Why “Follow Your Passion” is Terrible Advice

Graduation speeches, self-help books and well-meaning therapists preach the gospel of “following your passion.” It is predicated on the belief that if you follow your passion, you will be happy, and you will become successful in whatever you do. This is actually terrible advice.

Stay with me.

Cal Newport, PhD, explores this misguided wisdom is detail in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. He explains that this is problematic because it assumes:

1. People have preexisting passions.

2. If you match this passion to your job, then you’ll enjoy that job.

3. There is the perfect job somewhere out there waiting for you.

Research shows that many people don’t have preexisting passions and moreover, that workplace satisfaction is far more complex and more nuanced than simply matching innate interest with one’s job description.

Rather than following your passion, Newport argues that passion is something to cultivate and build. Hard work and mastery are the gateways to passion, not the other way around:

When you hear the stories of people who ended up loving what they do, this same pattern comes up again and again. They start by painstakingly developing rare and valuable skills — which we can call career capital. They then leverage this capital to gain rare and valuable traits in their career. These traits lead to a feeling of passion about their working life…Stop worrying about what the world owes you, it says, and instead, put your head down, and strive to become so good you can’t be ignored. It’s this straightforward goal—not some fairy tale about dropping everything to pursue a dream job—that will lead you toward a working life you love.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman