The Passion Killer?

How important is passion? I thought I knew the answer to this question – it’s obvious right? I mean, if Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey tell you to follow your dreams and do work you love, then I guess that’s kind of what you should do.

Seems legit – they were and are wealthy beyond measurement and respected to the hilt.

But something I’m reading at the moment is threatening to alter my view on the importance of following your passion.

Currently, my head is in “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport. Its subtitle is “why skills trump passion in the quest for work you love”, which is what I found super interesting.


Cal Newport's book discards the theory that you should "do what you love".

Cal Newport’s book discards the theory that you should “do what you love”.

He starts the book by talking about a young man who achieved a PhD in philosophy and decided he wanted to teach abroad and not live a boring life – that was him following his dream. He then worked out that, for whatever reason, it wasn’t for him. He moved to London to do a pretty mundane data entry job, before realizing that he wanted to be a monk.

To cut a long story short, after various tests with illogical test questions, he was able to gain the respect of the monks he lived with. Which was all working out well, until he realised that it wasn’t making him happy at all. His anxieties about life before becoming a monk were still there, the same anxieties he thought would disappear immediately.

Newport’s theory is this – the idea of following your passion is flawed. Instead, you have to commit yourself to a craft and work meticulously at it until you get good it. The autonomy and respect you get from doing a great job is where the passion comes from. Essentially, this says that we have to create something that we can offer the world, rather than demand the world offers us something we can feel passionate about.

Instead, the book suggests, it’s all about getting really, really good at your craft that allows you to unlock three key elements that apparently makes any job turn into a job or career you love:

  • Creativity – the freedom to express yourself in an environment that is designed for you to amazing things
  • Impact – the opportunity to see how your work influences the wider world
  • Control – Understanding that you create when you want, how you want.

I’m only a quarter of the way through this book, but the message of it is clear, and it’s got me thinking. I’m not about to discard the passion you need to start your business, but where I think this opinion is on the right path is when it says that you need to graft at your craft.


A laptop, pen, paper, and the overwhelming desire to get great are some of the elements you need to succeed

Let’s face it, we live in a world that is pretty much obsessed with instant gratification – if we can’t have it right now, we don’t want it. I’m as guilty as the next person; I get annoyed when a web page takes 5 seconds to load.

Everyone wants the outcome without having to experience the pain and process involved in getting there. Since co-founding We Are Parable, I’ve always said that you need to own the process. ‘Own’ the times when you need to do a 10 hour day at work, come home, and work on your business. ‘Own’ the 4 hours of sleep you get every night. ‘Own’ the times when you feel like giving up.

I’ve recently experienced owning these three things (as well as much more) and I can tell you that it’s only when you take responsibility for the process, do you go through the times when you have no option but to get better at what you do, through sheer force of will.

What I will say is that I think there is an element of both mindsets that need to come into play– passion is great; you need that initial fire in the belly, for sure. But without the bloody mindedness to get shit done, you’re just going to be someone who can pitch an idea, but waits for the world to bask in the glory of said idea and approaches you to act upon it. Good luck with that.

There is no silver bullet. If you’re passionate about something, chase it with all your might. Just get ready to be better than you’ve ever been.

Until next time.

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