To follow your passion – or not to follow?

  • photographer
  • hotel manager
  • graphic designer
  • nutritionist
  • psychologist
  • vet

Here are all my career options I listed as a dreamy-eyed high school student. I had a rough time choosing between these options. One week I would be absolutely sure that managing a small bed and breakfast would be my calling, but then the next week I would hear something about psychology and boom, my future identity changed in a flicker.

I don’t know if this is a problem of our generation or only for me, but choosing one singular path to trek on has always been exceptionally difficult. In addition that there are too many paths to choose from, there are too many external opinions available about how to choose a career.

Think about the money. But then again, think about the lifestyle you want for yourself. Where would you like to work? In an office, your own living room, on the Death Star? Follow your passion.

But although I still am a dreamer, I wouldn’t want to dream my life away like in an Ozzy Osbourne song. How to choose a career and stick with that decision? To answer that question, we have to learn about the anatomy of passion.

“Please, please, please. Do not study photography.” At first I thought that this student in the photography course was hired by my parents. So accurately she mimicked their voices.  “You don’t know how bloody horrible it is. It was my passion, I studied it and now I’m a professional photographer. Just yesterday I spent the whole day taking pictures of a tomato for a supermarket. I have come so low. But I need the money. If you want my advice, please just don’t choose this. Doing it for a living will drain the passion out of it.” This girl had fallen into the trap of blindly following her passion, a phenomenon that Cal Newport, the ultimate re-thinker of passion, describes as:

The Passion Trap
The more emphasis you place on finding work you love, the more unhappy you become when you don’t love every minute of the work you have.

I never had a particular passion to pursue. As you could see from my list, my career ideas where rushed and shallow. I remember thinking to myself, that if I waited long enough, my passion would just one day magically appear. But it never did. Then one day I woke  up and in a whim chose to study economics. And after finally getting into the university, I hated every second of it. It wasn’t my dream career path. Studying economics or management wasn’t even on my high school dream list!

But choosing to study business was the best decision I could have ever made.

If we want to be truly happy in our careers, we should not be looking at our personality traits not to mention our passions. Cal Newport disassembles the meaning of passion and creates a new definition for it:

Passion: The feeling that arises from have mastered a skill that earns you recognition and rewards.

We are the creators of our own passion. Not the other way around.

This passion creation process begins with being focused.

  1. Choose one thing you want to be good at.
  2. Become excellent at that one thing. (Or as Newport puts it: become so good they can’t ignore you.)

Concentrating on too many optional paths makes you scatter thinner. Only by focusing on one thing and one thing only, you can become exceptionally good at it. The better skills you acquire, the more “passionate” you’ll become.

The only problem is: how to choose from tens or hundreds of different paths and know for sure that it’s the ONE. Here are my guidelines, the 3 Ms:

  1. Money: Although it’s not all about money, we have to be sure that our future jobs are still existing in the future. Even though you would become the world’s most talented caset developer, you still need buyers and companies to work for.
  2. Meaning: I firmly believe that a meaningful life and work are accomplished by helping others directly or indirectly. If my chosen career path wouldn’t be helping anyone, I personally wouldn’t choose it.
  3. Motive: Career decisions should belong to only you. Root out your parents’, friends’ or society’s views on what would be a suitable future for you. I know this sometimes seems impossible to do, but it’s the only way you can stick to your plan when going gets tough.

But plans, however solidly thought, fail. And for those times I’ll tell you a story told by an entrepreneur, whose name I can’t recall.

As a startup enthusiast, he and his friends decided one day to start a company together. Only thing was, they didn’t know what to sell. After days and days of planning, discussing and mind-mapping, they got a huge list of different ideas. More days passed when they just sat in the local pub and debated over which idea to focus on. Weeks later they were still pondering the ultimate best option and grew tired of just sitting around and discussing.

Then they came up with a new action plan.

Instead of picking the ultimate best idea, they chose one of the top three. He said that in reality, no plans can predict the future. If the idea would not be a hit, they would adjust it, or switch entirely to another idea. Through numerous trial and error they finally found a product that actually had a market and gained investors’ interest.

This story inspired me to not make such a fuss with my decisions. Making a wrong decision for example in a career path is not that serious. In the end the worst thing that you can do, is not to make a decision at all.