The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

June 3, 2013

Following Your Passion – NOT Dead Wrong

By Steve Motenko

In a recent, trending blog post, author Cal Newport says the old adage “follow your passion” is “the worst career advice.”

Maybe he’s going over the top to attract readers, but he’s so misguided, I had to chime in.  Most of us don’t honor our intuition, our values, our life energy anywhere near enough to live a fulfilled – and fully contributing – life.  Now he’s suggesting do less of it?

To be fair, he makes several useful points:

  • For most of us, there isn’t “one true calling”
  • Be flexible, rather than exclusive, in your career and job searches – don’t hold out for unreasonably narrow opportunities.
  • Be realistic about your own skill set.
  • Don’t force yourself to identify a passion when you can’t find one inside you.

But a number of his ideas are egregious.  He says:

There’s little evidence that most people have pre-existing passions that can be transformed into a career

Okay, some people don’t have pre-existing passions.  Others have them but “there’s little evidence” they can be turned into careers?  Is this because they’ve tried and failed – or because they haven’t even tried?  His statement is unclear – it can lead to different conclusions. Maybe if more of us took the time to find and honor our passions we would do what it takes to turn them into careers.  It’s not always possible.  But it’s most often fear that keeps us from trying.

…  studies on workplace motivation and satisfaction point toward the importance of more general traits like autonomy and a feeling of competence — traits that can be cultivated in many different jobs

Well, yeah, duh, but autonomy and competence are way more likely to be cultivated if you’ve got a natural interest in the content of the job!  Hire me as an accountant and I don’t care how much “autonomy” you give me – I’ll be miserable.  My housekeeper has tons of “autonomy” – I wouldn’t have an ounce of “motivation and satisfaction” in her job.

And “competence” – how competent are you going to be at a job you have no passion for?

There’s no perfect position waiting for you to discover… 

I agree that there’s no perfect position for you, and if you think there is, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.  Again, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t identify what you do and don’t love to do – and the conditions in which you would thrive doing them.

Turn your attention toward getting the most out of what you have now

This is a recipe for making lemonade out of lemons, for making the best of a bad situation.  It’s good advice, but I won’t resign myself long-term to lemons, and neither should you.

Or maybe I’m “dead wrong”!  What do you think?


About the Author

Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

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