right trumps finding the right work".

So What Do We Do?

This idea of the passion hypothesis and how "finding your passion" is not only wrong but could be detrimental was a game changer for me. Now I'm not saying this book is the solution for finding work you love but it definitely gives another perspective on finding passionate work. It also validated my feelings of not knowing exactly what I want to do for a career.

But this brings me to a question, "is passion everything for a career?" do you necessarily need passion in order to be successful? Happy even? While you shouldn't loathe your job, I'm still unsure of whether or not you have a dying "passion" for your job either. I think some jobs are kind of neutral, you don't love or hate them, it's just there to pay the bills and you find other ways to be passionate in your life whether that be through charity work, volunteering, or some kind of hobby. I don't know if I have an answer to this question but I wanted to bring it up to see what your thoughts are.

I've decided to try to implement Newport's Rules for gaining career capital, because that idea is definitely worth testing out.

  • Research "rare and valuable" skills in my career, in this case it is data analytics. I'll do this by watching videos, asking other data analysts in the community, and reading articles.

  • I will develop a craftsman mindset and engage in deliberate practice to hone in these skills. But I won't just work on data analytics skills like SQL, Tableau or Python. I will also try to learn as much as I can from my current job (Paralegal/Assistant Office Manager) so I can build Range as well (view my article about building a diverse range of skillsets: Building Range), I'm going to become so good they can't ignore me.

  • I will be engaging in a similar method that Newport describes in Chapter 6: The Career Capitalist, Mike Jackson who is the Director at Westly Group, Cleantech Venture Capital. He also wasn't sure what he wanted to do in life. He used the craftsman mindset to do whatever he did really well, thus ensuring that he came away from each experience with as much career capital as possible. He never had elaborate plans for his career. Instead after each working experience, he would see who was interested in his expanded store of capital, then jump at whatever opportunity seemed most promising. He didn't have specific skills to learn he just became "so good they can't ignore you".

And while I do enjoy my work I won't be stressing out asking, "is this my passion?". Instead I'm just going to focus on building rare and valuable skills which will (hopefully) get me a job with rare and valuable traits and from that I can build passion.

What are some rare and valuable skills you could work on?

See you next week!


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