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Why “Follow Your Passions” Is Dangerous Advice

468088223I learnt something this week which will stop me from ever encouraging anyone to ‘follow their passions.’  Oh- I’ve said it many times. But never again. It’s just too dangerous advice. Here’s why.

I know of several young adults finishing school who are deciding career paths, and university course choices. My advice to them: ‘Follow your passions.’ It’s the new age approach, right? Then I actually thought about it. It’s deeply flawed counsel. How on earth does a 17 year old have any clue what their passions are? I’m 54 and am only just getting some clarity on what these might be for me.

Sir Ken Robinson talks about ‘working in your element’: doing what you love and what you’re good at. It’s within that concept that the best advice to any younger talent lies. It’s not about passion. It’s about the other bit. Here it is:

Follow what you’re good at (or could be), and the love will eventually grow.

Think about what you like doing and could get really good at. Focus on your skill-set and competency. Follow your ABILITY, not your passions. You need to be good at something before you can expect a good job. It’s sharpening your competency that will find you work that you will eventually love. This is how people end up loving what they do, and working in their element.

Following your passions at an early age is dangerous. It can end up with chronic job shifting, unrelenting angst, and the reality of falling short of dreams. Passions take time to develop and clarify. Just like character.

Rather, develop skills that are rare and valuable to the working world. This is the key currency for creating work you love.

So, whatever age you are, think now about what you like doing and what you are (or could be) good at. Then commit to ‘deliberate practice,’ to keep working on and improving that capability. Make it a mission: a non-negotiable contract with yourself. Keep a growth mindset,  always ready to take feedback and improve. Focus your energy on the goal of becoming brilliant at this skill set.

Remember Steve Martin’s advice on making it in comedy: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

And if any of this post makes sense to you, read more about this brilliant perspective in Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You.  I’ve borrowed heavily from it for this post. It’s changed my mind entirely about ‘follow your passions.’ Sounds great- almost impossible for someone in the early stages of careers to have any clue how to follow.

Don’t do it. Follow your abilities and best skills instead. Get brilliant at them. And the joy and passion will come.

 

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32 Responses to Why “Follow Your Passions” Is Dangerous Advice

  1. Fiona McIntosh February 11, 2015 at 10:43 am #

    sage advice! These thoughts will certainly be the focus of discussion in our household. Pertains to a few of us. Thank you Chris.

    • Chris Savage February 12, 2015 at 8:32 am #

      Thanks Fiona.

  2. Fred February 11, 2015 at 11:19 am #

    Brilliant mate. That’s the soundest advice I have seen for anyone starting out in our industry, or any for that matter.

    • Chris Savage February 12, 2015 at 8:33 am #

      Hey Fred- great to hear from you. Had no idea you were a Possums reader. Toasting you tonight. Love you. Chris

  3. David February 11, 2015 at 12:36 pm #

    Hey Chris, great post, highly relevant to those who have current university students questioning the relevance of their studies and looking for some guidance and a path ahead. Like you it is advice that I have offered to freely in the past, being light on detail and perhaps a little hypocritical for those of us who are only just starting to understand where our own true passions reside.
    Love your blogg when I get time, I better unsubscribe to more stuff so I can keep up with the old possum magic.
    Cheers
    David

    • Chris Savage February 12, 2015 at 8:33 am #

      David- thanks for the feedback! Glad you find it useful. Chris

  4. Tim McNamara February 11, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

    Great post Chris!

    • Chris Savage February 12, 2015 at 8:34 am #

      Thanks Tim.

  5. Jaqui Lane February 11, 2015 at 1:06 pm #

    Well said Chris. I have a 20-year old son who just lot the plot bit in years 11 and 12. Now, he’s in 2nd year of Uni doing IT and computing, taken a summer course in Physics and calculus and is building and App. He’s good (not great) at maths and loves it…and wants to get into Quantum computing. I don’t even know what that is but he’s discovered his skill set and it’s great to see. As for me, I’ve always been good with words and I’ve made a business out of this skill.

    • Chris Savage February 12, 2015 at 8:35 am #

      Thanks Jacqui. Appreciate the perspective. Chris

  6. Jaqui Lane February 11, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    Well said Chris. I have a 20-year old son who just lost the plot abit in years 11 and 12. Now, he’s in 2nd year of Uni doing IT and computing, taken a summer course in Physics and calculus and is building and App. He’s good (not great) at maths and loves it…and wants to get into Quantum computing. I don’t even know what that is but he’s discovered his skill set and it’s great to see. As for me, I’ve always been good with words and I’ve made a business out of this skill.

  7. Mary Forgie February 11, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    No one likes doing something they are no good at (think of the kid at school who was last to be chosen in sports teams because they were un-coordinated and didn’t want to do PE)… and conversely we naturally enjoy doing something we are good at. Furthermore you typically get positive recognition for doing something you are good at which is reinforcement to develop your skills and get better at doing it.. Human nature really

    • Chris Savage February 12, 2015 at 8:35 am #

      Thanks Mary. True. Chris

  8. Paulette Steele February 11, 2015 at 1:27 pm #

    You’re so right Chris. It’s taken me years to find out what I’m really passionate about. I’ve been in my current industry for 11 years and only just waking up to the parts of it I love best. And I’m the same vintage as you!!

    • Chris Savage February 12, 2015 at 8:35 am #

      And a fine vintage too, Paulette!

  9. Wendy February 11, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

    Important post – thanks Chris – love your insights: “develop skills that are rare and valuable to the working world” and “Follow your abilities and best skills instead. Get brilliant at them. And the joy and passion will come.”

    • Chris Savage February 12, 2015 at 8:36 am #

      Thanks Wendy. Much of this I took from the book I mentioned. It is very much worth a read. Chris

  10. Louis Reginato February 11, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

    Hey Chris,

    Wise (and very timely) words indeed, especially for those of us with kids in Yr 12!
    It puts a new spin on the concept of ‘do what you love’ – perhaps we should be encouraging our kids to ‘love what you do’!
    Louis

    • Chris Savage February 12, 2015 at 8:36 am #

      Thanks Louis. Good to hear from you after all these years. Chris

  11. Grant February 11, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

    Follow your ABILITY, not your passions….. very timely Chris! It is a different world from 30+ years ago and our youngsters don’t have the same opportunity to wander like perhaps some of us did when we left school. As a school lever in 1981 I followed my abilities (which was my passion), however abilities grow immensely over time and passions certainly change over time! So do careers! With our #2 about to leave and start Uni this year, it will be interesting to watch her journey! Life certainly is a journey!….

    • Chris Savage February 12, 2015 at 8:37 am #

      Thanks Grant. Good luck with it. Chris

  12. Lisette February 11, 2015 at 6:07 pm #

    Great advice Chris! As an 18 year old, I started a commerce degree, as I had no idea about what my passions were… I then made the switch over to journalism and wound up in PR and it turned out to be the right career for me, which I never would have imagined when I started out. You are spot on with your advice – and it’s not just about being good at something, but also having the persistence and drive to then excel in what you do!

    • Chris Savage February 12, 2015 at 8:37 am #

      Thanks Lisette. Hope all is good with you. Chris

  13. Matt February 11, 2015 at 6:19 pm #

    Chris
    I was only having this conversation with my kids last night with my eldest in Y12. Like you I said follow your passion but Robinson words make so much more sense. I will bring this up tonight at the dinner table.

    • Chris Savage February 12, 2015 at 8:37 am #

      Good to hear Matt. Good luck with it. Chris

  14. Pat Cody February 13, 2015 at 7:44 am #

    I think this article had some great wisdom. Well done.

    • Chris Savage February 13, 2015 at 4:56 pm #

      Thanks Pat!

  15. Jayne Albiston (@jaynealbiston) February 13, 2015 at 9:22 pm #

    I know the saying follow your passion for your passion will lead you to your purpose and this post puts a new spin on that. Certainly a great way to find your purpose by following your abilities. Awesome.
    As an aside, I was in Melbourne this week and telling business professionals there at our new Business over Breakfast Club all about you Chris and this blog Wrestling Possums. I am sure you will have some new readers coming on board from Victoria! 🙂

    • Chris Savage February 19, 2015 at 9:52 am #

      Thanks Jayne. Appreciate very much your consistent support. Chris

  16. John February 18, 2015 at 1:34 pm #

    Timely advice with a young teenager daughter starting University, as well as 40 something colleague looking to change his life. Always insightful.

    • Chris Savage February 19, 2015 at 9:51 am #

      Thanks John!

  17. Michele Harvet February 21, 2015 at 6:48 pm #

    YES. This is brilliant and completely on point.

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