“Follow your passion,” right? Wrong, says Cal Newport. The muse for his excellent and thoughtful book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You is none other than Steve Martin, who when he was asked for the steps necessary for others to follow in his footsteps, simply replied, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” You don’t lead with your passion. You lead with what you’re skilled at.
We’ve been oversold on “passion”
There have been scores of people who have said something to the effect of “follow your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That sounds great and makes us feel good, but for a scientist like Cal, the warm fuzzies aren’t enough. He wanted proof. What he found was that passions can develop over time, and they aren’t how we find our calling. For example, he interviewed musicians and kept finding a consistent theme: they practiced things they didn’t know how to do, and they especially practiced things they couldn’t do well. He also found that they were pursuing multiple things at once, and over time, a winner emerged.
The process of working on different projects and fields towards greater goals leads to a buildup of career capital (a term Cal invented). As you develop this career capital you get into a position not just to find a job/business/position you really want and pays the bills, but you can dictate terms. Here the passion is a byproduct of the meaningful work you are doing, in a position in which you are compensated.
So, Cal doesn’t hate passion, he just hates leading with it. More importantly, he notes that it’s not finding a passion that’s a challenge: it’s sustaining it. He found in his research that top performers in their field always had a unifying mission that tied together their career capital and their passion. Why were they doing this? What was their mission? Having a clear and solid understanding of that inevitably continues that virtuous circle that drives them on.
Some final thoughts
The reason this book is so important for gents is because we are the leaders of our society. We need to offer those coming up in their education and careers something more than the useless platitudes of “follow your passion.” That’s easy to say. But all the top performers profiled in Cal’s book got to where they were because of deliberate paths and actions, not accidenting into dream jobs.
Do you believe that passion is all you need? Feel free to share your agreements (and disagreements!) in the comments below. All commenters will receive a coupon for a free seven-course haircut you can share with a friend who has never been to the Gents Place. It’s a chance for them to see our mission-driven passion at work.