It Takes More than Passion to Succeed

mocha momentsFollow your passion is bad advice. So says Cal Newport, Ph.D., a 30 something year-old and assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University. Yet many of us feel badly because we don’t know what our passion is. First we have to find it and THEN we can follow it!

Makes sense, somewhat but it doesn’t to Cal. He says “Follow your passion is an appealing command because it’s both simple and daring. It tells you that you have a calling, and if you can discover it and muster the courage to follow it, your working life will be fantastic. A big, bold move that changes everything: this is a powerful storyline. The problem is that we don’t have much evidence that this is how passion works. “Follow your passion” assumes: a) you have a preexisting passion; and b) if you match this passion to your job then you’ll enjoy that job. When I studied the issue, it was more complex. Most people don’t have preexisting passions. And research on workplace satisfaction tells that people like their jobs for more nuanced reason than simply it matches some innate interest.”

the passion trapCal advocates “cultivating” versus “following” your passion. “Cultivate” implies that you work toward building passion for your job. This is a longer process but it’s way more likely to pay dividends. It requires you to approach your work like a craftsman. Honing your ability, and then leveraging your value, once good, to shape your working life toward the type of lifestyle that resonates with you.

David Kekich, President/CEO of Maximum Life Foundation – a foundation focused on aging research compiled a list of 100 success secrets as a result of life experiences. Made popular by Joe Polish, President of Piranha Marketing these 100 secrets are now aptly referred to as the Kekich Credos.

Credo #1 describes precisely why passion alone will not lead to success. “People will do almost anything to stay in their comfort zones. If you want to accomplish anything get out of your comfort zone. Strive to increase order and discipline in your life. Discipline usually means doing the opposite of what you feel like doing. The easy roads to discipline are:

  1. Setting deadlines
  2. Discovering and doing what you do best and what’s important and enjoyable to you
  3. Focusing on habits by replacing your bad habits and thought patterns, one by one, over time with good habits and thought patterns.”

I also believe that before even setting deadlines and discovering what you do best, that you need to like who and what you are. The great Maya Angelou thought so too. She said “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” Buddhist physician, Alex Lickerman, M.D. says “We must generate the wisdom and compassion to care for others until we’ve turned ourselves, piece by piece, into the people we most want to be. In other words, if we want to like ourselves we have to earn our own respect. Luckily, doing this doesn’t require that we become people of extraordinary physical attractiveness or accomplishment. It only requires we become people of extraordinary character—something anyone can do.”

If you dislike yourself, stop focusing on your negative qualities. There’s nothing special about your negativity I promise you. We all have negative qualities.

Some of us have “cultivated” our passion but can’t sustain our passion; we lose steam and can’t seem to follow through with our ideas. Cal suggests that there is some confusion here between passion and excitement. “The sensation of excitement about a particular idea is often a different sensation than the type of deep passion that drives people into a fulfilling career. Excitement comes and goes. True passion arises after you’ve put in the long hours to really become a craftsman in your field and can then leverage this value to really have an impact, to gain autonomy and respect, to control your occupational destiny.”

Cultivating passion around any area requires narrowing your focus and drilling down deep into your subject area. A lack of focus destroys passion. In the book ‘Boys in the Boat ‘ about nine Americans and their epic quest for gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics author Daniel James Brown described George Pocock’s passion. “George didn’t just build boats; he also learned to row them, and row them very well. He carefully studied the rowing style of the Thames watermen, and adapted it to the purpose of racing in a shell…He was inclined by nature to do whatever he attempted on the highest possible level – to master each and every tool he laid hands on in his father’s shop, to learn how to row the most efficient stroke, to build the most elegant and best performing racing shells possible.”

What’s the take-home?  There is no special passion for you to discover. According to Cal Newport, passion is something that is cultivated. It can be cultivated in many, many different fields; therefore, it doesn’t make sense to say, “I don’t know what my passion is.” What does make sense is to say, “I haven’t yet cultivated a passion. I should really focus on a small number of things and start this process.”


What would your life look like if you could power your own success, never feel confused about what you need to do and never hesitate to do it?

  1. Do you have clarity around WHO YOU REALLY ARE?
  2. Are you being noticed for your contribution in your current role?
  3. Do you know WHAT you need to do to get the results you want?

Find out how much you really know about yourself…

Image from Glendon Cameron

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