The Compelling Argument Against “Follow Your Dreams”

There’s a lot out there about the importance of finding your Purpose, that Passion drives Success. That without passion and deep belief in your purpose you will never be happy at work. I’ve even quoted Steve Jobs, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

So today, we’re going to flip it, and take a look at Cal Newport’s, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. The book was recommended, and reading it (twice) has resulted in an interesting way to approach the Follow your Dreams mentality. Now, Cal’s book doesn’t necessarily say that purpose isn’t important, or that you don’t need purpose to be successful, rather, he somewhat rethinks the order of events, and instead of having passion lead your next job hunt, he has “career capital” lead it.

Let me share with you a breakdown of the steps briefly:

  1. Don’t Follow Your Passion – Wait until you understand what you’re good at. I.e. I may just love puppies (I DO!), but, that may not mean I should become a professional dog walker. I may not like picking up poop multiple times a day.
  2. Claim a Skill/Career Path – This may seem a little like find your purpose, but rather than focusing on this big manifesto, you think about the things you are good at and enjoy doing. I.e. if I love taking dogs for a walks, maybe I consider becoming a dog walker. And, no worries if I find out that it isn’t for me, I can switch to something else, no pressure.
  3. Master that Skill – and create a “craftsman” mindset. As in, get really into your craft.  Ira Glass talked about how this applies to creativity: “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” Simply put, through repetition, continued generative effort and constant feedback you’ll create some very serious career capital. Maybe you’ll become a dog walker that is so good everyone in town wants you.
  4. Negotiate Control – once you have the grand master of skills, you can start asking for the things you need to make you happier. You have negotiation power now to start thinking about what you need to be happy in your workplace. Maybe you want to only walk dogs on Mondays – Fridays from noon to 7pm. Now that you’re the hottest dog walker in town, you can do that. People will be a-okay with you only working those hours because you’re simply the best.
  5. Define the Mission – now that you’re living that beautiful life of working how you want, you can take all that mastery you’ve created and apply those important skills to a bigger mission. Maybe you want to start a dog-walking business that walks rescue dogs or dogs that are up for adoption so they can get outdoors and meet potential new owners.

Now, all of this isn’t to say that passion should be tossed out the window. Instead, the focus is building up skills to support that passion, to understand that passion, and to execute on it. At first, it may seem overwhelming to consider what your skills truly are. One thing that can help is to start thinking about all the things you do in your day to day life, the ones you enjoy, and the ones that challenge you that you like to iterate on. This may help you start thinking about which company will let you build up those marketable skills a bit more. Good luck!

Business Insider

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