You don't really follow your passions. Your passions follow you as you master a subject or a skill.
That counter-intuitive perspective comes from Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Search for Work You Love and was explored in a recent blog post by Jeff Haden, an Inc. Magazine columnist.
"Passion is not something to follow," Newport says, "Passion is something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable in the world."
Newport's view is utilitarian. If your passion doesn't produce a paycheck, it's a hobby, not a career. Hobbies are fine, he says, but careers are built on sterner stuff — mastery of subject matter, development of expertise and honing of skills that people will pay money for.
"Producing something important, gaining respect for it, feeling a sense of control over your life, feeling a connection to other people — that's what gives people a real sense of passion," according to Newport.
The better at something you become, the more passion you will have for it.
The root of passion is not necessarily innate talents; it is hard work. Even if you have special gifts, it takes rigor and dedication to forge them into skills and passions.
And the big difference-maker is cultivating a "relevant passion," a passion that pays.
"The satisfaction of improving is deeply satisfying, as eons of craftspeople will attest," Newport says. "The process of becoming really good at something valuable is a fulfilling and satisfying process in itself."
Newport's viewpoint on following your passion clashes with common thinking — and certainly with the advice dispensed to young people heading off to college. Newport seems to say we should encourage students to work hard so they find their passion.
As advice goes, working hard isn't as glamorous or sexy as follow your passion, but it may be sounder, life-bending counsel that people down the line appreciate.