Instead Of Trying To Find Your Passion, Develop It
October 9, 2021
If one were to listen to a host of commencement speeches, most notably the one given by Steve Jobs about connecting the dots, the underlying message in almost all of them would be about following your passion. The template suggests that if you follow your passion, you will find success in your career.
If you were to poll a cross-section of successful people, almost all of them would likely say they love what they do. So you naturally conclude that if you do what you love, you will be successful. But, this need not be the only explanation. It’s also possible that you’ll naturally tend to be in love with what you do if you are successful.
From my own career experience, I don’t buy into the passion theory. When I got into banking, it wasn’t because I was passionate about it. It seemed like a good opportunity to give me the lifestyle I was seeking, and I picked up on it. My passion for what I was doing evolved over many years in the bank as I picked up specific skills.
As I work with my kids, guiding them on their higher education options, I try to steer clear of the “passion narrative.” I don’t want them to feel like they have to be passionate about something to make career choices because I see three big issues with the idea of passion.
First- Passions Can Be Many And Hard To Prioritize
Economics or Engineering, Literature or philosophy, video games or real games, If I have active interests in many areas, how do I know which is the right passion for committing myself to? It’s a tough decision. How do I even know what is right?
Second- Passions Can Change
Finding your passion pre-supposes that your interests will remain the same all your life. This is not the case at all. Our interests evolve as we evolve and grow in life. The things that I found exciting in my twenties are vastly different from those that excite me today.
Third-Passion Does Not Equate To Competence
I am super passionate about Indian classical music, but I certainly have zero competence to make it into a career. The fact that I love singing doesn’t mean I can become a professional singer.
Follow Your Contribution Instead Of Your Passion
My best insights on this subject came from Ben Horowitz’s not very famous commencement speech at Columbia School. The central thesis of this speech is – Don’t follow your passion.
In the speech, Ben Horowitz, an alumnus of the Columbia School, says the following-” following your passion is a very “me” centered view of the world. When you go through life, what you’ll find is what you take out of the world over time — be it money, cars, stuff, accolades — is much less important than what you’ve put into the world. So my recommendation would be to follow your contribution. Find the thing that you’re great at, put that into the world, contribute to others, help the world be better and that is the thing to follow.”
This advice aligns very well with my own career experiences. When you commit to delivering value and contributing to your organization, community, and family, you will experience satisfaction without getting confused by any passion narratives.
By looking at what you are good at, Sales or Operations, Marketing or Finance, STEM or Social Sciences, you have a natural starting point from which to base your career decisions. As you get deeper, focusing on what you are good at and growing your competence in any particular area, you will experience career satisfaction because you will see success in the workplace. Your skills and competencies grow as you gain experience, and you naturally develop a passion for what you do.
So, instead of getting fixated on finding your passion, you should develop your passion by focussing on what you are good at and growing expertise that can contribute and create value.