Is “Follow Your Passion” Bad Advice?

Source: Google images.

Back in Jan 2013, I titled my very first post as “Discover Your True Passion (And Don’t Give Up Trying).”

Recently, people such as Mark Cuban and author Cal Newport are telling people that the advice to follow your passion is “totally bogus” (as this article headlined it).

Is it really totally bogus?

I have a one-word answer for that: linkbait!

First of all, ideas are plentiful, and most ideas are old — “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9). Have a read of any introductory book on philosophy and you will soon realise that what is touted as “new” or “latest” advice, is mostly wordsmithing — that is, writers creating sensation by positioning contrasting ideas to grab one’s attention. For example, “Steve Jobs is wrong! It’s not passion. It’s effort!”

The word passion can mean different things to different people (dictionary definitions not withstanding). What is important is a full grasp of what someone is saying about the idea of “following your passion.” Oftentimes, when people talk about following your passion, they also include the ideas of being good at it, putting in continual effort, and pushing through when times are hard.

I am pretty sure that Steve Jobs would not be advising a 5-footer to follow his passion to become a pro-basketball player. But should he give up on basketball? I would say, “no.” It may be possible that the 5-footer could continue to follow his passion of basketball, but then also realise that he has extroverted qualities and speaks well, and eventually a career as a sports commentator could open up for him.

So, I think it is unhelpful to say that “follow your passion is bogus advice.” Here is a more helpful way to put it:

“Don’t focus on the value your work offers you . . . focus on the value you produce through your work: how your actions are important, how you’re good at what you do, and how you’re connected to other people.” [Inc. magazine, quoting Cal Newport]

Cal Newport’s book emphasises skills over passion. Yet interestingly enough, goodreads says that “after making his case against passion, Newport sets out on a quest to discover the reality of how people end up loving [emphasis mine] what they do.”

Wait… isn’t “loving” what they do synonymous with having “passion” for what they do?

Erm… yes it is.

Like the linkbait, popular motivational books also have to grab at our attention to sell, and so they do catchy wordsmithing and make it look as though there is a new idea out there to be attained. But don’t let me dissuade you from buying it. For all I know, the content might be good. From what I am able to read, the emphasis on craftsmanship or skill sounds like a good one. And as a musician and a therapist, I know what craftsmanship is all about.

So, please DO DISCOVER YOUR TRUE PASSION, and DON’T GIVE UP TRYING! And while you are doing so, also consider where you’re naturally spending your effort, and what you are good at.  Mark Cuban is quoted as saying,

There are a lot of things I am passionate about. (But) the things I ended up being really good at were the things I found myself putting effort into. A lot of people talk about passion, but that’s really not what you need to focus on. You really need to evaluate and say, “OK, where am I putting in my time?”

Because when you look at where you put in your time, where you put in your effort, that tends to be the things that you are good at. And if you put in enough time, you tend to get really good at it.

If you put in enough time, and you get really good, I will give you a little secret: Nobody quits anything they are good at, because it is fun to be good [me: ooh… sounds like passion again]. It is fun to be one of the best. But in order to be one of the best, you have to put in effort.

Don’t fall for linkbaity ideas. Very rarely does an idea hold out as an either/or proposition; they are more often both/and. It is both passion and effort, and I’ll add in one more, with talent. Go forth and live a good life!

© Johnben Loy, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Johnben Loy and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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