Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Can your passion be your career?

I subscribe to a weekly e-newsletter called CareerWise, which is a collection of articles on career development. One from The Globe and Mail included in last week's newsletter was titled 'Four rules to cultivate your career passion.' I almost didn't click through to it because I've always had a bit of a problem with the concept of passion as it relates to work. However, the teaser caught my eye. It read 'One of the most common bits of career advice is to follow your passion. Career coaches repeat it endlessly, even though for many of us it can be discomforting.' Hmmm, I thought, well that's certainly how I feel! So I decided to give it a read. Turns out the article is actually a review of a book by Cal Newport, an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University, called So Good They Can't Ignore You. (I haven't read the book yet, so my comments here are based solely on the review.)

Newport also has a problem with the notion that the secret to a fulfilling career is to follow your passion. Not only is such advice unhelpful at best he argues, but it can also be dangerous because it can 'potentially be the foundation for a career riddled with confusion and angst.' I can related. One of the first career development conferences I went to started with a keynote by a well-known author in the field who urged us to dream about how we could realize our passion in our career. It really stressed me out because I didn't know what my passion was! Books with titles like, Do what you love and the money will follow, also stressed me because I found it really hard to think of something I love doing that could be a viable career. For example, I love watching old movies but how do you turn that into a career? A couple of suggestions would be to write about old movies or become a film studies professor but both those lines of work involve a lot more than watching old movies.

Rather than trying to name your passion and figure out how to morph it into a career, Newport recommends focusing on developing a skill - becoming really good at something. He refers to this as developing the 'craftsman mindset' - not a term I would use but again the idea resonates. When I look back at my career so far, I can say that overall I have found it satisfying and rewarding. And a significant amount of career satisfaction I've experience has come from learning, mastering particular skills and becoming good at doing something. Newport argues that once someone develops the 'craftsman approach...the passion will follow.' I'm not sure this is the case for everyone, but I get the point.

Now, all this being said I do believe that there are some people who are able to turn their passions into careers. Artists, musicians and professional athletes spring to mind. However, I also believe that those people are not the norm. So I think becoming really good at doing something is sage career advice for a lot of people. I would simply add that what you choose to master be something that fits with your interests and core values (i.e., something you enjoy doing).

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