Why 'Follow Your Passion' Is The Worst Advice

follow your passion bad advice

By Cal Newport for AOL Jobs

Do you want to love what you do for a living? Follow your passion! This advice dominates our current thinking on careers and happiness. It also happens to be dead wrong. I don't disagree with the goal of feeling passionate about your work, but based on the years I've spent researching and writing on this topic, I do disagree with the strategy of identifying a passion in advance.

For one thing, there's little evidence that most people have pre-existing passions that can be transformed into a career. For another, decades of 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. In other words, there's no perfect position waiting for you to discover. Instead of daydreaming about what else is out there, turn your attention toward getting the most out of what you have now. Aim to cultivate passion, not follow it.

Here are three strategies that will help...

Strategy No. 1: Focus on what you offer your job, not what your job offers you.

In studying the issue of workplace satisfaction, one observation came up time and again: the more valuable you are to your organization, the more satisfaction you'll get out of your job. There are two explanations for this rule. First, as generations of craftsman can attest, a feeling of competence is exceptionally rewarding. Second, the more value you offer, the more freedom you gain over what you do and how you do it. This autonomy is also a source of great satisfaction. The implication is that when you're new to a job, you should never ask, "do I love this?" Because you're new, you're not yet very valuable, which means you're not yet feeling the competence and autonomy that leads to passion.

Instead, the right question to ask is, "how do I get better?" Focusing on what you offer your job, not what your job offers you, provides the shortest path to a compelling career.

More: 9 Great Second Careers That Don't Require Four-Year Degrees

Strategy No. 2: Leverage your value.

Becoming valuable to your organization, as argued above, can bring you a satisfying feeling of competence and autonomy. But those who end up with most exceptional career paths don't stop at simply becoming good. Once they've established real value, they use it as leverage to move closer to their dream lifestyle. If you crave simplicity, for example, you might leverage your value to relocated somewhere idyllic, working remotely at a high-hourly rate only a few days out of the week. On the other hand, if you crave action and power, you might leverage your value to take control of a new entrepreneurial unit within your organization, keeping you in the center of something exciting.

This strategy sounds simple, but it's easy to get wrong. Many try to jump into a dream lifestyle before they have real value to back it up, leading to failure. Moving to a cabin in Maine to write books, for example, might sound great, but if you haven't actually put in the years required to become a good writer, it's not a sustainable plan. On the other hand, many others never step up and leverage their value once they've earned it. Be patient in building skills, but then recognize and exploit your value once earned.

Strategy No. 3: Seek flexibility, not specificity.

The advantage of this career philosophy is that it frees you from the obligation to find your one true calling, as there are many different jobs can be transformed into a source of passion. It doesn't necessarily hold, however, that all jobs are made equal.

A general rule of thumb that works well when choosing between positions, or deciding whether to leave a current position, is to prioritize flexibility. Ask yourself the following: "Will this job offer me interesting options if I start to become really good at what I do?" The more you answer in the positive, the better the position. Don't obsess over the specifics of what you'd be doing-as this will change as your career progresses and you gain more leverage-instead set yourself up in an environment that will be most easily crafted as you develop your ability.

Cal Newport is the author of So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love (Business Plus). He is currently on the faculty at Georgetown University and writes the popular advice blog, Study Hacks. For more on Cal, please visit his website.

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Richard Hanley Jr.

That's bullshit.

I belive that anyone can make a living from something they enjoy doing. It's hard work, but it can be done.

Here's my story:

December 13 2012 at 12:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This article has some good points on "how to make the best of your un-passionate job", but has no good points supporting why people shouldn't follow their passions. I guess many other people also agree that this article has a bad title, and a bad picture to go with it. Many highly successful people have given the advice, "do what you love", "enjoy what you do", and "follow your passion". So, who is really wrong? My guess, the writer of this article. Check out this article; Follow Your Passions And Success Will Follow -> http://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/12/passion-success.asp

September 18 2012 at 12:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
raoul mangoensentono

I do not completely agree. I think it's follow your passion, but educate and train yourself. Then be honest and know that your good (or not good) at what you do.
It's like when I look at talent shows like American Idols or So you think you can dance. There are some people that just don't need the encouragement, but the hard truth. That's not singing and not dancing.
I was passionate about gaming but never the best, so I quit wanting to be a gametester. I was passionate about computers and coding and now I work as a softwaredeveloper at Qualogy. I educated myself and followed my passion. My hobby is my job and I love it.

September 18 2012 at 7:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Whose idea was it to separate practical demands from one's passions? The reality is that most jobs are love/hate relationships. Once we accept this, good things start to happen.

September 17 2012 at 11:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In this economy you have to have a job with benefits, good benefits. Many places may have benefits but that is limited to what is included. So many people get sick and then panic because they can't get the treatments or meds they need to deal with their health. I wonder how many people can get good benefits these days by following their passions?

September 17 2012 at 10:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

focus on what you offer the company? make yourself valuable to the company? in this climate no matter how valuable you perceive yourself to be nobody is indispendable so why not get what you can from your job? newsflash most people arent crazy about their jobs but unless you hit the lottery you have to work.

September 17 2012 at 8:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The picture is funny, a 20 something who obviously isnt too efficient at guitar looking at his hand's attempting a bar chord, I guess the point is at his age maybe he is better off starting in the mailroom some place than putting together a band since he probably cant play an entire song the whole way through. As he says "Mom I dont want a job because this is my passion".

September 17 2012 at 7:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why do I get the feeling the only thing the writer thinks people can be passionate about are careers like music, acting, art?

People can have passions for stable careers too. There are many doctors, cops, vets etc that love what they do.

September 17 2012 at 6:57 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I couldn't disagree with a feature more-I have always been passionate about writing and after being a stay home mom, landed a freelance writing job with a local newspaper-I now work for several newspapers, set my own hours and make my own schedule, PLUS, I make enough money that I was able to put both of my children through college-never, never give up your dreams-shame on the writer of this feature

September 17 2012 at 5:23 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I think it depends on what you are and what you seek. If you want a good career and stability, buy a house, raise a family, save to put them through college etc etc, then this is excellent advice. If you are a dragon slayer and have no interest in chatting with your neighbours about little league by the barbecue, but prefer instead to invent things and risk everything with the knowledge that you might miss, and end up poor, then I would advise you to delete this article and go back to your passion. Oh, you already did that. Good

September 17 2012 at 4:52 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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