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The Secret to Success: Don't Follow Your Passion


For those who have been heeding the advice “follow your passion,” get ready for a new school of thought. Experts are saying that following one‘s passion to achieve success is bad advice because we had it backward. Instead, we should follow our strengths. When we master a skill, the passion follows. In other words, develop a passion based on what you're good at—don't just follow an existing one.

Where Did the "Follow Your Passion" Advice Come From?

Follow your passion (or dream or bliss) was a popular piece of motivational advice for a while; it was a mantra for the baby boomers.

In his 2003 commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin, Michael Dell (founder of Dell Technologies) told the class: "The key is to listen to your heart and let it carry you in the direction of your dreams. I’ve learned that it’s possible to set your sights high and achieve your dreams and do it with integrity, character, and love. And each day that you’re moving toward your dreams without compromising who you are, you’re winning."

At a 2005 commencement speech at Harvard, Steve Jobs encouraged graduating students to pursue their passion: "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle."

Renowned journalist Katie Couric said, "Be passionate. Do what you love, even if you don’t love it every day." in her 2007 Commencement Speech at Williams College.

What New Thinkers Are Saying to Do Instead

Now, a new wave of thinking is spreading.

A well-known business person who advises against following one's passion is Mark Cuban. Mr. Cuban explains his reasoning—if you pursue something that you are excited about but don’t excel at, then your chance for success is low.

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He advises instead to focus your time and efforts on something you are competent at. Eventually, you will be successful. "In order to be one of the best, you have to put in effort. So don't follow your passions, follow your effort," says Cuban. "The one thing in life that you can control is your effort."

Another businessperson who advises against pursuing one's passion is Jeff Chapin, the co-founder of the mattress company Casper. He says "passion is whimsical" and "follow your passion" sounds a lot like “go do your hobby.” Also an important thing to keep in mind is that you could ruin your hobby when you turn your passion into a job.

Mr. Chapin's strategy for figuring out a career path: Figure out what problems you have an advantage at solving. Start with a simple problem. If you can fix it, find another one. Then do it again.

"The process will reveal your strengths and where you can add value," he explains. "Always keep learning and taking on more complex problems. The success will follow."

As for how we got the passion part wrong, Srinivas Rao (author and host of The Unmistakable Creative podcast) explains how passion develops after mastering a skill. "When you find something engaging, it absorbs you, ignites your enthusiasm, fuels your curiosity, and drives your commitment to mastery. It’s not an activity but a combination of characteristics in a particular activity. That’s passion."

I'm glad to see this advice after years of beating myself up for not having a passion to follow. After all, very few of us are born with a passion and have the genius skills to turn it into a record-breaking career like Steve Jobs or Michael Dell, right?

What Does the Future Hold?

I hope this article helped you to figure out what to do with your life. At the very least, if you felt disadvantaged for not having an inborn lifelong passion, I hope you now feel more confident pursuing success. Good luck!

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