Some Thoughts on Finding Your Passion

I’ve read a couple of books recently (Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth and So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport) that talked quite a bit about the quest for finding passion in your work.

What was interesting is that both authors take a a view of finding your passion that is different than the mainstream view that people should pursue their passion and that doing so will lead to success and fulfillment.

Duckworth and Newport instead make an argument for pursuing your interests until you get really good at them (deliberate practice is a big part of this process) and once that happens, you realize that you have become passionate about what you are doing. In other words, you shouldn’t follow your passion, you should cultivate your passion.

Thus, people can learn to become passionate about virtually any job if they are willing to put in the work necessary to become highly skilled at what they are doing.

I had first read about this idea in Brandon Steiner’s book, “You Gotta Have Balls”. Steiner also believes that to become passionate about something first requires understanding, then commitment, and then the passion follows. You can’t start with passion and assume that will enable you to commit to what you are doing.

Walter Isaacson, the author of the outstanding biography of Steve Jobs, asked Jobs about passion, and Jobs’ reply was:

Yeah, we’re always talking about following your passion, but we’re all part of the flow of history … you’ve got to put something back into the flow of history that’s going to help your community, help other people … so that 20, 30, 40 years from now … people will say, this person didn’t just have a passion, he cared about making something that other people could benefit from.”

Isaacson’s summary of this perspective was more to the point:

The important point is to not just follow your passion but something larger than yourself. It ain’t just about you and your damn passion.”

So that’s several people, backed by a lot of research and anecdotes, saying that you shouldn’t just assume that there is some passion out there waiting for you to discover it, but that you can discover your passion through setting goals, working hard to achieve those goals, and being willing to serve a higher purpose.

I think I need to rethink a few things, since I was a believer in the idea of going through some soul-searching to figure out what my passion is, and then once I discovered that passion, pursue it with everything I’ve got. In fact, the second blog post I wrote was on this very topic.

Could it be that my 30 years as an accounting teacher has cultivated that to be my passion? Like I said, I’ll have to do some thinking about this one.

In the meantime, if this is the sort of topic that interests you I’d highly recommend all four of the books mentioned above, particularly for younger people as they start exploring the many opportunities available to them and what they need to do to live a passionate and fulfilling life.