Saturday, April 6, 2013

Following Your Passion: A Practical Guide

by Dana Garczewski of The Patterned Peacock

Photo ©Chris Devers
I recently finished So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. The book is based on the idea that “follow your passion” is bad career advice. While I was averse to the initial premise–what maker wants to be told that following your passion is a waste of time?­–I found there’s a lot of helpful guidelines for crafters like me who are looking to make a full-time living out of their art.

My issue with the book is that Newport seems to believe that those who “follow their passion” also assume that success will come quickly and without effort. This attitude usually just leads to frustration and disillusionment and we both agree on that. I feel it doesn’t matter whether your endeavor is a life long passion or a career that you’ve chosen for other reasons. As long as you’re willing to put in the hard work and discipline, the possibility of finding meaningful, fulfilling work exists in either scenario.

I recommend reading this book in its entirety. There are many details as well as real-world examples that explain his argument further. However here is a brief summary of his key concepts.
  • Choose a career based on a skill you’re good at (as oppose to determining your one true passion and finding a job that matches it). The rarer and more valuable the skill the more leverage you’ll have in finding meaningful work.
  • Then adopt a “craftsman mindset” in which you devote roughly ten years or ten thousand hours towards perfecting this skill. Newport points out that time alone is not enough to make one a master. You also need to incorporate deliberate practice (pushing yourself past your comfort zone) and constant feedback to make real progress.
  • Newport defines a dream job as one that possesses the traits of creativity, impact, and control; with control being the most important of the three. It usually takes time–mastering small mundane tasks–before moving on to something truly interesting. “In other words, you need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.”
  • Furthermore, it can be dangerous to pursue a career with these traits before we have something just as valuable to offer in return. This was my biggest lesson from the book. Courage is crucial when finding meaningful work but not the kind of courage that means blindly stepping off the beaten path and believing that somehow everything will work out. It’s our expertise (or track record) that gives us leverage and without it we’re more likely to fail.
  • So where does courage come in? When you want to take the leap and you will need courage to assess whether you’re truly ready or not. It can be hard to admit that you need more time before stepping out on your own. (This is were I am now.) It can also be hard to stand up to those who are resisting your move towards more control. But in either case you need to do what’s in your best interest. How do you know when the time is right? Newport presents the “rule of financial viability” as a way of determining this. In our capitalist society, money is an indicator of value. If someone is willing to pay you than you must be offering something of value. (Please note, his definition of payment takes a variety of forms from small business loans to paid time off.)
Have you read his book? Do you share his opinion? I’d love to here your thoughts and comments.

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