Navigating Your Career: Don’t follow your passion, cultivate it!

What does “follow your passion” actually mean? And, is it good career advice?

Your friends seek you out for financial and investment advice: They came across their dream house.  The price tag is a lot steeper than they had earmarked or could afford, but they love the house.  Do you ….

  1. It’s easy an one. You encourage them to follow their passion and just go for it!
  2. Build out a financial plan, and help identify the pros and cons associated with the purchase.
  3. Reframe and add perspective by looking at the broader context of their “dream life” rather than just focusing on the “dream house”.

I can’t answer for you, but I am willing to guess that you’re probably not going to encourage them to toss a coin and just go for it.  After all, buying a home is one of the biggest (monetary) investments we make in our lives.

Now think about career advice that you’ve either given or received over the last few years.  Do the three magic words, FOLLOW YOUR PASSION come to mind?  Your career is an investment in YOU and your professional life …. It’s much more significant than the purchase of a house.  Yet, for over a decade, “follow your passion” has been the overarching theme when it comes to career advice offered.

What does “follow your passion” really mean, and is it actually good advice?! 

Todd Henry, author of “Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Everyday“, points out that we often look at passion from only one lens – “what can I get“, which Henry likens to an “I am the centre of the universe” mindset.  However, our careers are essentially about service, to which the question we should be asking is “not what can I get” but instead, “what can I give” and/or “how can I contribute“. 

CEO and co-founder of 80000 Hours, Benjamin Todd shares some career advice in the TedXTalk, “To find work you love, don’t follow your passion” where he encourages youth to “do what’s valuable” rather than follow their passion.

Although Todd focuses on value from an altruistic perspective, it is also very much applicable from an economic “law of supply and demand” perspective.  Passion can only take you so far. You need to have the skills, knowledge and tools to move ahead. You also need to be cognizant of the “demand side” of the equation, and be able to translate your passion and skills into value.

Passion is the result of excellence, not its source” – Cal Newport

The most well known advocate of “follow your passion” career advice was Steve Jobs. Interestingly, Jobs was not passionate about technology prior to founding Apple. What he was passionate about was Zen Buddhism, calligraphy, western history and dance …. Had Steve Jobs followed his passion, he would have ended up doing something very different!  Jobs didn’t follow his passion, instead he “cultivated his passion“.

Cultivating Passion:

The new thinking on the topic of career advice is about “Finding Your Flow” and cultivating passion. Basically, this entails identifying activities we love to do and skills we excel at, and then matching them to a wide variety of interests, career paths and jobs.

For one, it’s actually a simpler …. personally, I always found it stressful to articulate that “one passion” to underpin my career on.  The real win is that as you go through this approach, you will start to discover opportunities that you would have not otherwise considered for yourselfFinally, focusing on how we add value and contribute can be very empowering …. it truly motivates and helps you elevate your game to that next level!  In other words, it cultivates passion