In 2011, I wrote about Career, Passion, Balance and Happiness in response to my friend’s question on the nagging problem of doing a job with high financial gain versus pursuing your passion. I referenced some thoughts from Cal Newport on the dangers of following your passion. Last night, I read another Newport post on why ‘follow your passion’ is bizarre advice, and thought I’d expand my thoughts on the whole issue.
How I found my ‘passion’
I never knew I was going to enter the field of graphic design; it wasn’t even an option in my mind until I came across it at college. My first attempts at designing were not because of some burning passion, but because I honestly preferred to tinker with things than party. And that was my thing, instead of going out with my friends to party, I would sit in my dorm most nights and write…thoughts, feelings and ideas on how I wanted to grow and improve. If I didn’t feel like writing, I would read, or make beats…eventually I started playing around with Photoshop. Because of my background or general predisposition to visual art (I was pretty good at drawing/painting as a kid), I guess it took a hold of me quite quickly. Another thing that made it stick was the fact I saw myself as the visual guy and pretty soon, people started asking me to design things for them. So with my utterly rudimentary skills in Photoshop, I started working on real life projects very early. One project snowballed into another and soon I was gathering tutorials, looking at magazines and learning about design on my own…and I was hooked, and I developed a passion.
How I chose a ‘career’
Circa 2008/2009, I was studying architecture, dabbling in graphic design and choreographing hip-hop dance. At this time, I was actually known more for dancing than design. I knew I really didn’t like doing architecture, and I needed to transition into something I enjoyed and could work at to become good in. At this point, it was between dance and design. I was very pragmatic about the whole thing. The possibility of growth in dance was limited, I mean, what happens when pop locking and krumping goes out of style? Can I keep dancing in my late 20s and 30s and on? What do I do after that point? Teach? How much money can I even make off that? On the other hand, design seemed like the sort of thing I could carry on into my 70s…if I lived that long. And as a designer you have a much wider sphere to work in and there are more things you can do. So I chose design. I figured as a person with a lot of drive, I could just throw myself into it and work at becoming as good as I can and make something out of it.
My point here is that even though I was probably more passionate about dance than design at that point, dance would not have survived becoming a career for me, but design could. So passion is not the sole determinant of a career path.
Follow your passion?
Newport approaches the whole passion argument with the view that we should not assume that we are hard-wired for a specific economic pursuit, and spend all our time being dissatisfied trying to find that one magic job that we are passionate about. The whole premise of his latest book is that happiness and fulfilment in careers (things we all want very much) have nothing to do with a pre-existing passion. Instead fulfillment is connected to things like autonomy, competence, etc.
And I agree.
I love being a graphic designer because I work freelance (have control over my time and how I use it), I’m good at it (competence), and as a field it gives me options on where to grow into and what to do with it. My developing a passion for design has helped me to put the hours in to grow my skill.
While pre-existing passion can be a great starting point for a career, many people now feel that to be happy in their work, they need to first identify that burning passion. Which becomes very tricky, because not many people can easily point to a passion, and even when they do, not every passion can translate into a career. Plus, we often have it backwards; passion only develops after you’ve put in the time to grasp the skill.
I think the problem with passion is our misunderstanding of its role, and its confusion with mere interest. If you mix interest with competence and a compelling reason, you begin to get passion. The rallying cry behind the ‘passion movement’ is really less about jobs and more about life. The question is are you turned on, tuned in and tapped into life? The experience of being really into something and diving into it to master it and serve with it is much preferable to just grinding out a bland existence at some random job. Living passionately has more to do with your values and the way you approach life than the actual thing you do.
Follow your passion doesn’t necessarily mean make your passion your job. It means fill your life with more passion. Nurture your soul, pay attention to your longings and grow them. Passions can be investigated as jobs or they can become side projects and hobbies. Passions are the fuel to life. Not all passions should become jobs, not every passion can survive becoming a job. Because no matter how passionate you are about something, a job is still a job. It won’t be 100% perfect. So in career choice, yes don’t blindly follow passion, be strategic about it.
Getting rich off your passion
The cardinal rule of making money is find a way to take people’s money from them, or, make things or do things that people would pay for. Passion focuses on you, what you like to do. To make money, you have to focus on the customer. Making your passion into a career means finding a way to make your passions serve the interests of others. To make a living or get rich off your passion, you have to live in the sweet spot, the intersection where your passion is something people would pay for. Otherwise just get a job that pays you enough to live on and leaves you enough time to indulge in your passions in your off time. That is what hobbies are for. And if you want a job you enjoy, it makes more sense to cultivate the traits that foster job satisfaction rather than blindly following passion wherever it leads you.
Never buy the lie that your job is “just a job.” Nothing you do 40 hours a week is just a job. That’s just your life. – Jon Acuff