Posted on 14 May 2014 14:29
By Eric Troy
I've always questioned the conventional wisdom of following your passion. Yet, in just about every piece of advice about being successful at anything, the word passion seems to come up sooner or later. As I write this article, I realize that most people who would like to start a blog are finding advice such as you have to pick a topic you're passionate about. If you don't do that, we are told, you will lose interest, and not be good at writing about the topic you choose. Same thing with career choices. Find your passion and everything falls into place. If you're passionate about strength training or fitness in general, you have the main ingredient for success in that industry.
Sorry, but I call bullshit. Passion is often a sort of fantasy idea about how great a certain thing is, and if you could center your life around it, you'd be fulfilled and successful. Here is the problem: All the passion in the world won't make up for a lack of skill, and it takes more than just passion to achieve skill. It takes patience, for one thing. And passion, well, it makes us impatient.
People ask me how I got into strength training, assuming I must have a great passion for helping people train for strength. Well, I have a personal love for doing strength training and I enjoy helping people train, but it is not my passion. So why do I do it? Because I'm good at it! I found, somewhere along the line, that this was something for which I had a particular talent. I am very interested in all the things I have to learn about to get better. I find the subject-matter stimulating. I have a keen interest in critical thinking and all the sciences that inform the practice of training for strength. I am often told, as well, that I have a passion for the truth. I suppose that is true. I am gratified, beyond measure, when I have even a small hand in someone else's success. But am I passionate? No. If I was doing what I was passionate about, I might have to grapple with the very real possibility that I am not as good at that thing as I would like to imagine. And I might come out the other end extremely disillusioned. But who knows?
Well, I do know, beyond doubt, that some of the least skillful people are extremely passionate about the things they do, and the things they say. The people we view as charlatans or huxters are often passionate about the misleading advice they dispense and the worthless products they sell.
I'm not the first person to doubt this hoopla about passion. Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, became obsessed, if not passionate, about answering his own questions about the role of passion in choosing the right career path and being successful. The book's title is borrowed from Steve Martin, who once said his advice for aspiring entertainers was to "be so good they can't ignore you." In the book, Newport questions and then debunks the long-held belief that "following your passion" is to key to success. Not only does he not think that this is good advice, but he questions whether pre-existing passions are really all that common.
Some people do end up loving their work. How much did passion have to do with it? Newport proposes that passion may not only be a side-note, rather than a key, but that choosing a career based on following a passion can lead to anxiety and chronic job hopping. He then asks, if not passion, then what? How do people do it? How do they end up loving their work? Just about every young person I am in touch with is asking this question RIGHT NOW! And they aren't having a lot of fun doing it. Some of them are quite worried about finding their passion. Are they worried and anxious over the wrong thing?
After the introduction, which tells the story of the disillusionment of an aspiring Buddhist monk, and the author's reasons for researching the role of passion in happy and successful careers, the book is separated into "Rules" with provocative titles. Rule number one is Don't Follow Your Passion, followed by Chapter One, "The Passion of Steve Jobs" in which Newport questions the validity of the passion hypothesis, something Steve Jobs seemed to think was quite valid indeed. The conclusions may surprise you. Passion may come from a completely different place than you thought it did.
The questions are real. Unfortunately the rest of the book does become tedious, and there, to me, are no real actionable answers about how you can come to a career you love, and then find passion through it, except for what seems to be dull and uninspiring plodding and infinite patience.
The value here is in daring to ask the question in the first place. Newport challenges the sacred dogma of "finding your passion" and reveals a truth that our increasingly impatient society finds hard to accept. You have to be good at something first, then, perhaps, comes passion. You have to work hard on building knowledge and competence first, even if it is not always fun and inspiring. How to do that is anybody's to answer, but if you think that passion alone is going to pay the bills, you're probably a bit deluded by Steve Jobs style wisdom. No matter how much passion you have for personal training or strength training, it will not make you successful if you don't have the knowledge and skills necessary. And if you think that your passion will always lead you to the right knowledge and the right skills, well, it won't. Passion is a push, but it can push you down a blind alley as well as an open road to success. You have to make decisions based on more than your fantasy of a fulfilled life.
You may have something to give to the world, and it may be more than your passion.
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