Greg de la Cruz works in the tech industry and is the author of two published titles on Amazon.
You may have at least once in your life been fed the idea of following your passion, a dream often sold to those stuck in bullshit jobs or dead-end careers. But simply doing something that makes you happy, without much thought on the nitty-gritty things essential to succeed in that field, could lead you to regret.
As Mark Cuban, who guested in Adam Grant’s podcast Work Life, said during the bullet Q&A, “Follow your efforts. No one quits anything they’re good at. If I followed my passions, I’d be still trying to play professional basketball.”
Cuban, a celebrity investor in the long-running TV show Shark Tank and owner of the NBA team Dallas Mavericks, has had his share of both immense successes and unfortunate losses. He has invested in people and businesses that never paid off, losing millions. But from his disappointments, he’s able to impart his nuggets of wisdom to us—that it’s not always the things that make you happy where you’ll be best suited.
Following Your Passion Is Overrated
“[Effort] gives you a window into your values,” Adam Grant, the podcast host, says, “not just your passions. Psychologists find that interests can wax and wane but meaning tends to last. Noticing where you invest your effort doesn’t just illuminate what you enjoy. It reveals what matters to you.”
Following your passion is a tad bit overrated. It blinds you from your natural abilities and tendencies—making you overlook the default circumstances you were blessed with—that give you a leg up against others.
Here are seven reasons why you should follow your effort instead.
7 Reasons Why Following Your Effort Will Pay Off
- The more you do something, the better you’ll get at it.
- You’re improving grit, which is a skill.
- You’ll acquire other skills along the way.
- You won’t always look for "fun" work.
- “You’ll never work a day in your life” is bullshit.
- You won’t quit easily.
- Following your effort is also "following your blisters."
1. The More You Do Something, The Better You’ll Get at It
The nature versus nurture argument is a subject in developmental psychology so broad and deep that it’s impossible to cover here. Advocates of the nurture argument—those who believe based on evidence that you’re inclined to do something because you were trained to do it—will tell you that passion is cultivated, not determined by birth.
As Angela Duckworth, author of Grit and co-host of the podcast No Stupid Questions, puts it, “Passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.”
Duckworth’s Grit is essentially a long-form essay supporting the idea that you should follow your effort. Delivering a talk in the Cochran Chapel in 2017, she even emphasized, “Talent counts in my book—but effort counts twice.” It takes knowing the thing you enjoy to keep doing, again and again, to put your effort in.
2. You’re Improving Your Grit, Which Is a Skill
Angela Duckworth, the world’s foremost expert on grit, defines it as “passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” Further, grit is about “having what some researchers call an ultimate concern—a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do.”
Ever since she published her bestselling book in 2016, grit as a foundational idea has seeped into schools and workplaces. LinkedIn Talent Solutions even has a three-part questionnaire titled How to assess for grit, which begins by saying that “Grit is one of the most sought-after—and misunderstood—soft skills that employers look for.”
Grit is now widely recognized as a must-have skill. And when you follow your effort, you’re building on your grit. Tanner Christensen, writing for Inc., lays out a four-part formula on how to get more grit:
- Practice—deliberate practice, learning as you go, and getting feedback.
- Purpose—finding something that you can readily dive deeper into the more you learn.
- Hope—to develop grit, you must start with hope and learn that it’s okay to fail as long as you don’t quit.
- Time—giving yourself time to practice and learn.
If you focus on becoming grittier, you might just find the things you’re truly passionate about.
3. You’ll Acquire Other Skills Along the Way
When I was working as a part-time phone operator for a startup, my motivation at first was to simply get money as an allowance. I may’ve had a teeny bit of interest in improving my English-speaking skills, as doing so would help me in law school. But I never thought I’d enjoy being a customer service rep—because working at a call center had this bad rap, like it was one of the last things anyone would do for a living.
But to my exuberant surprise, I reveled in taking customer calls. I exceeded whatever quota was set before me. The feeling of closing every call in as little time as possible and with as few words was so satisfying. And the reinforcement was provided by typing Complete along each row on my spreadsheet as well as logging my stats onto the team’s shared tracker—all of these I found to be strangely exhilarating.
My stint was cut short—as I soon found an engineering job at another firm—but no doubt, my time there was extremely beneficial. I got trained thoroughly on customer service, and because I was exposed to a spreadsheet for six days a week, my Excel chops went from absolute beginner to modestly useful.
My experience shows that if you follow your effort, you might just cultivate skills you never thought you’d acquire. And trust me, one day, you’ll be surprised to find that those skills you discovered will help you in situations where you never expected them to.
4. You Won’t Always Look For "Fun" Work
Doing work you’re passionate about doesn’t mean each part of the process must be considered fun. Escaping to non-laborious tasks even when those are essential to completing the work is quite common, but it’s the doing of meaningful work that’s more likely to make you happy. John Coleman, who wrote To Find Meaning in Your Work, Change How You Think About It concludes his HBR article by saying: “With the right approach, almost any job can be meaningful.”
In his article, Coleman cites Yale Professor Amy Wrzesniewski, who did an in-depth study on hospital custodial staff. And she discovered a practice among the happiest workers called job crafting.
Through job crafting, these custodial workers would create the work they wanted to do out of the work they’d been assigned—one would rearrange artwork in rooms to stimulate comatose patients' brains, and others dedicated time to study the chemicals they used for cleaning rooms to know which were least likely to harm patients.
By knowing their part of the overarching purpose of the organization—which was to serve patients within their capacity—they transformed otherwise menial tasks into meaningful jobs.
5. “You’ll Never Work a Day in Your Life” Is Bullshit
It took time for me to accept while I was busy procrastinating on tasks I tried hard to avoid, but the ‘law of conservation of work’ is painfully unforgiving. This means that in any job or project, a finite amount of work is there to be done, whether you like it or not. And I could not agree more when Apple CEO Tim Cook called bullshit on ‘If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.’
Cook, speaking at a commencement for Tulane University graduates, says, “Rather, when you find a job you are passionate about, you will work hard, but you won’t mind doing so.”
You might take what he said to be supporting the follow your passion argument, but if you listen closely, what he’s really saying is you need to ‘find’ the job you’re passionate about. “You will work harder than you ever thought possible,” he adds, “but the tools will feel light in your hands.”
If you follow Cook’s perspective, you’d conclude that things that you truly love doing require effort upfront. And once that effort gets put in the time and again, you’ll uncover your passion.
6. You Won’t Quit Easily
If you took the time to develop your grit, you’d discover that you’re not one to easily quit when things become more difficult or inconvenient.
I find sports metaphors to be overused, but they’re used as visual examples because they’re so straightforward and easy to follow. When I was new to playing badminton, it was all fun and cheer because I wasn’t yet trying to compete—I played with everyone, which included chunky government employees in their 40s trying to shed weight, their older colleagues, and even their children. And it wasn’t until I signed up for an inter-school tournament that I realized badminton wasn’t always fun.
I was destroyed by my competition in that tournament—scores of 21-5, 21-6, 21-4 etched in painful remembrance. I went home that day realizing that being a casual player, even in a considerably ‘light’ sport, wasn’t going to cut it.
And I wanted to be on the official varsity team in high school—I didn’t want to keep playing random people I saw in the park. I wanted to go up against competent players. And so, for a few months, I practiced with a fellow player who taught me all of the gritty components—footwork, wrist power drills, eye training—all the not-so-fun stuff.
It took several months of practice, and I remember spending more hours doing drills than playing actual badminton games. The time came, and I enlisted in a local tournament during my freshman year in college—and won. This was one of my real-life lessons of not quitting. I had nurtured my grit, enjoyed the non-exciting parts of the fun thing I loved to do, and achieved success.
7. Following Your Effort Is Also "Following Your Blisters"
Lastly, Dan Cable says there’s something else you should follow instead of your passion:
“As a professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, I’ve been studying and writing about people’s job choices and career success for 25 years. And instead of Follow your passion or Follow your bliss, my bumper-sticker career advice is Follow your blisters.”
It’s a more elaborate way of saying "follow your effort," and Cable explains by saying, “Follow your blisters makes me ask myself the question, what kind of work do I find myself coming back to again and again, even when I don’t succeed right away, when it seems like it’s taking too long to make progress, or when I get discouraged?”
You get a blister when something wears at you and even chafes, but in spite of it, you keep getting drawn back. "Follow your blisters" implies something about perseverance and struggling through tasks even though they are not always blissful. Cable concludes by saying that this phrase also implies “something that you come back to so many times that you eventually move past the blister stage, into toughened skin.”
Following your effort—better yet, following your blisters—will grow you a tougher, near-impenetrable exterior. And you won’t be ignoring or disregarding whatever pain or hurt that comes along. You’ll be immune to it.
Thanks to the people who reassure us that our hard work will pay off, especially when we choose to follow our effort:
- What You Should Follow Instead of Your Passion by Dan Cable
- Apple CEO Tim Cook: ‘If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life’ is ‘total crock’ by Catherine Clifford
- Determination and hard work always pay off by Claudio Zabaleta
- Eventually, Your Effort Is Going To Pay Off by Holly Riordan
- Full transcript of WorkLife podcast episode featuring Mark Cuban: https://www.ted.com/podcasts/mark-cuban-doesn-t-believe-in-following-your-passions-transcript
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Greg de la Cruz