We often hear the advice “follow your passion” or “do what you love and the money will follow.” Is that good advice?
A few business thinkers have recently been saying that it is not. Even the author of the popular Dilbert comic, Scott Adams, was recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, where he argued that “follow your passion” is bad advice.
Adams gives an example from when he worked as a commercial lender. The person who came in and said, “I want to open a sporting goods store because I really like watching sports on television,” was not the kind of guy who tended to be a good investment. Hence, “following your passion,” he argues, is not usually good advice.
But what’s the real problem here? I would argue that following your passion is, in fact, good advice—as long as you understand what that actually means.
Planning On Opening A Sporting Goods Store?
The problem in the example Adams gives is that the person didn’t actually understand what his passion really was. Note the transition from “I love watching sports on television” to “therefore I want to open a sporting goods store.” Hmm.
What’s the real passion here? Probably not running a store, but rather watching sports on television.
A passion for watching sports on television, or even for sports in general, is a far cry from a passion for actually running a store. They are entirely different things!
In other words, the “passion” that you are to look for is not simply a passion for a certain arena, but also a passion for certain activities.
That’s the key. Your strengths—your passions—are not abstract things; they are abilities. Your strengths are the activities that strengthen you. They are specific activities, not just areas or even goals.
The Real Question
The question this poor guy who wanted to open the sporting goods store should have been asking, then, was not, “Do I like sports?” but rather, “Do I like running a store?” Running a store is what he would actually be doing.
Now, when it comes to deciding what kind of store to run, then certainly it would be a good thing for him to say “since I like sports so much, I want to run a sporting goods store.” But apart from a love of the actual activities involved in the work of running a store, a passion for sports itself is not going to work.
The reason is not that “follow your passion” is bad advice, but that he has misunderstood the advice. Your passions, that is your strengths, have to do with specific activities—not just general areas like “sports.”
Hence, what you need to look for in choosing a job or career path is a love and enjoyment of the actual activities you will be doing, not just an enjoyment of the mission of your organization or its field. That’s the meaning of “follow your passion.”
I’m not saying that a person who is passionate about the church shouldn’t seek to be a pastor, or a person who is passionate about sports shouldn’t necessarily seek a career that has to do with sports. But what the person does need to do is seek a specific role in their preferred arena that “fits” with specific activities that they are good at and that energize them.
If you use that as one of your guiding principles, you will rarely go wrong. The activities that you enjoy doing are the ones you typically become best at, because your enjoyment in those activities drives you to keep doing them and keep improving.
On the other hand, the activities we don’t enjoy quickly drain us and rob us of energy. We may be able to keep doing them and gut it out for a while, but over the long haul that is, at best, a recipe for mediocrity, and certainly not excellence.
What does it mean to follow your passion? Leave your comments here.