Sometimes the Passion Theory Works

In the last blog, I discussed the main flaw of the “passion theory” where you cannot develop a passion for something unless you have been exposed to it.  There are times when the “passion theory” works. Sometimes you identify a talent you are passionate about at an early age and then spend the rest of your life mastering it; many famous musicians spend their entire life developing their skill of composing.  Sometimes you identify a passion later in your career, then figure out ways to pursue it. Being passionate about your career can bring lasting happiness, so you might want to pursue a career based on passion, however, consider the following:

  • Do you have the necessary skill set? It is crucial to make an initial assessment whether you have the capability to learn the necessary skills to follow your passion, because if you do not, you should not pursue it. I am 5 foot 7 inches so I cannot play basketball professionally, no matter how passionate I am about it.
  • Reassess yourself each step of the way. If you cannot differentiate yourself from others in the same field or you are not effectively learning the skills, you must decide to focus your efforts on something else; it might be difficult to drop a passion after you have already invested time into learning it, so you may want to channel your passion in other ways, but not as a career pursuit.
  • Do not internalize failure. One reason why Cal Newport (in “So Good They Cannot Ignore You”) advises against pursuing a career based on passion is because if you do not succeed you are left with discontent and disillusionment. You will ask yourself: Why did I not succeed? What should I do now?
  • Do not sacrifice a stable lifestyle. If you have a stable lifestyle with your current career, you should not drop what you are doing unless you can be assured you can harbor a failure in the pursuit of your passion. It is not worth falling behind on home mortgage payments and losing your home, because following a career passion did not work out.

Here are two examples from people in my life.

Sometimes your passion may be drawn from your strongest talents. My mother was recognized for her skill of drawing while she was a young girl in her art classes, and without question, being an artist would become her lifelong passion. She went to college for art studio, and after she graduated took lessons and joined organizations to develop her amazing talent. Then something interesting happened. During her mid-career, she started to travel the world and it became another passion of hers. Although it did not replace her passion as an artist, but rather transformed it; she now had new, unexplored subject matter: landscapes of settings where she had traveled across the world. In the last twenty years or so, much of her artwork takes you to the beautiful places and cultures where she has traveled. You can identify your passion at an early age, usually drawing from self-efficacy, and develop the necessary skills; sometimes you might add dimensions to your skills by incorporating experiences from other areas of your life. Becoming a master of your skill can be a lifelong endeavor.

One of my best friends from college majored in business and excelled in it; he probably made Dean’s list every semester in his academic career. After graduation, he landed a high-paying job for one of the top management consulting firms in the DC area and did great work with them. Following his future wife’s tracks, he moved back to his hometown and got a job with a reputable bank. After a couple of years, he decided his passion is teaching physical education – probably spurred from his wife being a teacher and his love of sports – so he quit his job and enrolled at a local college to get his teaching certification. He has been teaching physical education for more than a decade and is extremely happy with what he does. I am sure this is what he will be doing for the rest of his life. Keep an open-mind and self-reflect as you navigate through your career because you might have the opportunity to follow a passion that had not presented itself earlier in your life.

How my friend’s experience followed the four requirements for taking on a career passion (mentioned above). First, he had the capacity to learn the necessary skills to become certified in education. Second, while he was taking classes, he performed well by getting good grades and more importantly became creative and thought about what he was learning outside of the classroom. I remember talking in between basketball games where he would get animated and tell me about what he was learning. Third, he never experienced failure – though he was tested when he faced a highly competitive job market for teachers after he graduated. Finally, he never sacrificed losing his stable lifestyle. When he quit his job and enrolled to become a teacher, his wife was gainfully employed and he had put away extra money to help pay for his education.

You should not only consider your passion when you plan your career; at a minimum, you need to assess if you can build the necessary skill set to pursue it and be ready to drop it if you cannot.

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