Have You Mastered Doing What You Love? (An Accidental Part 2)

As I mentioned in my last post of the same name, I was narrowing my focus on tasks to get some more programming done, which is arguably my ‘passion.’ ‘Nuff said.

Not so fast. This month I read a book on NOT following your passion, which made some interesting arguments:

  • Following your passion is awkward when you aren’t sure what you want to do yet (think of choosing a major in college).
  • People change, and what your passion is right now may not be in the future.
  • Passion is only one part of the whole job, with a lot of room for non-passion (my word) in the day to day grind.
  • Passion without experience is likely doomed to failure.

The arguments make sense, but sure put a damper on what we’ve told about following our ‘bliss!’

However, all is not lost. He contrasts passion with work ‘capital’ – for example, years spent learning a craft. And not just learning, but getting good – extremely good – at it. This capital means you have options for the future, and can more easily aim for your dream job.

Serendipitously, I wrote this last month with the title ‘Have You Mastered Doing What You Love?’ because I firmly believe doing something is one thing, but doing it well is quite another.

However, I likewise can’t take credit for this observation, since I learned it from a much older source:

“Do you see any truly competent workers? They will serve kings rather than working for ordinary people.”
-Proverbs 22:29, New Living Translation of the Bible

So we’ve known that quality trumps passion for a long, long time. But which should come first?

I (im)modestly think the issue is one of what ‘bliss’ really is, and that it is really a hint of what to do, rather than a full-fledged job description.

For example, say you love working with horses. Sounds good. But which aspect? Vet, trainer, owner, racer? All of these people work with horses, and all jobs might have pleasant aspects. So does that mean one of them is the winner while the others aren’t?

The book uses the example of Steve Jobs, who was quoted as following his passion. However, as was also pointed out, Jobs was interested in becoming a guru around the time he started selling Apple computers. It was a matter of timing and success that he went into running Apple versus working at an Ashram. So how can only one be the ‘one’ passion?

But what if both jobs were part of the same passion? If we limit passion to running a computer company, only one works, but if we talk of a strong passion for molding people’s lives and influencing others, then both jobs are viable, including many more jobs besides.

To give another example, an older post of mine recommended testing to decide what your strengths are. In my case, one top item was focus, or staying with a problem until solved. Not a surprise, as I enjoy programming. But problem solving is satisfying in many areas. I enjoy inventing (solving problems with devices), and also writing, where I enjoy wrapping my head around a new topic (‘solving’ it for myself) and then explaining it to others. My ‘bliss’ is tied up in those aspects of all three of these things, not each job individually. If I had to choose just one, I’d likely refuse. The common thread, as the testing showed, is that I enjoy the focus involved in each.

So to apply it forward. If I looked for a job, the one that allowed me to focus for long periods on problems would be more satisfying that one that (for example) allowed me to interact with lots of people. So I can still try different jobs, just keep an eye open for how my strengths work best for me (and by extension, for the business that hires me, which makes me more valuable.)

The conclusion: I still think we can follow our passion. The key however is to understand that passion is not a ‘carved in stone’ absolute, but more an inclination of the direction you’d like to go in.

After all, you can have a sweet tooth, and there is a lot of food that appeals to you; but decide you’re eating just cheesecake forever, and you’ll soon wonder if you ever had a sweet tooth at all!

So figure out what kind of ‘tastes’ YOU have, and pursue them – life’s too short for not following your passion – some book authors notwithstanding.

(AudioBook) So Good They Can't Ignore You - By Cal Newport
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So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work Yo
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One thought on “Have You Mastered Doing What You Love? (An Accidental Part 2)

  1. I found your website recently when looking for a fast way to clear arrays with Arduino. It was written so well, I decided to look into your home page, and from there, I read the two articles on mastering what you love.
    I like what I see here, and so far, I feel a some affinity for how you view the world. Clearly, you are bright person. Thanks for creating this little gem of a website, and I am sure I will be back from time to time to dig around and look into some other things.

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