In So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, Cal Newport argues that passion is for suckers (not in those words exactly). He investigates why "some people end up loving what they do, while so many others fail at this goal." Newports observations resonated with my own experience and gave me a framework for coming to a deeper understanding of where my career began and where it could go in the future.
The first rule Newport lays out is that following your passion is terrible advice. When I was in college I believed that I could make a difference by joining a very well-branded organization called Teach For America. I broke Newports very first rule: Don't Follow Your Passion.
The passion hypothesis is the idea that "the key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you're passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion." I saw teaching in the South Bronx as my cause du jour.
I told myself a story that I was passionate about education. In reality I was interested in education. But, if I'm being honest, I really didn't love kids all that much.
This is one of the tricks that Teach For America can play on you. It can convince you that teaching in a high needs public school is a good career move and all you need to succeed is passion to fuel your work. Not training or skills, just ambition.
I stayed in education for ten years. I'd be lying if I wrote that it was all bad. I still get teaching nightmares even though I haven't taught in a K12 school in over six years. Certainly by the end I knew that if I was going to lead a school I'd have to get better at some skills that I wasn't at all interested in improving at.
By the time I left education I was burnt out. But, I also had the dumb luck of developing some rudimentary spreadsheet and coding skills (but for you they'd seem stupid advanced) that made me think that I could possibly find someone to pay me to do that kind of work.
I also had a lot of experience doing the things that make up the act of teaching and have been transferable to my work as a software developer. Newport calls these skills career capital - they are the currency you can trade for the work you actually love.
I enrolled in the Turing School of Software and Design. There I built up more career capital learning the fundamentals of software development. I also developed what Newport calls a Craftsman Mindset, an approach to work in which I focused on the value of what I could offer.
I focused on developing skills that would allow me say "Here's how I will bring value to your team" with a straight face. In my 20s with a Passion Mindset I had it backwards and wondered what the education world could offer me.
There are two points in Newport's book that I need to get better at. First is the idea of deliberate practice. He references the 10,000 hour rule and argues that to become an expert craftsman you must engage in practice that pushes you outside of your comfort zone. I am becoming more mindful about deliberately practicing my craft by writing more (not on Very Normal Info, sorry subscribers).
Writing is hugely important in my current role and getting better at sharing ideas succinctly is career capital that will transfer to whatever comes next in my life.
The second piece of the puzzle is my mission, or a unifying goal for my career. Newport argues that finding your mission involves making small bets. Dropping everything to do a startup would be a pretty large bet and is probably the wrong move.
If you are a career changer, driven by your career growth, or maybe just feeling dissatisfied with where your career has taken you, I highly recommend this book.