Follow Your Passion, Or Follow Your Ability?

Follow Your Passion, Or Follow Your Ability?

Education February 06, 2014 / By Annie Murphy Paul
Follow Your Passion, Or Follow Your Ability?

"Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you in your quest to achieve mastery.”—Cal Newport, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

“The conventional wisdom on career success—follow your passion—is seriously flawed. It not only fails to describe how most people actually end up with compelling careers, but for many people it can actually make things worse: leading the chronic job shifting and unrelenting angst when one’s reality inevitably falls short of the dream. But if ‘follow your passion’ is bad advice, what should we do instead? The answer begins with recognizing the importance of ability. The things that make a great job great are rare and valuable. If you want them in your working life, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return. In other words, you need to be good at something before you can expect a good job. This argument flips conventional wisdom. It relegates passion to the sidelines, claiming that this feeling is an epiphenomenon of a working life well lived. Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you in your quest to achieve mastery.”—Cal NewportSo Good They Can’t Ignore You.

I think Newport, an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University, makes a useful point here. I’ve seen many people flounder in their professional lives because they were pursuing some ephemeral sense of “passion” that their jobs never seemed to deliver.

But I also want to supplement Newport’s observations with another point: passionate interest in a subject actually helps us become “good at something.” It helps us achieve that all-important mastery more easily and effectively (as I write in “The Power of Interest,” here). Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that passion and ability often act in a reciprocal fashion: we first become interested in something, which then motivates us to become knowledgeable and skilled in regard to it; as our knowledge and skills grow, we become still more interested in the subject, willing to invest ourselves in getting ever better at the endeavor we love. Passion and ability grow in tandem.

This article originally appeared at The Brilliant Report

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