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Why “Follow Your Passion” is Bad Advice

by Vinay Jain Why “Follow Your Passion” is Bad Advice

It seems like every commencement speech, career counselor and self-help book offers the same advice when it comes to choosing your career: “follow your passion.” But what if that advice is all wrong?

Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown, believes that it’s not only wrong, but destructive. In a piece in The New York Times, Newport argues that the “follow you passion” mindset has a dangerous effect:

Every time our work becomes hard, we are pushed toward an existential crisis, centered on what for many is an obnoxiously unanswerable question: “Is this what I’m really meant to be doing?” This constant doubt generates anxiety and chronic job-hopping.

Newport’s contrarian view holds that we develop our passion for something only after we’ve done it long enough to start to get good at it. Sure, there are a few lucky people out there who know exactly what they want to do with their lives from a relatively young age, but for the rest of us, according to Newport, passion follows skill — and skill takes a lot of (sometimes unpleasant) effort to develop.

The traits that lead people to love their work are general and have little to do with a job’s specifics. These traits include a sense of autonomy and the feeling that you’re good at what you do and are having an impact on the world…These traits can be found in many jobs, but they have to be earned. Building valuable skills is hard and takes time. For someone in a new position, the right question is not, “What is this job offering me?” but, instead, “What am I offering this job?”

Newport sums it up this way: “Passion is not something you follow. It’s something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world.”

Newport goes into much greater depth about his views on passion in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

And here’s Newport giving a talk on the subject of passion at a conference sponsored by 99U:

What do you think? Is “follow your passion” good advice, or is Newport right?

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Vinay Jain

As Chief Legal Officer, Vinay serves as Shake's general counsel, is responsible for the company's legal contracts and content, and leads efforts to educate consumers and small businesses about the law.

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