I ordered this book by Cal Newport last week after reading about it on one of the blogs I subscribe to. I devoured it in two days (it’s a quick read). It’s very good and there’s something that’s more trustworthy about career advice from someone that does not make his or her entire living out of doling out career advice (Newport’s main occupation is computer science professor).1
I won’t rehash the whole concept because you should just read the book or pick up the ideas for free on Cal’s blog, but basically the thesis is that the advice to “follow your passion” is at best misguided and at worst can be really bad, dangerous advice that will lead you to failure, anxiety, and a host of other problems.
Agreed, from personal experience. Then he goes on to explain that passion is something that is developed once you become really good at something. In other words, craft before passion. And that being really good at something gives you options and control over your career and the opportunity to do fun and fulfilling things.
So if you just start from passion, without the being really good at something, it will not work out for you. It’s one of those ideas that seems obvious in hindsight but that I was completely blind to for most of my working life, and it was fun to look back through various failed business ventures and careers that never worked out and realize that I was committing the exact errors he describes.
Not to mention all the painful rumination I did in my mid-20s (what should I do with my life? what’s my passion? etc. etc.). I didn’t have anything approaching an answer to those questions until I started actually doing things.
I think the big takeaway for writers and other artists is that first you have to get really good (or even great) at what you do. That’s the first step and it might take ten years of diligent practice to get there. But that’s what will give you fulfilling options, career control, and the ability to earn a lot of money.
I’m reminded of when in my real estate days, the sheer number of people who made a ton of money by selling various courses and seminars on how to get rich in real estate, which in hindsight, if you know this amazing secret to making all this money, why would you spend all the hours to put together some special course and then teach the whole world how to replicate your success, when you could just spend your time, you know, making a ton of money from your secret. And sure, it could be a desire to help others, but then why travel the country peddling this course for $395 or $1995 or whatever you’re selling it for–why not just post it online? Oh right, because there’s more money in selling a dream than there is in whatever arcane investment technique that you stumbled upon. ↩