Recently I finished reading Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You (hot after steaming through his other book Deep Work), and I found it a refreshing take on “the secret to success”. Newport slams the “follow your passion” formula we so often hear from successful people, life coaches, and self-improvement authors, that if you find your passion then meaningful work will follow – Newport calls this “the passion hypothesis” and want’s to debunk it as the path to happiness.
Newport points out that the correlation between professional work and what people say is their passion is very poor – with most “passions” being in the realms of hobbies such as dancing, painting, reading. Very rarely is a passion identified as a professional occupation. He also points out that “the passion hypothesis” can add great pain to our lives as a job market can not meet the demands of an overabundance of dancers, painters, musicians and actors. We become really dissatisfied in our “day jobs” while always looking for the job that will satisfy the “passion”.
Newport offers another way: Love what you do by acquiring mastery, autonomy and relatedness. The more experience we have in a job the more satisfaction we can have if we are mastering that job. When you master something you are more likely to become passionate about it. Self determination theory identifies autonomy, competence and relatedness (being connected to others) that is connected to intrinsic motivation (the internal drive) for what you do.
If we can get beyond the self-serving question “what do I really want?” that is generated by the passion hypothesis and lean into a craftsman mind-set that asks “what value can I bring to my job (or the world)?” then you are on a road to mastery that will bring you satisfaction. It’s about doing quality in the field you find yourself in. As the actor Steve Martin puts it: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Improving quality requires practice and “deep work” (the subject of Newport’s other book), and from what I understand from the book Outliers, about 10,000 hours of practice can transform you into a master. This may require sacrifice and take you out of your comfort zone, but you are creating a craftsman mind-set and a career that becomes your passion. So rather than following your passion, passion has caught up with you.