Don’t Follow Your Passion! Sharpen Your Skills For a More Satisfying Career Journey
The mantra has always been to follow your passion in life. Do what you love. Make your hobby your career. However, this could be bad advice. It may not be the smartest career strategy and can actually lead to a long road of disappointment. Instead, focus on crafting extremely valuable skills that will lead to ideal job outcomes.
In 2012, Cal Newport’s career advice book So Good They Can’t Ignore You claims that the passion route is ultimately delusional and unrealistic. Calling it ‘passion hypothesis’, he says that following your passion will set you up for failure as most people have hobby-related passions rather than career passions. Searching for a job to fit your single passion would generally cause continuous dissatisfaction and chronic job-hopping. What you are passionate about can change and also develop over time. Newport claims that passion can arise from three concepts: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Your passion and happiness in a job come from how much control and mastery you have in the role. It is impacted by your relationship and communication with other workers.
This doesn’t mean you should keep toiling away at a job that makes you unhappy nor does change for the sake of change a good idea. You should evaluate what it is you dislike about the role. Most likely, it will be its lack of either autonomy, competence or relatedness. You should see whether these areas can be improved whilst in the job. If not, your move out of the role will be more sensible as the problem is unlikely to be repeated.
This brings us to Newport’s next theory: the ‘Craftsman Mindset’. This means to approach your career strategy by thinking of your job as a craft. Craft and trade have the reputation of being rare, even folkloric skills, passed through tradition and generation, usually involving manual labour and one-of-a-kind talents. Where artisanal hand-craftsmanship does require unique abilities, there is nothing to stop you from adopting the same mindset to your career. If you hone in on nurturing rare and valuable skills, they will become what Newport calls ‘career capital’. They will be able to fill any supply and demand for industries, especially if you get to the point where they are ‘so good they can’t ignore you’. There are many ways you can start crafting; such as online courses, internal training schemes and any opportunities at work that allow a way to upgrade, like secondments.
This mindset requires time, practice and hard work. There is no way to short change it. Patience and perseverance are heavy requirements in your journey to develop your ‘career capital’. You also need to be clear on what kind of skills to prioritise and what to take a back seat. The trick is to understand how and where your valuable skills will fit into the sector and try to achieve the above-average level at it. The point is not to force yourself to learn an incredibly difficult talent, but something that suits you. This way you will create the work you love. Enjoyment can be practical.
‘Winner Takes All’ or ‘Auction’ Market Skills?
Newport separates skill markets, places where you envision your skills being received, into two categories: ‘winner takes all’ and ‘auction’ markets. The ‘winner takes all’ is where only one skill is desired. This is for professions where only a small set of valuable skills matters; such as writer, musician and artist. Therefore, success is better achieved when you concentrate on them alone. In the ‘auction’ market an employee is desirable if they have a collection of different skills and experiences. If you choose this path, you must be more open to embracing opportunities when they arise, even if it might be a deviation from your current career journey. Many people can rise up the career ladder by taking on different experiences and gathering up craft points that way.
In the end, everyone will have a mix of ‘winner takes all’ and ‘auction’ type skills and can switch between the two. Newport’s career advice is useful for demonstrating that there are different types of markets and will help focus the path for anyone who is unsure about where their abilities can be received.
Do Dream Jobs Exist?
Newport is adamant that there is no ‘dream job’, in the sense there is no one role hanging in the distance waiting for you to believe in your passion enough to get it, one day. What makes a job ideal is based on control and impact. As mentioned, gaining autonomy is one factor that makes you happier. In order to gain control in the work environment whether salaried or start-up, you need to have enough ‘career capital’. That is, if you have the right level of valuable skill, people are willing to pay you for it and let you take the reins.
The second factor is finding meaning and purpose in your career. This will encourage the feeling of fulfillment and the warm glow of motivation. There are many ways your individual skill set can make a difference in society, from politics to care home.
Feeling dissatisfied with every job you do? Don’t follow your passion! Instead, focus on skills craftsmanship. Develop high-level valuable skills that will guarantee to uplift your career track.