Malcolm Gladwell, journalist and writer for The New Yorker,
author of 5 best sellers, (Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, among others) and social science maven says, “You should pursue what interests you, not what you’re good at”. He goes on to say that passion gets you further than some dry notion of ability. Wham!
Follow your passion.
Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computers, is famously quoted as saying, “you’ve got to find what you love…. if you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, don’t settle”.
Follow your passion. This succinct sound bite has become a popular mantra for many searching for purpose and success in life.
Hard to Argue With Steve Jobs
But is it good counsel? Hard to argue with on the surface—it sounds exciting, motivating, and oh so modern and new age-y. Problem is, Jobs didn’t take his own advice. He didn’t start out passionate about designing computers, nor starting a business.
He was passionate about Zen Meditation.
Apple kind of evolved—into the most successful company in the world.
Follow your passion may seem hard to argue with, but Cal Newport does just that. Cal is a best selling author of 5 books on career success as well as a professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University. Not someone to be sneezed at.
He says follow your passion is bad advice. Full stop.
Cal claims most of us don’t have a pre-existing passion that’s useful or has career potential.
Popular passions may be football, or baking, or photography, or swimming, but these are interests that frequently can’t be made into a successful career. He quotes numerous real life examples of people failing at attempts to make a career out of their passions.
Rare and Valuable Skills Are What We Need
According to Cal, following a passion is a depressingly bad strategy for success in life.
He says a better strategy instead is to build up competence, and look for rare and valuable skills we can develop, and just simply get good at something. From there passion develops, not the other way around. As you get better at something, your passion for it grows.
What do you think? When I listen to these two experts, I agree with both. But if I examine my own life, then Cal Newport’s advice seems to make the most sense. I grew up without any discernible skills, but great enthusiasm for boys and dating, cats, makeup, and reading. Not much to work with there. Bad career prospects.
With Competence Comes Zeal
Over the years I began to develop skills in things I had an affinity for, but not a passion, to begin with. As my competence grew, my dedication and interests developed.
I think this is relevant at whatever stage of life you are in. I’m semi-retired, and have found Newport’s ideas motivating and help me to focus on what I really want to be doing at this time of my life. It has encouraged me to drop things I don’t enjoy and have never been good at—and not blink an eye.
What about you? Do you think it’s better to pursue your passion, or develop your skills, work hard at them, and watch your passion develop?
Check out Malcolm Gladwell and Cal Newport on YouTube: