How many of us have heard career advice that goes like this?
“Follow your passion and success will follow.”
“Just follow your heart.”
“Your passion will lead you where you need to be.”
“Pursue your dreams first.”
How nice that sounds… but what does it look like in real life?
Often this kind of chuck-everything-to-the-wind career advice leads people with otherwise stable situations to hastily sacrifice their current job and location in order to chase their dream. For many of us creative types, this means moving to L.A. or New York. It means trading a steady source of income for an audition slot. It means aborting whatever skills you were learning at your current job because you think you can make enough money off of a different set of skills—even if those skills aren’t exactly in demand.
“Follow your passion.”
How often does it work out as poetically as they make it sound? Well, there’s a reason we have the term “starving artist.” Not to say that success never happens this way, but those cases tend to be the exception. Although you wouldn’t know it based on how often you hear the mantra.
Newport first gives this mantra about passion a name: he calls it “the passion hypothesis.” The hypothesis, as he explains it, is the idea that unlocking your one true passion is the key to finding meaningful work. As soon as you identify what you’re passionate about, all you have to do is chase that dream—even if that means giving everything up in the meantime. Oh yeah, and you’ll be miserable until you acquire that dream job.
Here’s what Newport has to say about this idea:
“The passion hypothesis is not just wrong, it’s also dangerous. Telling someone to ‘follow their passion’ is not just an act of innocent optimism, but potentially the foundation for a career riddled with confusion and angst.”So Good They Can’t Ignore You, p. 24
Even though I had subscribed to the passion hypothesis for many years, this statement resonated with me deeply.
How often do I question whether my current job is valuable? How often do I assume that every hour spent outside of my creative projects is an hour wasted? How often do I lament the fact that I’m not yet living my “dream?”
The fact is, believing your job satisfaction rides on your ability to achieve that one dream job that satisfies your one true passion is a recipe for frustration when either
While there’s so much more career advice in Newport’s book that I can’t go into now, the main takeaway I want to share with my fellow creators is this:
Rather than suddenly chucking my current position and “going for the gold,” I should learn as many relevant skills as possible from my current job—skills that can take me to the next stepping stone, and eventually toward my dream.
As much as I sometimes want to give everything else up and be a full-time freelance writer, that will not pay bills. What’s more, is it will deprive me of the kind of resume-worthy experiences that might someday impress a gatekeeper in my desired industry. As glamorous as it sounds, the expression “going for the gold” often means entering a competitive environment for which you are unprepared—because your inventory of skills is not yet thoroughly developed. Cal Newport does not suggest you forget about your existing passions and just stay complacent wherever you are now. Instead, he suggests that the best thing you can do to advance your passion is to invest in acquiring relevant skills wherever you are now—skills that will help get you closer to where you want to be. Then, when you strike out for something new, you have fine-tuned skills that will make you an asset to the folks you want to impress.
Think about it: in the world of networking, no one is just out looking to do free favors. Everyone wants something in return—especially gatekeepers. It logically follows that if you have a set of well-developed skills from one of your previous jobs, you have a chance to cash those skills in when you find someone in your field of interest who needs those skills. In other words, you should focus on becoming so good at something that no gatekeeper can ignore you.
I’ll use myself as an example:
Right now I work in marketing/communications.
Where I want to work is in the film industry—specifically as a screenwriter.
So my approach, following Newport’s advice, is to grow my communications skills to the point where someone in the film industry might actually have use for me. And that is exactly what I am working on.
In the meantime, I highly recommend that everyone looking for direction in their careers pick up a copy of So Good they Can’t Ignore You. I was blown away by how practical and relatable the material in this book was, and I’m sure you will be too.
What do you think?
Do you have one specific passion that you’re looking to fulfill in a dream job?
What is that dream job for you? What are you doing now to work towards it?