I learnt something recently which will stop me from ever encouraging anyone to ‘follow their passions'.
Oh, I’ve said it many times. But never again. It’s just too dangerous.
I know of several young adults finishing school who are deciding career paths, and university course choices. My advice to them: ‘Follow your passions'. It’s the New Age approach, right? Then I actually thought about it. It’s deeply flawed counsel. How on earth does a 17 year old have any clue what their passions are? I’m 54 and I'm only just getting some clarity on what these might be for me.
Sir Ken Robinson talks about ‘working in your element’: doing what you love and what you’re good at. It’s within that concept that the best advice to any younger talent lies. It’s not about passion. It’s about the other bit. Here it is:
Follow what you’re good at (or could be good at), and the love will eventually grow.
Think about what you like doing and could get really good at. Focus on your skill set and competency. Follow your ABILITY, not your passions. You need to be good at something before you can expect a good job. It’s sharpening your competency that will find you work that you will eventually love. This is how people end up loving what they do, and working in their element.
Following your passions at an early age is dangerous. It can end up with chronic job shifting, unrelenting angst, and the reality of falling short of dreams. Passions take time to develop and clarify. Just like character.
Rather, develop skills that are rare and valuable to the working world. This is the key currency for creating work you love.
So, whatever age you are, think now about what you like doing and what you are (or could be) good at. Then commit to ‘deliberate practice', to keep working on and improving that capability. Make it a mission: a non-negotiable contract with yourself. Keep a growth mindset, always ready to take feedback and improve. Focus your energy on the goal of becoming brilliant at this skill set.
Remember Steve Martin’s advice on making it in comedy:
'Be so good they can’t ignore you'
And if any of this post makes sense to you, read more about this brilliant perspective in Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You. I’ve borrowed heavily from it for this post. It’s changed my mind entirely about the ‘follow your passions' advice. It sounds great - but it's almost impossible for someone in the early stages of careers to have any clue how to follow.
Don’t do it. Follow your abilities and best skills instead. Get brilliant at them. And the joy and passion will come.