Is “follow your passion” good advice?

I am not particularly fond of the idea of following your passion.  I feel like the idea in and of itself, indicates that everything will work out if you do something you like.  I think there is more to it than just doing something you like.

I would say that I am an individual who gravitates towards things that I am good at or because they are hard.  I earned a Math degree in college because I didn’t feel like changing my major (apathy).  Once that I finished that, I realized employers didn’t think I had to skills to work in software, so I went to grad school and picked up a Computer Science masters.  I am good at both, but I wouldn’t say I am passionate about either.  I enjoy solving puzzles and get as much enjoyment out of writing a computer program as I do painting a wall.  I am a fixer/builder by nature so I suppose this makes sense in context.

Attempting to follow my passion

After I left college, I assumed that I was going to be getting my dream job.  I really enjoyed programming and was hired as a computer programmer!  At first I was pretty happy, but as with all jobs there is always going to something that is a bummer about it.   I spent a lot of time worrying about what sucked and lamenting the lack of awesomeness about it.

I didn’t like it, but didn’t know why exactly.  As time moved on, my opinion has flipped, I enjoy it very much and thinking of doing anything else is fairly hard.  The transition just kind of happened.  Recently, I stumbled across a book that gave me a new perspective on what may have caused my frame of mind to change.

An interesting book!

I was perusing the web recently and I came across a blog called, The Art of Manliness, it’s basically a blog about being a man.  I found it when I was looking for reviews of the best brand of Reel Lawn Mower (mower with spinning blades).  Being several months ago, I promptly placed it in my RSS Feed and would read an article here and there.  Eventually, I came across a post that contained a link to the book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. (Look it up on Amazon (non-affiliate) or get it from the library like I did!).  I think it is worth a read, even if you disagree!

The idea behind the book is that the advice of “follow your passion”, is the worst advice that you can possibly give to someone or follow yourself.  The author, Cal Newport, then goes through a series of individuals in order to demonstrate why he believes this type of advice is bad and what common traits other individuals had that enabled them to find a job(calling is probably a better word here) they became passionate about (or very happy with).  Like any good engineer, he provided a problem and then the solution he felt got these people to where they wanted to be.

These steps include:

  1. Career Capital (Build a valuable skill set)
  2. Control
  3. Mission

The author believes that you must first create “Career Capital”, that is a skill set that is valuable and hard to come by.  Career Capital also includes demonstrating the skills to employers/whomever is applicable to it. Next, once you have acquired enough Career Capital, you are able to have more control over your work life.  This can mean anything from creating your own schedule, being autonomous, etc.  Finally, it is important to have a mission to work towards, which is hard to determine.  Most of the individuals took small steps which eventually lead them to where they didn’t know they wanted to be.

How this applied to me

After reading this book and reflecting on my own work life, I can see some of the parallels.

I got a Master’s Degree in Computer science.  After the first few years, I switched positions in my company to move over to a position that required more cutting edge technologies (that I didn’t know) and invested time outside of work to learn these skills.  This was kind of like a spider web, as I learned more about those skills, I began to pick up others that were related.

As my reputation grew at work, I was able to use the skills I learned outside of work to pitch new functionality to the customers.  This gave me enough control to effectively write my own ticket and use whatever tools I wanted (as long as I can provide a good reason why).  This is a big deal to me, because I get bored if I am not constantly pushing the envelope a little bit.

The two paragraphs above have happened repeatedly throughout my career, neither has led to a water shed event that has entered into my dream job.  However, I have opened various opportunities in my company and I could probably find jobs elsewhere if I was looking.

I am not 100% sure what my mission is though.   I have never thought about this before.  Something to chew on!  None of my goals (or future life) is linked to work, aside from the income it provides to fund those activities.  Maybe my mission is to be very successful at work so I can be successful at retirement 😉

Is following passion bad advice?

Disclaimer: Each individual is different.

For me, trying to follow my passion didn’t work.  I view work as something that needs to be done, so working is probably not a situation where following my passion will give me much of a “bump”.  I am not trying to rag on those who prefer to follow their passion.  There are people out there who are doing exactly what they loved and always loved.  The book includes some of those people, but demonstrates that their journey was far more deliberate than simply doing something they liked.

How about for investing?

Investing is very much like work for me.  I am not particularly passionate about investing, it is something that needs to be done.  I have  a mission ( 😉 ), in that I want to achieve financial freedom and be able to assist my siblings and retire maybe a little earlier.  This is a deliberate act of educating myself (reading company news, financials, conference calls etc) and being frugal enough to get ahead a little each month.

I am putting it together one dollar (or brick) at a time.  After all, I am builder so this is right up my alley.


What do you think?  Have you followed a similar path to doing something you love?


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4 Responses to Is “follow your passion” good advice?

  1. I actually just heard about that book while listening to Hal Elrod’s podcast. I think I tend to agree that following your passion, by itself, can be dangerous advice. The idea is that the money always comes when you follow your passion, but the problem is that when people look at it this way, they don’t always put in the work. That’s really just a hobby.

    So I can see good in the idea of following your passion, but there has to be guidelines around it and most importantly a game plan in place.

    Great read!

    • ILG says:

      Your spot on Kalen. Trying to reach a destination without a plan is very difficult and probably relies on a lot of luck. Most of us aren’t that lucky!

      Take care!

  2. ILG,

    Interesting topic!

    I may have to read the book sometime to get a feel for it.

    I personally disagree on this. I started out working in the auto industry making good money, but hated it. I kind of stumbled into writing for a living and I truly love it. If I ever had passions, investing and writing are it. To be able to combine them is a dream come true to me, but YMMV. I kind of feel like Warren Buffett where I’m “tap dancing to work”, except I don’t leave the house. Saves on gas money. 🙂

    But I don’t think I read anywhere in the above post what your real passions are. You thought you might like computer programming, but it turned out to be a bummer. I don’t know if that’s a good reason to swear off pursuing passions, but that’s just my opinion.

    But if you’re happy, then that’s all that matters. 🙂

    Best wishes!

    • ILG says:

      Thanks for the insightful post. Thinking a little more about it, the book goes from the reference of pursuing your passion before you are able to make it happen. For example, you began working at a car dealership, stumbled upon writing and became an investor. Instead of stopping your job immediately and pursuing writing full time, you began to acquire “Career Capital” by practicing writing, learning about investing and sharpening both skills regularly.

      This enabled you to leave your job (a little earlier than you had planned, if I remember correctly) and succeed at your desired “career”. Where “career”= your passions of making a living writing and investing.

      I think I should have made it more clear, that the career advice “Following your passion before you have the skills to succeed” is bad advice, provided you can make a living with your passion.

      As for my passions, I don’t think I have any that I want to pursue as a career. Health, Fitness and Investing are things I really like, but I don’t want to pursue as a career, because I don’t want them to be a job. If something works out with one then I maybe I will!

      Although, I do treat investing as more of a job. Since I am using capital to secure my future =)

      Take care!