Tuesday, July 28, 2015

CX Journey™ Musings: Skill Trumps Passion (or Does It?)

Image courtesy of juhansonin
When making career decisions, are you a believer in the "follow your passion" mantra or are you on team "be so good they can't ignore you?"

I saw the image to the left, which is a sketch/draft from Involution Studios' Field Guide, and realized I hadn't ever really thought about it that way, that one trumped the other. We always talk more about attitude trumping skills when it comes to hiring the right people - passion never seems to be brought into that equation.

So let's consider this. Which comes first, passion or the thing you did that you then became passionate about? Is matching your work life to something that you're interested in a precursor to a satisfying career? Should it be?

Is "follow your passion" good career advice or not? Is it possible to follow your passion? Does it remain your passion once it becomes the thing you have to do every day in order to pay the bills?

In his book So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, Cal Newport's message is that you don’t have to love something to be - or to get - good at it; as a matter of fact, sometimes getting good at it might even help you like (or love) it.

In the video below, he outlines his thoughts on this topic and gives a couple of examples to make his point. Steve Jobs gets mentioned once or twice, as well. What do you think? Was Steve passionate about building great products or technology when he started out? Cal's take on this is interesting, and his advice is that, if you want a meaningful career, look to Steve Jobs and do what he did, not what he said (in his Stanford graduation speech in 2005).

Newport takes on the skills side of the argument by saying that you should start by getting really good at something; build up a rare and valuable skill to build a satisfying career. This rare and valuable skill gives you actual value in the marketplace, which can then be used to get the career and the work life you desire. Definitely a different way to look at things.

Confucius say: Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Steve Martin said: Be so good they can't ignore you.

What do you say?


  1. I say skill... and I have so many thoughts about it. But in a nutshell, you can fall in and out of love, but you can never forget to ride a bicycle; you can only get better at it.
    I think there's a blog coming to my mind on this :)

    1. Sunil, I'd love to hear your thoughts! Share your blog with me once you write it.

  2. It's really tough to make this an either/or proposition. I much prefer Jim Collins's Hedgehog concept. Your career path is the intersection of a Venn diagram of three things:

    1) Skill
    2) Passion
    3) Profit

    You can be great at things you don't like. You can be passionate about things you aren't good at. You can make money in all sorts of weird ways. But, when you find the intersection of all three - lookout!

    1. Ah, I love that, Jeff. Thanks for adding that here.

  3. Chickens and eggs I think Annette, but thought provoking chickens and eggs

  4. Tricky question, Annette, and one that different personalities with different experiences will probably respond very differently to.

    1. Good point. Perhaps it depends on the individual?