"Follow Your Passion," Really?

The process of trying to say something dignifies and improves a person. Writer George Saunders

Cal Newport writes in the New York Times about the downside of the advice, "follow your passion:"

To a small group of people, this advice makes sense, because they have a clear passion. Maybe they’ve always wanted to be doctors, writers, musicians and so on, and can’t imagine being anything else.

But this philosophy puts a lot of pressure on the rest of us — and demands long deliberation. If we’re not careful, it tells us, we may end up missing our true calling. And even after we make a choice, we’re still not free from its effects. Every time our work becomes hard, we are pushed toward an existential crisis, centered on what for many is an obnoxiously unanswerable question: 'Is this what I’m really meant to be doing?' This constant doubt generates anxiety and chronic job-hopping.

When the IdeaFestival says "stay curious," what should that mean when it comes to careers? The demonstrable fact that the employer/employee compact that prevailed as recently as 20 years ago has broken down means most of us will do a variety of work over our lifetimes. You may want an employer, but the employer may not want you. And, as Newport suggests, for all but a select few, knowing our passions, wants and drives is just not that obvious. It takes effort and a willingness to pay attention over a sustained period of time because our interior lives generally don't offer up an honest accounting on demand.

The problem, to get really personal, is my passions can imagine wanting to be something or someone else - explorer, ace pilot, astronaut, a studio furniture maker of world renown, and other writers and poets too numerous to mention. What Newport is saying is that most of us our passions, when they're not shining a bright light on our perceived failures, come and go. To do something that matters will take work, and when a competency and purpose has matured professional fulfillment has a fighting chance.

It's the writing that matters.

If you have a spare twenty minutes today, watch the video of Cal Newport shared on the 99U Vimeo channel.