Letting Career Passion Follow You

The NYT features a great article by Cal Newport. The key takeaways:

As I considered my options during my senior year of college, I knew all about this Cult of Passion and its demands. But I chose to ignore it. The alternative career philosophy that drove me is based on this simple premise: 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. Decades of research on workplace motivation back this up. (Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” offers a nice summary of this literature.)


To other young people who constantly wonder if the grass might be greener on the other side of the occupational fence, I offer this advice: 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.

When a child, I always thought of career choice as a somewhat permanent decision. You decided to become a doctor, a teacher, a diplomat. This put enormous pressure to get the career choice right, which, extrapolated backwards, meant picking the right courses to study in high school, looking for the right internships, and developing correct habits.

With my own children, the more prudent path is to:

  1. Encourage passion of learning all things. The more things you like to learn (the wider you cast your net), the happier you’ll be.
  2. Encourage a passion to learn of others (sympathy and empathy).
  3. Experience and acknowledge gratitude.
  4. Take those passions into whatever job you gravitate towards. You will find success.

To some extent, this is the advice I took starting in my teen years. At 16 I left to live in Brazil, developed a sense of the world at large, and have taken some winding paths. Career wise, I’ve been a construction worker, an engineer, a waiter, a barista, a history teacher, and a technology director.

And I’ve loved every minute of them all.


One Response

  1. Similar to our approach with summer ‘sports school’ for the kids: learn the basics for a large number of sports, one at a time; compete or play the games, try another one in a few days…for three weeks. By then you can at least talk knowledgeably to other friends about their sports, and you will have found at least one or two that you actually like. Later you can delve farther into various sports, depending on your goals. Passion will develop down the road, or be applied to newer challenges. This avoids training for only one skill; and the crossovers (career, sports, life chores) are valuable too.
    (I might even have been more enthused about P. E.in school if they would have provided frisbee golf, swimming, or bicycling? And now, …Grand haven H S provides stand up paddle board this fall! thanks to the PE director and lots of summer networking!!) Water + skill + easy access to equipment = JOY, a requisite to passion.
    YOU provide all these to your students in an academic venue (not water) but the foundation is similar…Have Fun Learning.

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